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COVID-19 pandemic has amplified the risks of vulnerable children to trafficking and sexual exploitation, Special Rapporteur on the sale of children tells Human Rights Council

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2021年3月2日

MORNING
2 March 2021

The Human Rights Council this morning held an interactive dialogue with Mama Fatima Singhateh, Special Rapporteur on the sale and sexual exploitation of children, who said the COVID-19 pandemic had caused a socio-economic crisis that had so far worsened the existing stark inequalities of vulnerable children and this had resulted in the amplification of their risks to sale, trafficking, sexual exploitation and abuse.

In presenting her report on the impact of the coronavirus disease on different manifestations of the sale and sexual exploitation of children, Ms. Singhateh said the COVID-19 pandemic had changed the pattern of sexual exploitation in which perpetrators were operating to produce, disseminate or consume child sexual abuse materials online. While in the face of alarming trends, many countries had introduced new or scaled-up social protection services for children, there continued to be persistent challenges that saw limited financial and human resources in many places.

Ms. Singhateh also presented her predecessor's report on her mission to the Gambia. The Gambia spoke as a concerned country.

In the ensuing dialogue, speakers enquired about best practices in terms of making gender equality a priority in all efforts to address the risks of sale and sexual exploitation of children. They noted with concern the recent unprecedented spike in online sexual exploitation and abuse of children because of new and emerging forms of technology. It was essential to strengthen coordination between States, Internet companies, civil society and the United Nations to stop this negative trend and put an end to these crimes.

Speaking were European Union, Denmark on behalf of Nordic and Baltic countries, Uruguay on behalf of a group of countries, United Nations Children's Fund, Israel, Australia, Malaysia, France, Sovereign Order of Malta, Philippines, Libya, Russian Federation, Armenia, Iraq, Indonesia, Belgium, India, Iran, South Africa, Namibia, Gabon, Malta, Pakistan, Egypt, Cameroon, China, Algeria, Paraguay, Lesotho, Luxembourg, Fiji, Botswana, United Kingdom, Sudan, South Sudan, Georgia, UN Women, Ukraine, Panama, United States and Venezuela.

The following civil society organizations also took the floor: Congregation of Our Lady of Charity of the Good Shepherd, Asociacion HazteOir.org, Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative, Associazione Comunita Papa Giovanni XXIII, Consortium for Street Children, Edmund Rice International Limited, Jubilee Campaign, Caritas Internationalis (International Confederation of Catholic Charities), Il Cenacolo

China Foundation for Human Rights Development, and China Society for Human Rights Studies.

At the beginning of the meeting, United Arab Emirates, Cameroon, Uganda, Saudi Arabia, Ethiopia, Morocco, India, Cambodia, Cuba, Democratic People's Republic of Korea, Iraq, Philippines, Colombia, Brazil, Armenia, China, Cyprus, Algeria, Pakistan, Azerbaijan, Iran, Venezuela and South Sudan spoke in right of reply pertaining to the general debate on the High Commissioner's oral update and on the reports and oral updates mandated under agenda item 2.

The webcast of the Human Rights Council meetings can be found here. All meeting summaries can be found here. Documents and reports related to the Human Rights Council's forty-sixth regular session can be found here.

The Council will next meet at 3 p.m. this afternoon to hold an interactive dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on the right to food, followed by an interactive dialogue with the Independent Expert on the enjoyment of human rights by persons with albinism.

Interactive Dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on the Sale and Sexual Exploitation of Children, including Child Prostitution, Child Pornography and other Child Sexual Abuse Material

Reports

The Council has before it the report of the Special Rapporteur on the sale and sexual exploitation of children A/HRC/46/31 on the impact of the coronavirus disease on different manifestations of the sale and sexual exploitation of children, and A/HRC/46/31/Add.1 on her predecessor's - Maud de Boer-Buquicchio - mission to the Gambia.

Presentation of the Reports

MAMA FATIMA SINGHATEH, Special Rapporteur on the sale and sexual exploitation of children, thanking her predecessor Maud de Boer-Buquicchio, informed that her report on the country visit to The Gambia from 21 to 29 October 2019 was attached to her main report. Turning to her own report, she said the COVID-19 pandemic had caused a socio-economic crisis that had so far worsened the existing stark inequalities of vulnerable children and this had resulted in the amplification of their risks to sale, trafficking, sexual exploitation and abuse. The pandemic had changed the pattern of sexual exploitation in which perpetrators were operating to produce, disseminate or consume child sexual abuse materials online. The increase in online activity by those seeking child abuse material, on account of increased time spent indoors, had exacerbated the already existing patterns of sexual exploitation online and cyberbullying of children. While in the face of alarming trends, many countries had introduced new or scaled-up social protection services for children, there continued to be persistent challenges that saw limited financial and human resources in many places.

Governments should, inter alia, put in place a robust rights-based protection system even before disaster struck in order to prevent or mitigate the increased risks of violence, abuse, neglect and exploitation of children in times of a national emergency or public health crisis such as the COVID-19 pandemic. Data collection and the development of rapid assessment tools to evaluate the impact of the pandemic on essential services for victims were a necessity. Child participation must be encouraged in the decision-making process and the development of any strategy during and after the pandemic on protecting them from sale, sexual abuse and exploitation. The cooperation and collaboration amongst governments, international and national organizations, businesses as well as civil society organizations and global alliances must be encouraged as they all had a role to play in the protection of children from sale, sexual exploitation and abuse.

Statement by Concerned Country

The Gambia, speaking as a concerned country, welcomed the report of the Special Rapporteur and noted its recommendations. The Gambia had achieved significant progress on the child protection agenda: the Government had prohibited child marriage and betrothals with a penalty of up to 20 years in prison, and in the fourth quarter of 2020, the Ministry of Gender, Children and Social Welfare had established the Directorate of Children's Affairs. In addition, the Government had embarked on a massive reform of existing laws, including the Children's Act of 2005, seeking to harmonize it with international obligations with the support of the United Nations International Children's Emergency Fund. The long-term vision was to establish an inclusive, integrated and comprehensive social protection system by 2025 that would effectively provide protective, preventative, promotive and transformative measures to safeguard the lives of all poor and vulnerable groups in the Gambia.

Interactive Dialogue

In the dialogue, speakers enquired about best practices in terms of making gender equality a priority in all efforts to address the risks of sale and sexual exploitation of children. They noted with concern the recent unprecedented spike in online sexual exploitation and abuse of children because of new and emerging forms of technology. It was essential to strengthen coordination between States, Internet companies, civil society and the United Nations to stop this negative trend and put an end to these crimes. Speakers highlighted measures taken by their Governments to combat the sale of children, such as: the creation of a national programme for the prevention of violence and crime against children and teenagers online; the "Voluntary Principles to Counter Online Child Sexual Exploitation and Abuse", which was developed with the world's largest Internet companies; and the establishment of a special court to deal with cases involving sexual crimes against children.

Interim Remarks


MAMA FATIMA SINGHATEH, Special Rapporteur on the sale and sexual exploitation of children, noted that there had to be political will to make a difference in the lives of children - with this came the incorporation of laws into domestic legislation and their implementation. The commitment of budgetary allocations was also important. Ms. Singhateh brought up the importance of the provision of human resources and equipment in order to ensure the effectiveness of these policies, including equipment and training of law enforcement agencies. Collaboration between law enforcement agencies, governments and civil society organizations, especially community-based non-governmental organizations, was similarly important. With regards to gender equality, massive sensitization, empowerment of girls and community-based policies aimed at cultural values were paramount. Governments must also involve private companies with regards to online abuse, engaging them to ensure that regulations to keep children safe online were established.

Interactive Dialogue

Speakers noted that the COVID-19 pandemic and the periods of lockdown had exacerbated children's vulnerability, with school closures affecting 1.6 billion children worldwide. The volume of abusive online materials had increased considerably all over the globe as a result, as child pornography websites crashed in the early stages of the pandemic due to increased traffic. Stigma and discrimination related to COVID-19 had made children more vulnerable, introducing yet another vector of discrimination and abuse. Children with mental and physical disabilities needed particular attention and increased budget allocation from Governments. Speakers asked about the ways in which States could ensure that they listened to the voices of the most vulnerable children in the recovery from the pandemic. Child marriage was on the rise as a result of increasing poverty, and children had to be empowered to make better decisions about their sexual health and well-being. Underage girls from ethnic minority populations were at even greater risk of child marriage as authorities often turned a blind eye.

Concluding Remarks


MAMA FATIMA SINGHATEH, Special Rapporteur on the sale and sexual exploitation of children, noted that the impact of COVID-19 had been addressed at length in the report. Ensuring community engagement was one of the most efficient methods of effective and targeted intervention. National health lines designed to provide information to members of the public, particularly children in case they were victims of abuse and exploitation, were an important service that governments should provide. Online learning from home meant that children who did not have access to the Internet suffered the most, and in addition to increasing poverty more children were forced to drop out of school and become more vulnerable to child marriage. Ms. Singhateh encouraged States to implement their child marriage laws more effectively and improve capacity building in law enforcement.

Link: https://www.ungeneva.org/fr/news-media/meeting-summary/2021/03/morning-covid-19-pandemic-has-amplified-risks-vulnerable

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For use of the information media; not an official record

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