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Annual full-day meeting on the rights of the child “Protecting the Rights of the Child in Humanitarian Situations”

37th session of the Human Rights Council

Monday 5 March 2018

Mr. President, Excellencies

The urgency of our need to step-up protection of children in crisis settings is measured not only in the harsh metric of our failure to do so, it is evidenced further by sheer scale.

In 2016 alone, 43 million children across 63 countries required humanitarian assistance.   And, today, 357 million children live in conflict zones - up by some 75 per cent since last century’s last decade and accounting for one in six children globally. 

From floods in Bangladesh, India, Nepal and Sierra Leone, to the Mexico earthquake and the hurricane battering of the Caribbean and US coastlines – to man-made political and economic instability and outright armed conflict between and among State and non-State parties - in every region of the world, the costs of adult misconduct, and the consequences of adult misbehavior as their political, social and economic guardians, have let down millions of children.

Alan Kurdi washed up on a shore;  Omran Daqneesh huddled in an ambulance; countless unknown children who have lost their lives in terrified transit on the Mediterranean sea; thousands violated under deliberate attack in Myanmar’s Rakhine state; girls subjected to sexual abuse and exploitation by Blue-helmeted troops; children violated at the hands of unknown numbers of religious and secular aid-workers - the tragedy of these all too adult failings are borne by children, but the shame is surely not children’s to bear. 

Excellencies, the vast majority of the populations of countries most affected by conflict, most afflicted by abject poverty, most exposed to climate change - are children.

Crises claim the cruelest of costs - separating children from their families to face abduction by combatants; recruitment and exploitation by armed forces. 

In flight, children face additional sexual abuse and exploitation, child labour and trafficking.

In transit, they meet further abuse, neglect and deprivation of essential services. 

At reception, they more often meet unlawful detention, xenophobia and an absence of care for the physical and mental trauma to which they have been subjected.

Children make up half of the world’s displaced people and over half of all the world’s refugees. No matter where they are, nor the status of their movement within or across borders - irregular as that may be - a child’s rights never abandons them.  However, it seems duty bearers frequently do.  Yet by demography alone, this year’s global compacts on migration and on refugees will be predominately compacts we make with our children, for our children, even if without our children.  Whether or not we notice it to be so.

Excellencies, distinguished delegates,

It appears that adult tolerance for the abuse of children is so high that no matter what we learn of its scale, breadth, the variety of its sources, or the deep and long-lasting damage of its cruel affliction, still we struggle to put our responsibilities to children front and centre.

In our cathedrals of conflict, culture and commerce; in our places of worship; our halls of power; in our sports’ clubs; incredibly, even at the hands of humanitarians - across sectors and settings - by commission and omission - our cruelty to children exacts harsh costs in currencies none of us can afford – least of all children - and that should shame us all.

And here, the UN must own its shame.   Why in 2018 should it be necessary for the Secretary General to confirm there is zero tolerance in the UN for sexual exploitation and abuse of children and adults?  To remind the UN of our duties to put the rights of victims of sexual exploitation first; to ensure that all humanitarian support and assistance efforts are victim-centred, are gender- and child-sensitive?

Mr. President, Excellencies,

International human rights law applies at all times, in all settings for all peoples of all ages.  In this, the seventh decade of UDHR - which set all rights for all as the very foundation of the UN - we must strongly affirm that human rights hold and human rights persist, even in humanitarian settings and specifically for children.  Children’s rights are human rights.  The Convention on the Rights of the Child has been ratified by each and every State, bar one.  It must be upheld - no matter the circumstances, no matter the setting, without discrimination, no matter the adult.

The best interests of the child must be put the forefront of all decision-making processes – always, everywhere.  And for that to be true, we must bring children in – bring children to sit at the tables of decision making and participation and specifically so for the design, implementation and monitoring of our humanitarian assistance activities.