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Special representative on violence against children to human rights council: covid-19 pandemic will have devastating short, medium and long-term consequences for children

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8 March 2021

AFTERNOON
8 March 2021

Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict Says Abductions and Sexual Violence against Children are on the Rise as Respect for International Human Rights and Humanitarian Law Erodes

The Human Rights Council this afternoon held an interactive dialogue with the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Violence against Children after she presented her report on the efforts to safeguard children’s freedom from violence and to advance the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, and on the immediate and longer-term impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on children’s protection and wellbeing. It then started an interactive dialogue with the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict on her report on exploring challenges in ending and preventing grave violations and in strengthening the protection of children affected by armed conflict.

Najat Maalla M’jid, Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Violence against Children, said this year had been marked by the COVID-19 pandemic, which would have devastating short, medium and long-term consequences for children and their rights, especially for the most vulnerable children. But even before the COVID-19 pandemic, progress had remained uneven and the world had not been on track to meet the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030. Worldwide, children and young people were already taking action to address violence against children and the impact of the pandemic. The COVID-19 pandemic had created an opportunity for children to help shape actions regarding their safety and well-being.

In the discussion, speakers agreed that the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on children’s protection and well-being, such as the increase in domestic violence, had led to the slowing of the attainment of the Sustainable Development Goals. Was any global data on these effects already available? It was time to redouble collective efforts.

Speaking were the European Union, Lithuania on behalf of Nordic and Baltic countries, Cameroon on behalf of the Group of African States, Monaco, Germany, Qatar, Israel, Jordan, United Nations Children's Fund, Sovereign Order of Malta, Slovenia, France, Libya, Russian Federation, Togo, Philippines, Mauritania, Indonesia, Ecuador, Armenia, Belgium, Marshall Islands, Venezuela, Morocco, Iran, South Africa, Namibia, Malta, United States, Egypt, Malaysia, Ghana, Algeria, Croatia, Uruguay, Austria, China, Paraguay, Montenegro, Azerbaijan, Italy, Sierra Leone, Fiji, United Kingdom, Cuba, South Sudan, Panama, Tanzania, Georgia, Bulgaria, UN Women, Kenya, Timor-Leste, Chad, Cyprus, Tunisia, Burkina Faso and Jamaica.

The following civil society organizations also took the floor: Law Council of Australia, Defence for Children International, Terre Des Hommes Federation Internationale, Edmund Rice International Limited, Arigatou International, Consortium for Street Children, Lutheran World Federation, International Humanist and Ethical Union, European Centre for Law and Justice, and China Soong Ching Ling Foundation.

The Council then began the interactive dialogue with the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict on her report about exploring challenges in ending and preventing grave violations and in strengthening the protection of children affected by armed conflict.

Virginia Gamba, Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict, said the number of grave violations against children remained unacceptably high while respect for international humanitarian law, international human rights law and children’s rights continued to erode. Of great concern had been the increase in cases of abduction of children. This violation, together with sexual violence, including rape, and attacks on schools and hospitals were the violations where an increase rather than a decrease vis-à-vis the previous year had been noted, while numbers regarding the denial of humanitarian access had remained high.

In the ensuing discussion, speakers commended Ms. Gamba and her office for their continued work in monitoring grave violations, expressing concern regarding increased vulnerabilities of children in armed conflict. Attacks against hospitals and health workers had been particularly horrific given the pandemic situation. How had the current restrictions affected the work of the Special Representative?

Speaking were Estonia on behalf of Nordic and Baltic countries, European Union, Cameroon on behalf of the Group of African States, Belgium on behalf of a group of countries, Argentina on behalf of a group of countries, Germany, Israel, United Nations Children's Fund, Sovereign Order of Malta, Slovenia, Libya, France, Philippines, Iraq, Switzerland, Indonesia, Saudi Arabia, Venezuela, United States, Morocco and Belgium.

At the end of the meeting, Brazil, Indonesia, Saudi Arabia, South Sudan, Azerbaijan, Armenia and Iran spoke in right of reply.

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 meet next at 10 a.m. on Tuesday, 9 March, to continue the interactive dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, followed by the presentation of thematic reports under item 3 – the promotion and protection of all human rights, civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights, including the right to development - and the general debate on item 3. It will resume the interactive dialogue with the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict at 3 p.m. tomorrow afternoon.

Interactive Dialogue with the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Violence against Children

Report

The Council has before it the annual report of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Violence against Children A/HRC/46/40 on the overview of efforts to safeguard children’s freedom from violence and to advance the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, and on the immediate and longer-term impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on children’s protection and wellbeing

Presentation of Report

NAJAT MAALLA M’JID, Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Violence against Children, said over the last challenging year, she had made particular use of her mandate’s role as a bridge-builder and catalyst for change. She had worked with Member States to encourage them to give greater attention to violence against children as a cross-cutting theme in their Sustainable Development Goals’ implementation and monitoring processes. She had developed guidance for Member States on child-sensitive and inclusive voluntary national reviews. Furthermore, her mandate had produced an analytical review of the voluntary national reviews presented last year, highlighting promising practices but also remaining challenges. Building on this work, she was reaching all the countries that were presenting their voluntary national reviews this year, providing guidance and support in close cooperation with United Nations country teams. She had worked to ensure a coordinated and coherent approach across the United Nations system to ending violence against children and had re-activated and extended the membership of the United Nations Inter-Agency Working Group on Violence against Children.

This year had been marked by the COVID-19 pandemic, which would have devastating short, medium and long-term consequences for children and their rights, especially for the most vulnerable children. But even before the COVID-19 pandemic, progress had remained uneven and the world had not been on track to meet the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030, as highlighted by the Sustainable Development Goals Report 2020. Last year’s Global Status Report on preventing violence against children had shown the scale of the task faced before the pandemic: nearly 3 in 4 children aged 2 to 4 years regularly experienced violent discipline by their caregivers. Building on the secure foundation of a comprehensive social protection system, the child protection, health – including mental health – education, social welfare, and justice sectors must work closely together. To ensure accountability, strong and effective data collection and monitoring systems must be put in place to identify the children who were overlooked and gaps in prevention and protection services. Worldwide, children and young people were already taking action to address violence against children and the impact of the pandemic. The COVID-19 pandemic had created an opportunity for children to help shape actions regarding their safety and well-being.
Interactive Dialogue

Speakers agreed that the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on children’s protection and well-being, such as the increase in domestic violence, had led to the slowing of the attainment of the Sustainable Development Goals. Was any global data on these effects already available? It was time to redouble collective efforts: speakers noted that the pandemic had worsened an already bad situation as the progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals was already slow. Children must have a seat at the table - not only did they have great ideas, but they deserved to be part of the solutions to their challenges, and must not become the main victims of the pandemic. Speakers highlighted the increased need for psycho-social assistance to families and children during this time, and outlined a number of national measures that were designed to combat the effects of the pandemic. Parents and families had to be present to guarantee the harmonious development of children, and had an important role in preventing violence against children - recognising this did not dismiss the voices of children themselves. The digital divide had a huge impact on children given the closure of schools and the importance of online learning.

Speakers said efforts to release children from detention should be increased because of concerns related to the pandemic. Article 12 of the Convention on the Rights of Children should be upheld; the principle of non-discrimination must be at the heart of all child participation strategies. Prevention and response to violence against children must be high on the political agenda in the context of recovery planning, which must cover mental health and sexual and reproductive health, while being sensitive to age, gender and diversity. Being forced to be at home exposed children to domestic violence. To address this matter, States must implement an intersectional and integrated approach to the pandemic, including by tackling gender-based violence, making remote education accessible, and supporting vulnerable and economically disadvantaged households.

Concluding Remarks

NAJAT MAALLA M’JID, Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Violence against Children, said that the COVID-19 pandemic had intensified and magnified existing social inequalities, social disparities and violence against children. The socio-economic impact of the pandemic was putting many children at risk.

Regarding statistics, an increase from 40 to 70 per cent in domestic violence reporting had been noted in countries with dedicated helplines. Numbers were not for blaming or ranking – they were an important tool for monitoring and follow up, reaching the most vulnerable. It was important to think of children as being part of the solutions and to invest right now if the world wanted to help the future generations. She was working closely with regional organizations, both regional inter-State organizations as well as regional civil society organizations. Fighting impunity and corruption was key, as was implementing justice that was easily accessible for children. Releasing children from detention during COVID-19 was a good step, but it was important to properly manage and plan the releases. Families and communities must be empowered, which was why the Special Representative was pushing for social protection.

Interactive Dialogue with the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict

Report

The Council has before it the report of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict A/HRC/46/39 on exploring challenges in ending and preventing grave violations and in strengthening the protection of children affected by armed conflict

Presentation of Report

VIRGINIA GAMBA, Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict, said the number of grave violations against children remained unacceptably high while respect for international humanitarian law, international human rights law and children’s rights continued to erode. Of great concern had been the increase in cases of abduction of children. This violation, together with sexual violence, including rape, and attacks on schools and hospitals were the violations where an increase rather than a decrease vis-à-vis the previous year had been noted, while numbers regarding the denial of humanitarian access had remained high. Most of the violations had happened against the backdrop of the COVID-19 pandemic. Restrictive measures to contain the COVID-19 pandemic had often had an adverse effect on children and affected the ability of the United Nations to carry out vital work to end and prevent grave violations against them, including by reducing opportunities for engagement with parties to conflict and delaying interviews with victims.

Ms. Gamba added that, despite persisting and emerging challenges, important progress to end and prevent grave violations had been achieved last year, including in the area of transitional justice. It was important to recall that inclusive, age-appropriate and gender-sensitive processes of transitional justice and peacebuilding were essential parts of reintegrating conflict-affected boys and girls and key to breaking cycles of violence. To support monitoring efforts by field colleagues, her Office was currently developing a report on the regional workshops with the country task forces on monitoring and reporting held in four regions of the world. Well trained, specialized and dedicated child protection advisers in United Nations peace operations and special political missions, as well as in the country offices of the United Nations Children’s Fund and other relevant partners such as the United Nations’ Refugee Agency and in the offices of United Nations resident coordinators in situations of armed conflict, were central to ensuring that the children and armed conflict mandate was effective.

Interactive Dialogue

Speakers commended Ms. Gamba and her office for their continued work in monitoring grave violations, expressing concern regarding the increased vulnerabilities of children in armed conflict. Attacks against hospitals and health workers had been particularly horrific given the pandemic situation. How had the current restrictions affected the work of the Special Representative? Speakers expressed concern that with schools closed, children were more vulnerable to being recruited into armed forces, noting that curbing any military presence in schools, even when closed, must be ensured. Ongoing sexual violence against children during conflicts and increased detention of children associated with armed groups and on national security charges were also deeply concerning. Speakers recognized the comprehensive and inclusive manner in which the Special Representative leveraged her role to harmonise various endeavours in the United Nations system on children and armed conflict. Multiple speakers brought up the importance of continuing to accurately update the list of parties that committed grave violations of children’s rights. What could be done to make child protection services more widely available to children affected by armed conflict?

Lien: https://www.ungeneva.org/fr/news-media/meeting-summary/2021/03/afternoon-special-representative-violence-against-children-human


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