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Statement by Ms. Maud de Boer-Buquicchio, Special Rapporteur on the sale and sexual exploitation of children at the 40th session of the Human Rights Council

5 March 2019

Mr President,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is an honour for me to address the Human Rights Council as the Special Rapporteur on the sale and sexual exploitation of children, including child prostitution, child pornography and other child sexual abuse material

I would like to bring you good news, and there is some, as the world is waking up to the power of the voice of children committed to a cause where adults have failed so far, as is the case with warnings about climate change. Other discussions, such as on sexual abuse of children by members of the clergy of the Catholic Church, are no longer taboo, as victims continue to come forward, and the conference recently called by the Pope was an acknowledgment that these matters need to be addressed by the Catholic Church urgently, though victims could have expected more concrete measures addressing their plight and providing justice. 

The adoption of the global compacts was a recognition of the shared responsibility of the international community to guarantee the rights of children on the move, the most vulnerable ones. Yet, we have witnessed the unfathomable separation of children from their parents as part of a deterrent to irregular migration. The fate of many of these children is still uncertain and their reunification with their parents is seriously compromised by inadequate safeguard and protection measures. The fact that more and more Governments derelict on their duties to rescue those at risk is an unacceptable global trend, in total disregard of children’s best interest.

Mr. President, distinguished delegates,

I will now turn to my thematic study on sale and sexual exploitation of children in the context of sports. As I have outlined in my preceding reports, sale and sexual exploitation of children occurs in all parts and settings of society, around the world, and sports are no exception. The power dynamics inherent to the sporting world render children particularly vulnerable to abuse and exploitation and make the reporting of these cases difficult. The Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights which you have endorsed in 2011 with its three pillars, including corporate responsibility and access to remedy should be the authoritative benchmark for States and sports organizations.

There is an increasing awareness of practices that can amount to the sale and trafficking of children, specifically in the context of transfers. The absence of clear contractual relationships, disregard of regulations regarding transfer of minors, mechanisms of third party ownership and/or trafficking of children are all indicative of children being treated as commodities and commercial assets. The international legal framework sets clear obligations for States and responsibilities for private actors such as sports organizations to deal with these human rights violations. The challenge lies with the effective implementation of these obligations and responsibilities to ensure that the best interests of the child serve as a fundamental principle throughout the practice of sports.
There is a plethora of safeguards, standards, regulations, policies, and codes of conduct dealing with the rights of the child in the context of sports. Nonetheless, different approaches are followed and there is no standard use of terminology, which leads to inconsistencies and may weaken protection.

Regarding prevention and remedy efforts, I have emphasized the need for independent reporting mechanisms within sports organizations and the implementation of reporting obligations, in close coordination with existing national child protection frameworks. I wish to insist on the crucial role of background checks for anyone working with children.

In the context of major sporting events, there are numerous human rights violations affecting children, such as forced displacement, sexual exploitation, and child labour, impacting the right to education and adequate housing. It is consequently crucial to systematically include human rights due diligence criterion in bids for such events.

In my report, I have also underlined the importance of ensuring that the practice of sports, in particular at the elite level, does not amount to child labour. In this respect, the right to education is fundamental and appropriate measures must be taken to guarantee balanced tuition that does not sacrifice the learning of other skills beyond proficiency in sports.

Last but not least, in order to integrate children’s best interest in the practice of sports, it is important to ensure avenues for meaningful participation.

Mr. President, distinguished delegates,

Let me now introduce to you the main conclusions and recommendations of my visit to the Lao People’s Democratic Republic. There has been significant progress in the incorporation of the provisions of the Convention on the Rights of the Child into national legislation. Nonetheless, there is a lack of implementation of child protection measures due to insufficient human and financial resources. Developing cooperation with non-profit organisations willing and capable to fill this gap would be an important step forward. During my eight-day visit in November 2017, I observed with concern that the phenomena of abuse, violence, exploitation, and sale or trafficking of children for sexual and labour exploitation, as well as child marriage, were vast and real. Putting an end to impunity and developing a comprehensive child protection system, accessible for vulnerable victims such as children should be the core priorities of the Government.

Mr. President, distinguished delegates,

I will now move on to the main conclusions and recommendations of my visit to the Republic of Ireland. During my eight-day visit in May 2018, I noted the significant  steps adopted such as the recognition of children as rights holders under the Constitution, the setting-up of the child protection agency, Tusla, and the measures put in place to protect children against ICT related abuse.

However, there are issues in relation to the absence of a uniform methodology on how sexual offences against children are defined in the country and of regularly gathered comprehensive data. This is compounded by a lack of resources for care, recovery and reintegration services, such as a shortage of social workers, mental health services and dedicated judges.

Furthermore, the horrendous child abuse that occurred in the past across institutions, both State-run and by religious orders, is yet to be comprehensively investigated. So far, the numerous inquiries into violations such as past illegal adoptions and forced labour have not been properly addressed. In this regard, I urge the State to enable access to justice and redress and religious orders to open their records in order to provide victims with the information they are entitled to.

Mr. President, distinguished delegates,

From 24 September to 1 October 2018, I undertook a country visit to Malaysia. My visit came at an opportune time in the context of national discussions, prompted by the Deputy Prime Minister, to raise the minimum age of marriage for girls and boys to 18 years, without exceptions. Given the complexity of the Malaysian legal system, encompassing Syariah, civil and customary law, and deeply rooted prejudices and social norms, it is important that society at large and religious authorities partake in these discussions. The predicament of children from vulnerable backgrounds such as refugees, asylum seekers, stateless and undocumented children was also a source of serious concern.

While recognizing various commendable steps taken in combating the sale and sexual exploitation of children, including in the area of online safety, challenges in implementing laws to combat the sale and sexual exploitation of children are manifold: difficulties in reconciling different legal systems; lack of a robust, non-discriminatory child protection system focusing on the recovery, care of victims and ensuring the accountability of perpetrators and insufficient outreach, cooperation and coordination, including with the States of Sabah and Sarawak and with the country’s vibrant civil society. I call upon Malaysia to double its efforts to afford all children and especially those most at risk, the protection they need.

Mr. President, distinguished delegates,

This year, the international community will celebrate the thirtieth anniversary of the Convention on the Rights of the Child and next year, the twentieth anniversary of the Optional Protocol on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography. Moreover, as part of the review process of the 2030 Agenda Goals 8 and 16 will be discussed at the high-level political Forum.  At the level of my mandate, the lack of data on the sale and sexual exploitation of children, in part due to the hidden nature of those violations, continues to hamper my work. Reliable and segregated data is at the heart of any accountability effort, and its absence jeopardizes efforts to combat the sale and sexual exploitation of children and measure progress or stagnation, or even regression. I thus hope that the impetus provided by the development of Goal indicators at local and international level will lead to a serious effort to gather disaggregated data on these abhorrent human rights violations. In my Report to the General Assembly last year (A/73/174) I have made a number of suggestions to allow the review process of Goals 8 and 16 to become more targeted towards these crimes against children. Let us use these occasions to mark our determination to make sure that “leaving no one behind” includes every single child.

Throughout my work, be it through country visits or my thematic studies, I stumble on the inadequacy of child protection mechanisms that are systematically under-resourced. Accountability processes are insufficiently accessible to child victims of these egregious forms of violence against them. But above all, root causes of violence against children need to be addressed. That process needs all our investment.

Thank you for your attention.