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Human Rights Council Holds Panel Discussion on the Gaps and Barriers Affecting Children: Following Up on Commitments through the Decade of Action and Delivery on the Sustainable Development Goals

1 March 2021
AFTERNOON

Concludes General Debate on the High Commissioner’s Oral Update

The Human Rights Council this afternoon concluded its annual full-day meeting on the rights of the child with a panel discussion on the gaps and barriers affecting children: following up on commitments through the decade of action and delivery on the Sustainable Development Goals. The Council also concluded the general debate on the High Commissioner’s oral update.

Najat Maalla M’jid, Special Representative of the Secretary-General on violence against children and panellist, said allocating budgets and strengthening services for the wellbeing and development of children, and their protection from all forms of violence, as well as inclusive social protection, reaching the most vulnerable and leaving no one behind, was key to recovery from the pandemic.

Claudia, Member of the Network of Children and Adolescent Correspondents of the Americas and the Caribbean from the Inter-American Institute of the Child and panellist, said challenges faced in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals were: creating institutional balance; addressing inequality and corruption; guaranteeing access to basic services; improving the economic system around the world, thus improving education, health and equality, inter alia; and ensuring quality education for all, while considering those who could not access it.

Benyam Dawit Mezmur, Member of the Committee on the Rights of the Child and panellist, emphasised that the link between the Sustainable Development Goals and international human rights law and child rights had been made clearer now than in the previous context of the Millennium Development Goals. Enhanced investment in children must be at the centre of accelerating action to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals.

Bruce Adamson, Children and Young People's Commissioner Scotland and panellist, said that, fortunately, the international human rights framework provided the tools to ensure that children were not overlooked or left behind. Excitingly, the Scottish Parliament would, in the next few weeks, fully and directly incorporate the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child into domestic Scots law.

In the ensuing discussion, speakers said the COVID-19 crisis offered an opportunity to transform how early childhood services were provided. It was regrettable that in 2020, 1.6 billion children had been deprived of education because of COVID-19 and that this had resulted in the closure of schools, thus hampering the effective implementation of Sustainable Development Goal 4. To be able to address inequalities the world needed robust data monitoring and collection to help identify exclusion, including multiple, intersecting forms of discrimination, and targeted measures to reach those children who were in the most vulnerable situations.

Speaking were Latvia on behalf of Nordic-Baltic countries, Barbados on behalf of the Caribbean Community, Canada on behalf of States Members of la Francophonie, European Union, Montenegro, Hungary, Ukraine, Republic of Moldova, Marshall Islands, Gabon, Republic of Korea, United Nations Population Fund, Bulgaria, Timor-Leste, Greece, Burkina Faso, Nepal, Fiji, Sudan, Israel, Iraq, Russian Federation, Indonesia and Bahrain.

The following civil society organizations also took the floor: Edmund Rice International Limited, Child Rights Connect, the Consortium for Street Children, Save the Children International, Plan International Inc., and International Planned Parenthood Federation.

At the beginning of the meeting, the Council concluded its general debate on the High Commissioner’s oral update.

During the debate, speakers noted that some States had used the pandemic as a cover to assault human rights under the pretext of combatting misinformation. The intersecting forms of discrimination at the heart of human rights violations experienced by migrants had been exacerbated in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic because they were perceived as a threat that could increase the spread of the virus. Access to the vaccine against COVID-19 was a basic right; accordingly, local production of vaccines in Asia, Africa and Latin America must be fostered, speakers emphasised. Intellectual property rights driven by private elites must not be prioritised over human rights and the health of the global population.

The following civil society organizations took the floor: Article 19 - International Centre Against Censorship, Swedish Association for Sexuality Education, Il Cenacolo, Oidhaco, Bureau International des Droits Humains - Action Colombie, Friends World Committee for Consultation, IDPC Consortium, Centre for Justice and International Law, Conselho Indigenista Missionário CIMI, Caritas Internationalis, Associazione Comunita Papa Giovanni XXIII, Colombian Commission of Jurists, Peace Brigades International, VIVAT International, United Nations Association of China, Presse Embleme Campagne, American Association of Jurists, International Buddhist Relief Organisation, CIVICUS - World Alliance for Citizen Participation, Pasumai Thaayagam Foundation, ESCR-Net - International Network for Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, Inc., International Planned Parenthood Federation, World Evangelical Alliance, Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, International Organization for the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, Centro de Estudios Legales y Sociales (CELS), Partners For Transparency, Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies, Chinese Association for International Understanding, Amnesty International, International Fellowship of Reconciliation, Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development, International Youth and Student Movement for the United Nations, Réseau International des Droits Humains (RIDH), iuventum e.V., Association Bharathi Centre Culturel Franco-Tamoul, Action of Human Movement (AHM), Society for Development and Community Empowerment, and Jubilee Campaign.

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 Human Rights Council will next meet at 10 a.m. on Tuesday, 2 March to hear right of reply statements pertaining to the general debate on the High Commissioner’s oral update, followed by an 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.

General Debate on the High Commissioner’s Oral Update

Michele Bachelet, High Commissioner for Human Rights, presented her oral update last week and her presentation as well as the beginning of the general debate can be found here and here and here.

Speakers said the systematic repression of civil society forced some to abandon their vital work for fear of reprisals against themselves and their families, to change their residence, or even to leave their countries. The intersecting forms of discrimination at the heart of human rights violations experienced by migrants had been exacerbated in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, because they were perceived as a threat that could increase the spread of the virus. Some speakers said the Council should tackle the criminalization of persons who used drugs and the human rights defenders working on this matter. Access to the vaccine against COVID-19 was a basic right; accordingly, local production of vaccines in Asia, Africa and Latin America must be fostered, speakers emphasised. Intellectual property rights driven by private elites must not be prioritised over human rights and the health of the global population. Some speakers drew attention to the militarization of rural territories in some regions, and the related detrimental effects on indigenous peoples and human rights defenders, including forced displacements. Online and physical attacks against journalists illustrated how the pandemic had disproportionately affected them.

Speakers expressed concern over the deterioration of the rights of women and girls, including access to abortions and marriage rights. The targeting of female leaders and human rights defenders, as well as a growing number of femicides, were concerning. Religiously motivated stigmatisation and violence in many countries had intensified as a result of the pandemic, with speakers condemning the inaction of governments that failed to protect religious minorities. The rights of migrants, both regular and irregular, were under attack across Latin America, and speakers urged the High Commissioner to review the situation. Up to 150 million people were at risk of extreme poverty and frontline workers were under attack. Some States used the pandemic as a cover to assault human rights under the pretext of combatting misinformation. Criminalisation of solidarity was alarming, as people were punished for rescuing migrants or otherwise providing assistance to them. Speakers also hailed the banning of nuclear weapons and noted that the climate emergency required immediate action from the High Commissioner.

Speakers also broached human rights violations taking part in, or involving the following countries and regions: Cuba, Turkey, Uganda, Algeria, Colombia, Philippines, Brazil, Balkans, Greece, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Hong Kong, Morocco, Western Sahara, Sri Lanka, Myanmar, India, Honduras, occupied Palestinian territory, Peru, Chile, Ecuador, Argentina, Israel, United States, Tigray region, Eritrea, Nepal, Iran, Nigeria and Pakistan.

Annual Full-day Meeting on the Rights of the Child

Panel Discussion on the Gaps and Barriers Affecting Children: Following Up on Commitments through the Decade of Action and Delivery on the Sustainable Development Goals

Statements by the Panellists

NAJAT MAALLA M’JID, Special Representative of the Secretary-General on violence against children, noted that the drivers of violence and the most significant risk and protective factors for children cut across the whole of the 2030 Agenda. Even before the pandemic had struck, progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals had been uneven and the world had not been on track, but COVID-19 now threatened to reverse even those limited gains. The World Health Organization had found that while laws were widely enacted, they were often inadequately enforced. Just one fifth of countries had reported that their national action plans were fully funded and included measurable targets and indicators. Allocating budgets and strengthening services for the wellbeing and development of children, and their protection from all forms of violence, as well as inclusive social protection, reaching the most vulnerable and leaving no one behind, was key to recovery from the pandemic.

CLAUDIA, Member of the Network of Children and Adolescent Correspondents of the Americas and the Caribbean from the Inter-American Institute of the Child, said challenges faced in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals were: creating institutional balance; addressing inequality and corruption; guaranteeing access to basic services; improving the economic system around the world, thus improving education, health and equality, inter alia; and ensuring quality education for all, while considering those who could not access it. To improve the situation, those present could involve children in all consultations for the creation of documents that would define their future; get to know the boys, girls and adolescents of the world; and put on the agenda important issues such as the environment, education, and the well-being of children and adolescents. Those present should commit, but make it real, getting to know first-hand what children were experiencing.

BENYAM DAWIT MEZMUR, Member of the Committee on the Rights of the Child, emphasised that the link between the Sustainable Development Goals and international human rights law and child rights had been made clearer now than in the previous context of the Millennium Development Goals. Increasing the reporting burden of countries should be avoided in favour of existing mechanisms, while States had to ensure the meaningful participation of children in policies. It was critical for States to understand that the Sustainable Development Goals were relevant not only for economic, social and cultural rights, but also for civic and political rights. There was concern that many measurements of child poverty focused on the rights of the child that were easily quantified, at the cost of those that were difficult or impossible to qualify and quantify. Enhanced investment in children must be at the centre of accelerating action to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals.

BRUCE ADAMSON, Children and Young People's Commissioner Scotland, said that, fortunately, the international human rights framework provided the tools to ensure that children were not overlooked or left behind. Excitingly, following decades of campaigning from children, civil society, and his office, the Scottish Parliament would, in the next few weeks, fully and directly incorporate the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child into domestic Scots law. The link between the Convention being in national law, and the Sustainable Development Goals being in the National Performance Framework created huge potential for human rights in Scotland. The world had seen the leadership of child human rights defenders through their work on climate change, anti-misogyny, and anti-racism all over the world. Their leadership would be an important part of delivering on the Sustainable Development Goals through and post-COVID. Impact assessments had to be part of the legitimate, systemic decision-making to ensure children’s rights were not overlooked as all built a sustainable, rights-respecting world for everyone.

Discussion

Speakers said the COVID-19 crisis offered an opportunity to transform how early childhood services were provided. For example, smaller group sizes and student-teacher ratios could help improve the engagement and attention that children received and, as a result, enhance the nature of interactions. It was regrettable that in 2020, 1.6 billion children had been deprived of education because of COVID-19 and that this had resulted in the closure of schools, thus hampering the effective implementation of Sustainable Development Goal 4. To be able to address inequalities the world needed robust data monitoring and collection to help identify exclusion, including multiple, intersecting forms of discrimination, and targeted measures to reach those children who were in the most vulnerable situations. Turning to the climate crisis, speakers said that in some places, not only was children’s right to survival threatened by increasing climate-related disasters, but their right to an adequate standard of living was at risk, because of the sea-level rise and extreme weather events. Could the panellists share their views on how to involve children in combatting violence in their communities in the context of the pandemic?

Speakers pointed that, because of social distancing and closure of schools, children today were deprived of the most natural way of acquiring social skills. How could this gap be closed? Others expressed concern about the desire to elevate the principle of protection of the rights of the child to an absolute, as was done by the authors of the concept note for today's event. United Nations Member States should firmly ground the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals in international children’s rights laws and standards; promote a holistic approach to the 2030 Agenda that left no one behind; ensure an enabling civic space for children and accelerate progress and investment in education and social protection schemes for children; and support the formal recognition of the right to a safe, clean and healthy environment. Speakers urged Member States to bring their national curriculums in line with the United Nations International Technical Guidelines on Sexuality Education. This would give all children and adolescents the scientifically accurate, rights-based information and education to develop the values and skills necessary to build healthy and informed futures.

Concluding Remarks

BRUCE ADAMSON, Children and Young People's Commissioner Scotland, was thrilled to see many statements from children. Children were also leading delegations from civil society and State parties. This was exemplary of the leadership that the High Commissioner called for this morning. More had to be done to support and include these children, as they had a powerful role both at the national and international levels. Regarding State accountability, human rights standards should be integrated further into domestic laws. It was important to set long-term strategies that were informed by young people and their views. Children were not getting access to support schemes, and a rights-based approach was crucial in overturning this.

BENYAM DAWIT MEZMUR, Member of the Committee on the Rights of the Child, noted that good practices in relation to the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals often revolved around children’s participation and engagement. Mr. Mezmur brought up a number of good practices by Costa Rica, Germany, Republic of Ireland, Albania, Azerbaijan, Serbia and other States that focused on improving children’s participation and awareness of the Sustainable Development Goals - those examples came from States rather than the Council or international mechanisms, thus there should be more cooperation. He said that child human rights defenders were mostly ignored and marginalised by States. There should be a sense of urgency in the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals.

CLAUDIA, Member of the Network of Children and Adolescent Correspondents of the Americas and the Caribbean from the Inter-American Institute of the Child, stated that children dreamed of a world that was worthy of their dreams, in which they could live a full and happy childhood. Girls were girls - they were not mothers, and they deserved to study; education must not be sacrificed. Claudia began her activism at 11 because her best friend was insulted at school. She had asked for permission to speak about the issue with the other children, and after that small act she saw that children had many problems beyond school. She was proud to be from Ecuador because she had the chance to discover wonderful people despite the problems in the country. All children had dreams, and they admired adults - but now, it was time to include children in policy, as children also had feelings and were ready to fight for the benefit of society. Claudia called on the delegates to learn from children as they wanted to contribute.

NAJAT MAALLA M’JID, Special Representative of the Secretary-General on violence against children, highlighted the powerful nature of Claudia’s speech, and welcomed the participation of all the other children and young people in this dialogue. It was important to involve children in decision-making processes, but also to support children’s initiatives and ideas. Making them more and more involved in a systematic way was crucial. The pandemic had increased the vulnerability of children worldwide - and the world needed to make sure that a child rights approach and a gender sensitive approach were used to implement the Sustainable Development Goals in order to combat these setbacks. Investment in economic growth and human capital based on reliable data was required – children were not an expense, but an investment.

Link: https://www.ungeneva.org/fr/news-media/meeting-summary/2021/03/human-rights-council-holds-panel-discussion-t-he-gaps-and