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High Commissioner reports sharp decline in respect for children’s rights

Displaced children wash their hands outside a public toilet at a camp in Sindh Province, Pakistan.
© UNICEF/Shehzad Noorani
Displaced children wash their hands outside a public toilet at a camp in Sindh Province, Pakistan.

High Commissioner reports sharp decline in respect for children’s rights

Human Rights

Children’s rights must remain a priority and their voices should be heard and listened to, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Türk said on Monday in Geneva. 

Addressing the opening of the 92nd session of the Committee on the Rights of the Child, he stressed that its work is more vital than ever. 

This year marks the 75th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), and Mr. Türk noted that the document has paved the way for rights, dignity and equality for all people. 

“As we embark on a yearlong celebration of the Declaration, let us strive to ensure that children’s rights remain our collective priority,” he said

Decline in respect 

Respect for children’s rights around the world is in sharp decline, the High Commissioner reported. 

“Children bore the brunt of efforts to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic, notably impacting on their right to education. The reality of climate change is threatening their lives today, and their futures,” said Mr. Türk. 

Meanwhile, child rights defenders, especially girls and gender non-conforming children, have been facing increased repression in many countries.  

Deprived of the bare minimum 

Many boys and girls worldwide continue to live in warzones or with dire humanitarian need, and in all crises, children are among those most affected. 

“The data reflects the chilling reality. Children account for 41 per cent of the world’s more than 100 million forcibly displaced people,” he added. 

“In 15 crisis-affected countries, some 40 million children are severely nutrition insecure, not receiving the bare minimum they need to grow and develop in early childhood.” 

Support for UN treaties 

The High Commissioner said his Office was in the process of finalizing a plan which would facilitate the work of the Child Rights Committee and the other UN treaty bodies

These 10 Committees, composed of experts from across the world, monitor the implementation of the core international human rights treaties that address issues such as ending discrimination against women, and preventing torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment. 

The plan includes introducing a predictable review calendar which could only be implemented through modern, digital tools, thus improving efficiency.   

“The work of my Office and the treaty bodies is mutually reinforcing, and we will continue to build on your substantive discussions, deliberations and outcomes,” he said. 

“Your jurisprudence, general comments and concluding observations on country-specific situations constitutes essential guidance for the work of my Office and the UN system on human rights at large.” 

Need for funding 

Mr. Türk said he was also aware of the chronic under-funding of the treaty body system, which has contributed to significant backlogs in State party reports and individual communications. 

“Advancing the full implementation of treaty-based human rights obligations requires sustainable funding from Member States. It also requires sufficient budgetary resources from my Office,” said Mr. Türk, underlining his total commitment. 

Furthermore, momentum surrounding the commemoration of the UDHR’s anniversary also presents new opportunities.  

“It gives us the chance to strengthen cooperation and engagement between international and regional human rights mechanisms. The Committee has enormous potential to engage with all 196 States parties to the Convention on the Rights of the Child through dialogue on children’s issues as an entry point,” he said. 

Child-friendly report 

Mr. Türk previewed a meeting of the UN Human Rights Council in March where, for the first time, children from different regions will join him for a panel discussion on the challenges and opportunities they face in exercising their rights in the digital space. 

His upcoming report to the Council on the rights of the child will focus on inclusive social protection, he added. 

It will be accompanied by a child-friendly version, informed by children’s views and experiences. 

Ensure children’s rights 

The High Commissioner began his remarks by quoting a child advisor for the Committee, climate activist Maya-Nutuk from Greenland, who stated that children were a priority, not a choice. 

“I believe that Maya’s words, and the voices of other children like her, can guide today’s discussion,” said he said. 

“Guide us to continue to make children’s rights a priority. Drive us to ensure their voices are not just heard, but listened to. And urge us to respond, and to act.  To ensure that all children, everywhere, are afforded their rights and fundamental freedoms.”