All forms of legalized violence against children, including the death sentence, life imprisonment without parole and corporal punishment, are clear violations of their rights, the United Nations human rights chief stressed today.
“Although prohibited by the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Convention on the Rights of the Child, some countries continue to impose death sentences for crimes committed by those below the age of 18,” said Navi Pillay, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.
“Around 30 countries permit corporal punishment in sentencing children for crimes, which in some countries includes flogging, stoning or amputation,” she told the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva as it began a discussion on children and the administration of justice.
She also voiced concern over a trend towards lowering the minimum age of criminal responsibility, and urged States with a higher minimum age not to lower it. She applauded countries that have set it at a higher age, such as 14 or 16.
“You will agree that if the minimum age of criminal responsibility is fixed too low or if there is no age limit at all, which is also too frequently the case, the notion of responsibility becomes meaningless,” said Ms. Pillay.
She spoke out against depriving children of their liberty, noting that minors put in detention may suffer anxiety, depression and feelings of hopelessness, particularly if they are separated from a family or community environment.
“The available data and research show that the majority of children who are deprived of their liberty have not actually been convicted of an offence and very few will have committed a serious crime,” she said. “In many cases, it is drug use that leads juveniles to commit small crimes to get money for consumption.”
Under international law, the deprivation of liberty of children should only be used as a measure of last resort and for the shortest appropriate period, Ms. Pillay said.
Also addressing the Council today, the UN Special Rapporteur on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography, Najat Maalla M’jid, warned that children’s vulnerability significantly rose when they are separated from their families, unaccompanied, orphaned or displaced following a humanitarian crisis.
“Despite the many actors providing emergency response, children continue to be at the mercy of those seeking profit from the chaos and are put at risk of sale – for the purposes of illegal adoption and forced labour for example – and sexual exploitation,” said Ms. Maalla M’jid.
She urged governments to implement national coordination mechanisms, and register all children at birth and in institutions to facilitate tracing and identification. She also called for giving priority to family members for the adoption of children.
“The international community should ensure that sufficient funds are allocated for the protection of children in all phases of natural disasters, but also in prevention and risk reduction initiatives,” she added.