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New push to protect children

Kosovo children perform Albanian traditional dance in Kosovo to mark Children’s Day © UN Photo/Afrim HajrullahuUnited Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and human rights experts called on all countries to ratify two optional protocols to the Convention on the Rights of the Child within two years to protect children from armed conflict and sexual exploitation.

“Childhood is a time of innocence and learning, a time for building character and finding a safe route to adulthood. But the sad truth is that too many children in today's world suffer appalling abuse,” the Secretary-General said at an event in New York on 25 May to mark the tenth anniversary of the adoption of the two optional protocols.

The two protocols were adopted on 25 May 2000, ten years after the landmark Convention on the Rights of the Child entered into force.

The Optional Protocol on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict has since been ratified by 132 out of the 192 UN member countries. The Optional Protocol on the Sale of Children, Child Prostitution and Child Pornography has been ratified by 137 countries.

“The two Optional Protocols provide a moral and legal shield for children vulnerable to prostitution and child pornography and those caught up in armed conflict,” Ban said. “I urge all countries to ratify them within the next two years.”

That is a message that will be echoed across the world, as the UN and its partners campaign to achieve universal ratification of the two protocols by 2012.

“I think the political will is there. What is lacking is the momentum, and that is what we hope to achieve in this campaign,” said Radhika Coomaraswamy, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict. 

Speakers at the commemorative event, who included country representatives, UN officials and independent human rights experts, academics and civil society representatives, underlined the importance of implementation.

 “Adherence to the protocols is a first important step towards their effective implementation. Improving the protection of children requires effective measures at the national level,” said Yanghee Lee, the Chair of the Committee on the Rights of the Child that monitors the implementation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child and its two protocols. While noting increased international cooperation to combat these phenomena, she stated that "a lot remains to be done, including tougher criminal sanctions for perpetrators and rigorous enforcement of the law, to ensure full protection of children.”

“We are only halfway there. We are absolutely impatient to see this process of change touch upon the lives of all children in the world,” added Marta Santos Pais, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative on Violence against Children.

Najat Maalla M’jid, the Special Rapporteur on the Sale of Children, Child Prostitution and Child Pornography, highlighted some of the obstacles to achieving effective protection of children from sexual exploitation.

 “Complaints of violations are still low due to fear of reprisals or shame, the lack of complaints mechanisms accessible to children, ongoing impunity, and lack of prosecution of offenders,” she said.

The campaign for universal ratification is supported by the United Nations Human Rights office (OHCHR), the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF); the Office of the Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict; and the Office of the Special Representative on Violence Against Children.

27 May 2010