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Committee on the Rights of the Child holds informal meeting with States

Committee on the Rights of the Child

6 February 2020

The Committee on the Rights of the Child this afternoon held its twelfth informal meeting with States, during which it discussed a range of issues, including the Committee’s upcoming special session in Samoa, its general comment on children’s rights in the digital environment, and the day of general discussion in September 2020 that would address the theme of children in alternative care. 

In his opening remarks, Luis Ernesto Pedernera Reyna, Committee Chairperson, briefed States on the Committee’s activities since the last informal meeting and on the ratification of the Optional Protocols, which stood at 170 for the Optional Protocol on children and armed conflict, 176 for the Optional Protocol on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography, and 46 for the Optional Protocol on a communications procedure.  He recalled the progress made in the previous year, which included raising of the age of criminal responsibility to 14 in the general comment on children’s rights in the child justice system.

Ann Skelton, Committee Expert, said that the Committee had adopted the Guidelines for the Intervention of Third Parties, another important tool to promote greater understanding of the application of the Optional Protocol on a communications procedure in practice.

Renate Winter, Committee Vice-Chair, briefed the States on the simplified reporting procedure and said the Committee’s assessment showed that the simplified reporting procedure allowed a cleared focus on the most relevant issues throughout the review. 

Olga Khazova, Committee Vice-Chair, updated the States on the drafting of the general comment no.  25 on the rights of the child in a digital environment, including the consultations with 571 children from 23 countries.  Their views had been incorporated in the text and the zero draft would be completed by end of June 2020. 

Velina Todorova, Committee Vice-Chair, said that the traditional biannual day of general discussion, to take place on 18 September 2020, would address the theme of children in alternative care.  Ms. Todorova stressed the importance of organizing and encouraging local, regional or national discussions with children in the run up to this day. 

Amal Salman Aldoseri, Committee Vice-Chair, reiterated the value that the Committee placed on the participation of children in the periodic reporting procedure and welcomed the increase in the number of children’s reports over the past 10 years.  The Committee had received 63 reports from children and 95 from civil society organizations with children’s views forming an important part. 

Clarence Nelson, Committee Expert, said that the Committee’s upcoming extraordinary session in Samoa in March 2020 would be the first treaty body meeting outside of Geneva or New York.  This was a bold new step into the future that the Committee was very excited to take.  At the session, the Committee would review Tuvalu, Cook Islands and the Federated States of Micronesia, and engage in an intersessional workshop with relevant organizations from Kiribati. 

Benyam Mezmur, Committee Expert, said that the purpose of the biannual meeting with the United Nations Children’s Fund, held on 5 February, was to develop strategic collaboration between the two bodies.

Taking floor in the discussions were Costa Rica, Japan, Spain, Uruguay, Bulgaria, Venezuela, Norway, Philippines, Israel, Colombia and the United States.

All documents relating to the Committee’s work, including reports submitted by States parties, can be found on the session’s webpage.  The webcast of the Committee’s public meetings can be accessed at http://webtv.un.org/.

The Committee will next meet in public at 5 p.m.  on Friday, 7 February, to adopt its concluding observations and recommendations on the reports of Belarus, Costa Rica, Hungary, Rwanda, State of Palestine and Austria, which were considered during the session, and publicly close the session.

Opening Statement

LUIS ERNESTO PEDERNERA REYNA, Committee Chairperson, in his opening remarks, briefed States’ representatives on the Committee’s activities and progress since the last informal meeting.  Three States had ratified the Optional Protocol on children and armed conflict, bringing the number of States parties to 170.  As for the Optional Protocol on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography, it had been ratified by 176 States.  The Optional Protocol on a communications procedure had been ratified by 46 States. 

With the submission of the reports by the State of Palestine, Somalia and South Sudan, the Committee had received all of the initial reports pursuant to the Convention on the Rights of the Child.  Despite the low number of ratifications of the Optional Protocol on a communications procedure, the number of submitted complaints had been on the rise, which meant that the Committee and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights had to undertake significant efforts, with the same resources. 

In 2019, the Committee had adopted the general comment on children’s rights in the child justice system that had raised the age of criminal responsibility to 14.  In the joint general recommendation/general comment 31 on harmful traditional practices, adopted with the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, both bodies had decided to delete all references to exceptions that allowed for marriage at the age of 16.  States must ensure that the minimum legal age for boys and girls was 18 without any exceptions. 

The Committee had completed the full cycle with the first State that had accepted the simplified reporting procedure, which was Hungary.  Following the engagement with the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, the Committee had introduced changes in its working methods in matters concerning children with disabilities, namely delinking the issue of disability from health and medical issues. 

On 5 February, the Committee had held its seventh biannual meeting with the regional offices of the United Nations Children’s Fund, said the Chair, adding that it had signed a framework of cooperation with the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on violence in conflict.

Looking into the future, the Committee was developing a zero draft of the next general comment, which would address the theme of children’s rights in the digital environment.  In September 2020, a day of general discussion would be held on the theme of children in alternative care.  Finally, in March 2020, the Committee would hold a special session in Samoa in the Pacific region, a step forward in the treaty bodies reaching out to the rights holders and in ensuring their greater participation.

Statements by Committee Experts

ANN SKELTON, Committee Expert, said that the Optional Protocol on a communications procedure had entered into force on 14 April 2014.  It had 46 ratifications and over 300 individual communications had been received.  Of those, the Committee had registered 110 cases and adopted decisions on 35.  The past year had seen a greater diversity in the issues being brought before the Committee, although migration cases still featured strongly.  During the current session, the Committee had adopted the Guidelines for the Intervention of Third Parties, which together with the Guidelines for Interim Measures (adopted in January 2019), was an important tool to promote greater understanding of the application of the Optional Protocol in practice.

RENATE WINTER, Committee Vice-Chair, expressed satisfaction with the simplified reporting procedure and said that Hungary, the State that had adopted the procedure, was satisfied as well.  The Committee’s Working Group had assessed the procedure to identify the gaps and identify the adjustments to be made.  At the moment it was clear that the simplified reporting procedure allowed a clear focus on the most relevant issues throughout the review.  In the future, the Committee would give all States parties a possibility to opt into this procedure.

OLGA KHAZOVA, Committee Vice-Chair, updated the States on the drafting of the general comment no.  25 on the rights of the child in a digital environment.  In March 2019, the concept note had been published and more than 135 submissions from States, academia, civil society, the private sector and individuals had been received.  Over the summer, the Committee had held consultations with children in which 571 children from 23 countries had participated and their views had been incorporated in the text of the draft. 

An interdisciplinary expert consultation in London in October 2019 had addressed key questions, such as the balance between the protection of children against all the risks and harms associated with the digital environment and ensuring their access to and participation in the digital environment.  Digital literacy was vital to both protecting children online and allowing them to participate safely while taking into account their evolving capacities.  The experts also addressed the questions of privacy, surveillance and data protection, the concept of “digital family” and the transnational nature of the digital environment. 

Ms. Khazova concluded by informing the States that the Committee had started to develop the zero draft of the general comment, which would be completed by the end of June 2020. 

VELINA TODOROVA, Committee Vice-Chair, said that the traditional biannual day of general discussion, to take place on 18 September 2020, would address the theme of children in alternative care.  Ms. Todorova stressed the importance of organizing and encouraging local, regional or national discussions with children in the run up to this day.  To date, a concept note had been drafted and a call would soon be issued for the participation of children in the child advisory group.  A detailed programme of the day would be published at the end of the session in May 2020.

AMAL SALMAN ALDOSERI, Committee Vice-Chair, briefed the States on the participation of children in the work of the Committee and the implementation of the right to be heard.  The Committee valued the participation of children in the periodic reporting procedure, which could take place in various forms.  Children could write a report, draw, make a film and send their contribution either through their State party or a non-governmental organization working on children’s rights. 

She welcomed the increase in the number of children’s reports – 63 reports had been received from children and 95 from civil society organizations with children’s views forming an important part.  In 2019, the Committee had received eight reports prepared by children and 15 civil society organizations reports with children’s views.

The Committee also encouraged the participation of children in the dialogue, either in person or through webcast.  Two years ago, the Committee had started collecting feedback on the participation of children to understand their experience and what needed to be improved.  Children appreciated the opportunity to meet with the Committee and to freely speak with the Experts.  In 2019, the Committee had met with 51 children, up from five in 2018.

CLARENCE NELSON, Committee Expert, spoke about the Committee’s upcoming extraordinary session in the Pacific region, which would take place in Samoa in March 2020.  This would be the first treaty body meeting outside of Geneva or New York, a bold new step into the future that the Committee was very excited to take, Mr. Nelson stressed.  At the session, the Committee would review Tuvalu, Cook Islands and the Federated States of Micronesia, and it would engage in an intersessional workshop with relevant organizations from Kiribati. 

The Committee would discuss a range of issues affecting children in the region.  First and foremost was climate change and the rights to life and a healthy environment.  Other issues would include health, including measles outbreaks and the threat of the novel corona virus, sexual violence and the absence of child protection mechanisms from many of the countries in the region.  The Committee would meet with 120 children from the region and listen to their concerns.

BENYAM MEZMUR, Committee Expert, said that the Committee had held its biannual meeting with the United Nations Children’s Fund the day before.  The purpose of such meetings was to develop strategic collaboration between the two bodies, which discussed the follow-up to the concluding observations; the support by the United Nations Children’s Fund at country and regional levels, including on the question of reservations; and the right to remedy and its implementation at the national level.

Statements by States

Costa Rica referred to its dialogue with the Committee that had taken place during the current session and welcomed its concluding observations to strengthen the protection of the rights of the child.  Costa Rica welcomed the Committee’s cooperation with other treaty bodies and United Nations agencies and was looking forward to hearing about the experience of the Committee’s upcoming session in Samoa.

Japan welcomed the simplified reporting procedure and the visit to the Pacific region.  Noting that 2020 was the year for the review of the treaty bodies system, Japan asked about the concrete steps the Committee might take to strengthen its effectiveness in the future.

Spain noted the progress it was making in strengthening the legal and policy framework for child protection, including the future law on the protection of children and adolescents from violence.  Spain attached particular importance to the communications procedure and had disseminated the Committee’s views among the State’s bodies, institutions and non-governmental organizations.  Spain was also taking steps to strengthen the protection of foreign minors, which included the revision of the framework protocol on certain acts vis-à-vis unaccompanied foreign minors, the review of the age determination process, and the elaboration for inclusion of refugee and migrant children.

Uruguay reaffirmed its commitment to the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Optional Protocols and welcomed the Committee’s cooperation with other treaty bodies and its upcoming session in the Pacific region.  Uruguay asked about the Committee’s cooperation with the inter-American system of human rights and whether a regional session would be held elsewhere in the future.  Uruguay invited the Committee Experts to join the event on 12 February organized jointly with the European Union on the question of children’s right to a healthy environment. 

Bulgaria was looking forward to seeing the continuation of the mainstreaming of children’s rights issues in the work of the United Nations, which was particularly important today, when human rights were under attack.  

Venezuela said that in Venezuela, boys, girls and adolescents enjoyed the full protection of their rights and were protected by laws, specialized courts, the Constitution and the Convention.  Venezuela was up to date in the submission of its periodic reports and would submit the combined sixth and seventh report in July 2020.

Norway thanked the Committee for all the efforts in marking the thirtieth anniversary of the Convention on the Rights of the Child.  Norway was very pleased that the Committee had offered the simplified reporting procedure to all States parties and urged all treaty bodies to apply this procedure.  Would the Committee follow the suit of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women and remove the obligation for the States parties to submit a common core document?

Philippines thanked the Committee for its continued support in the promotion and protection of the rights of the child in the Philippines, including to mainstream children’s right to education.  The Ministry of Education had created the Office for Children’s Rights, thus ensuring sustained attention to the rights of more than 27 million basic education students. 

Israel reminded the Committee that its members were chosen by States parties as independent experts, who were expected to conduct their business in an independent, impartial and professional manner.  Those elements were the basis for the credibility of the Committee, which in turn was the basis for constructive cooperation with States parties.  Reviews of a State party were the key instrument for dialogues with the Committee.  They should only be used to evaluate the implementation of the obligations enshrined in the Convention by that State party and not as a platform to advance a political agenda.

Colombia said it would submit its sixth report to the Committee in 2021 and was still undecided whether to join the simplified reporting procedure.  Could the Committee share its assessment of this procedure with the States parties?  When would the zero draft of the general comment on children’s rights in the digital environment be available?  Colombia had renewed its commitment to the Convention and had, inter alia, committed to reducing child mortality due to malnutrition.

United States said that as a party to the Optional Protocol on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography, it welcomed the Committee’s guidelines on the implementation of this Protocol.  On the reform and strengthening of the treaty bodies, the United States asked about the specific reforms and new initiatives the Committee would undertake in this context.

Comments and Replies by Committee Experts

Responding to States’ comments and questions, Committee Experts welcomed the positive feedback concerning the simplified reporting procedure and said that the Committee’s website contained a page dedicated to this procedure, with all necessary information and explanations.  The Committee’s Working Group on working methods was in place and was addressing relevant issues in a very detailed and technical manner.  The zero draft of the general comment on children’s rights in the digital environment would most likely be completed by the end of June 2020 and offered for public consultation in the summer.

LUIS ERNESTO PEDERNERA REYNA, Committee Chairperson, stressed that the use of the simplified reporting procedure required significantly more resources from the Secretariat.  The Committee had so far assessed the procedure in only one State and would make the document available as soon as possible.

Concerning the 2020 review of the treaty body system, IBRAHIM SALAMA, Chief of the Human Rights Treaties Branch at the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, stressed that General Assembly resolution 68/268 had brought much improvement to the treaty bodies.  The 2020 review was not a negotiation on the restarting of the system, but was about identifying what needed to be done and to undertake the adjustments. 
  
The Office had prepared three reports to the Secretary-General on the strengthening of the treaty bodies system, and Mr. Salama urged the delegations to consider the latest one.  This report would be officially presented to the delegations on Friday, 14 February.  Geneva-based delegations had a special responsibility in the context of this review as they were the ones that engaged directly with the treaty bodies.  It was their responsibility to identify what must be done to strengthen the system, even though decisions were made in New York. 

LUIS ERNESTO PEDERNERA REYNA, Committee Chairperson, concluded by stressing that as a human rights treaty body, the Committee had a mission to help States in ensuring that the Convention was fully implemented and applied in their territories.   

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For use of the information media; not an official record

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