Countries have an obligation to ensure all children have access to health care without facing discrimination, the United Nations human rights chief said today, noting that many groups of children are particularly vulnerable to marginalization.
“A child rights-based approach to health emphasizes the need to eliminate exclusion and reduce social disparities in health between different groups of children,” the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, said at the annual meeting on the Rights of the Child during the 22nd session of the Human Rights Council.
Children who may be disproportionately vulnerable include children with disabilities and chronic illness, migrant children, children living in the streets, children in institutions or without parental support, children who are victims of violence and sexual exploitation, and children living in remote or disadvantaged areas, or in situations of extreme poverty, Ms. Pillay said.
“States must recognize this potential vulnerability and ensure that these children too are protected,” she added.
The right of every child to enjoy the highest attainable standard of health is enshrined in article 24 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, in which States commit to ensuring that no child is deprived of access to health care.
The Convention stipulates that States must also take measures to diminish infant and child mortality, as well as to combat disease and malnutrition. Additionally, they must take all appropriate measures to abolish practices that are harmful to children’s health.
Ms. Pillay underlined that the right to health is interlinked with other rights. If a child lacks health services, his or her ability to attend school will be affected. Equally, if a child is not free from violence, this will have an impact on his or her health.
The High Commissioner also underscored that children living in low-income countries are more vulnerable, with the risk of a child dying before turning five years old being 18 times higher in low-income countries.
“Every hour, 300 children die because of malnutrition, which additionally stunts the development of an estimated 170 million children worldwide. This is unacceptable, and urgent measures must be taken to protect the right of all children to life, survival and development,” Ms. Pillay said.
Other increasingly significant health risks include child obesity, substance abuse, and mental health problems among teenagers, she said, adding that the international community, civil society, health professionals, families and the private sector must all work together to protect children’s rights.
The Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Violence against Children, Marta Santos Pais, told the Council that despite significant developments across regions, progress remains uneven and successful initiatives need to be scaled up to sustain and widen the achievements so far.
“We find ourselves at a crossroads. If efforts are not sustained and scaled up, the imperative of protecting children from violence may become diluted in the face of other competing priorities,” she said.
“It is critical to invest in the protection and social inclusion of the most vulnerable children, for whom the multiple dimensions of deprivation go hand in hand with a cumulative exposure to violence.”
Presenting her annual report to the Council, Ms. Pais said the results of the global survey conducted by her office on violence against children highlight serious and cumulative exposure of girls and boys to various manifestations of violence, in different contexts, and throughout a child’s life cycle.
The survey also acknowledges emerging areas of concern which will need to be further researched and addressed, such as the risk associated with the use of new information and communication technologies.
“To be effective, national strategies will need to be tailored to children’s evolving stages of development,” Ms. Pais added.