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Human Rights Council concludes annual full-day discussion on the rights of the child

AFTERNOON

12 March 2015

Panel Focuses on Applying a Rights-Based Approach to Investment in Children and Strengthening Accountability

The Human Rights Council this afternoon concluded its annual full-day discussion on the rights of the child, whose theme this year was “towards better investment in the rights of the child”. The afternoon panel focused on applying a rights-based approach to investment in children and strengthening accountability, and on concrete examples of strategies and good practices.

Filloreta Kodra, Vice President of the Human Rights Council, speaking on behalf of the President of the Council, said that in the second half of its full-day discussion on the rights of the child, the Council would focus on illustrating how the process of investing in children could be conducted in a manner respectful of human rights principles at local, national, regional and international levels. It would do so by highlighting good practices and initiatives related to investment in children based on principles of transparent, participatory and accountable systems and structures of governance that provided space for children’s active involvement. With a view to the finalization and the implementation of the post-2015 development agenda, the President of the Human Rights Council said that the Council could play a constructive role.

Amina Mohammed, Special Advisor of the Secretary-General on the Post-2015 Development Agenda, in her opening statement, noted that the well-being of children was a marker of development, adding that the national level of financing of integrated strategies with respect to sustainable development needed to be in line with sustainable development goals, and to contain a child rights approach to budgeting.

Peter Sørensen, Permanent Representative of the European Union to the United Nations Office at Geneva and panel moderator, said in his introductory remarks that the European Union attached great attention to the issue of investing in children. The panel discussion today would focus on more practical and concrete examples.

Stefanie Conrad, Global Advisor for Citizenship and Governance, Plan International, said that about one third of the world’s population of over seven billion were children; involvement of children in decision-making usually raised some eyebrows, but there were some decision-makers who valued the involvement of children in budget making processes.

Enrique Vásquez, Director of the Master Programme in Social Investment Management, Universidad del Pacífico and Executive Director of the Peruvian University Consortium, spoke about the need to raise the visibility of children in official statistics, particularly the visibility of vulnerable children at sub-national levels. Another challenge was to protect the budget for children, particularly in the climate of resource and budgetary restrictions.

Marc Dullaert, Chair-Elect of the European Network of Ombudspersons for Children and Children’s Ombudsman of the Netherlands, emphasized that States should recognize children not only as rights holders, but also as stakeholders. He strongly recommended that all States establish so-called children budgets at national and subnational levels, and called on them not to delay investing in children.
Yehualashet Mekonen, Head of the African Child Observatory of the African Child Policy Forum, underlined that investment in children would not materialize without investing in their physical and cognitive development through integrated programmes that improved their nutritional status, ensured access to early childhood development services, and provided adequate protection from harm and exploitation.

During the discussion, speakers emphasized that social investment in children must be protected, including in difficult economic situations. It had to be guided by the Convention on the Rights of the Child, had to be visible and identifiable, and had to take into account the needs of vulnerable children. Investment in children was decisive in breaking intergenerational cycles of poverty. It could not be focused purely on one sector, but must encompass health, education, sexual and reproductive rights and others. Governments were urged to change attitudes and strengthen the transparency of their policies on children. In that respect it was important to note that corruption and tax evasion had a negative impact upon the fulfilment of the rights of children. The resources allocated to improving the living conditions of children would lead to a more egalitarian and developed society. Finally, speakers concluded that investment in the rights of the child was more than just a matter of public spending. It also had to consider other dimensions, such as the impact of armed conflict, climate change, food security and global inequalities.

Speaking in the discussion were Ecuador on behalf of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States, Cuba, Colombia, Bulgaria, Monaco, Algeria, Kazakhstan, Angola, Bahrain, Qatar, Sierra Leone, Sudan, and Montenegro.

The following non-governmental organizations also took the floor: Save the Children, Alsalam Foundation, World Organisation Against Torture, Defence for Children International, Verein Sudwind Entwicklungspolitik, World Jewish Congress, World Environment and Resource Council, and Drepavie.

The Human Rights Council will next meet at 9 a.m. on Thursday, 13 March, to hear the presentation of thematic reports by the High Commissioner and the Secretary-General and then hold a general debate on the promotion and protection of all human rights, civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights, including the right to development.

Opening Statements

FILLORETA KODRA, Vice President of the Human Rights Council, speaking on behalf of the President of the Council, said that in the second half of its full-day discussion on the rights of the child, the Council would focus on illustrating how the process of investing in children could be conducted in a manner respectful of human rights principles at local, national, regional and international levels. It would do so by highlighting good practices and initiatives related to investment in children based on principles of transparent, participatory and accountable systems and structures of governance that provided space for children’s active involvement.

In 2005 at the World Summit, it had been acknowledged that peace and security, development and human rights were the three pillars of the United Nations, which were mutually reinforcing and interlinked. There would not be sustainable development without human rights, and there would not be the realization of human rights without sustainable development. It was therefore not surprising that the Secretary-General’s synthesis report of December 2014, “The Road to Dignity: Ending Poverty, Transforming All Lives and Protecting the Planet” reflected those interdependencies. Many of the goals and targets envisaged were closely intertwined with the work done by the Human Rights Council. With a view to the finalization and the implementation of the post-2015 development agenda, the President of the Human Rights Council said that the Council could play a constructive role.

AMINA MOHAMMED, Special Advisor of the Secretary-General on the Post-2015 Development Agenda, noted that unlike during her childhood, children in Nigeria nowadays were subjected to horrors such as kidnapping and being used as suicide bombers. Children joining terrorist groups was a problem that required attention and analysis. The implementation of the Millennium Development Goals had demonstrated that much work still needed to be done to achieve the goals of sustainable development. The rule of law, economic prosperity and in particular ensuring the rights of the child were important elements of those goals. It was a universal agenda that sought to leave nobody behind. The world was much more interdependent and sustainable development solutions required international efforts. Safe, healthy and well-nourished children were at the heart of sustainable development because they were particularly vulnerable to economic change, climate change and conflicts. The well-being of children was a marker of development. The seventieth anniversary of the United Nations provided an opportunity for reflection, in particular with respect to the completion of the Millennium Development Goals. The national level of financing of integrated strategies with respect to sustainable development, including private, national and international resources, was necessary, in line with sustainable development goals, with a focus on children. A child rights approach to budgeting was necessary, whereas parliaments and civil society would be key in the oversight of the Government policies and activities in that respect. Such policies had to be achieved through an inter-sectoral approach. Investments in the rights of the child should not be viewed as a one dimensional issue, but rather as a multidimensional issue.

Statements by the Moderator and the Panellists

PETER SØRENSEN, Permanent Representative of the European Union to the United Nations Office at Geneva and panel moderator, said in his introductory remarks that the European Union attached great attention to the issue of investing in children. The panel discussion today would focus on more practical and concrete examples.

STEFANIE CONRAD, Global Advisor for Citizenship and Governance, Plan International, said that about one third of the world’s population of over seven billion were children; involvement of children in decision-making usually raised some eyebrows, but there were some decision-makers who valued the involvement of children in budget making processes. The consultation with 2,700 children in 71 countries on what Governments needed to invest in had revealed children’s views: investing in children brought benefits for all of society, investing in families could enable investments in children, and public expenditure needed to benefit all children, especially vulnerable children, and it needed to be distributed fairly across the country and its communities. The children had also reiterated that they wanted to be associated with decisions on budgets and considered that their insight would help governments to make better decisions about investments, and that they needed support from respectful adults to help them to understand public spending processes and express their views. Participation must be meaningful and adapted to children’s evolving capacities, and the participation at the municipal level, where Government spending was the most visible, could be particularly useful and effective. Creating participation opportunities for children and transparency on budget plans and spending was an investment in future voting citizens who understood and committed to a strong social contract and related fiscal duties.

ENRIQUE VÁSQUEZ, Director, Master Programme in Social Investment Management, Universidad del Pacífico and Executive Director of the Peruvian University Consortium, spoke about the need to raise the visibility of children in official statistics, particularly the visibility of vulnerable children at sub-national levels. Another challenge was to protect the budget for children, particularly in the climate of resource and budgetary restrictions. The third challenge was to strengthen public policies to really realize children’s rights and it was crucial that States improved the planning of their public services for children and their tax and fiscal policies. Tax planners needed to specify deficit and how much was needed in each area and how much needed to be collected by taxation. A number of States had protected their budgets and programmes for children, for instance in Peru resources for pre-school and school children were earmarked irrespective of external circumstances. The participation of children in budgeting and public policies was born in Brazil and had spread in other countries in Latin America, but more space needed to be created for children’s participation to ensure they had the tools to influence public expenditures.

MARC DULLAERT, Chair-Elect of the European Network of Ombudspersons for Children, Children’s Ombudsman of the Netherlands, reminded that the Convention on the Rights of the Child obliged States to recognize children as rights holders. The next step was to recognize them as stakeholders because too often States paid only lip service to children’s rights. Due to the economic crises in Europe, 1 in 5 children throughout the European Union was at risk of poverty. Children’s rights to an adequate standard of living, including food, clothing and housing, to education, to health, to legal assistance, to benefit from social security, to family life and to protection from all forms of violence were thus severely endangered. The recent financial and economic crises and State responses to them had had significant negative effects on a wide range of children’s civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights. They had resulted in an increase in levels of child poverty and social exclusion as States cut social services and social protection programmes. Those cuts in social spending had inevitably impacted heavily on children who were particularly dependent on social programmes and services. Resource constraints provided no excuse for violations for civil and political rights. They could not constitute a justification for discrimination, or a failure to ensure equality of rights enjoyment for different groups of children and youths. States had to prioritise the most socially deprived children in their economic policymaking, even where the full realisation of rights was impossible due to the lack of resources.

YEHUALASHET MEKONEN, Head of the African Child Observatory of the African Child Policy Forum, underlined that today’s investment in children was tomorrow’s peace, stability, security, democracy, and sustainable development. Africa had made commendable achievements in the child rights arena, particularly a remarkable reduction in child mortality in Africa and improvement in children’s access to essential services such as healthcare, education, nutrition and clean drinking water. Nevertheless, many challenges remained. Africa remained a region where one in every ten children died of preventable causes. Child abuse and exploitation was widespread with very limited efforts to enhance child protection. Vulnerable groups of children such as those with disabilities and without parental care were excluded from public service delivery programmes and experienced multiple deprivations. Access to pre-primary education was limited to only 20 per cent of children in Africa. Investment in children was not commensurate with the huge magnitude of deprivations that children, particularly the most vulnerable groups, were faced with in Africa. For example, average budget expenditures for education in Africa stood at about 5 per cent of the gross national product, whereas some 11 per cent was invested in health and only 2.8 per cent in social protection. Allocation of adequate finance was one side of the coin, efficient and effective utilization of these resources was the other. Today’s investment in children would ensure tomorrow’s sustainable development. But, it would not materialize without investing in their physical and cognitive development through integrated programmes that improved their nutritional status, ensured access to early childhood development services and provided adequate protection from harm and exploitation.

Discussion

Ecuador, speaking on behalf of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States, emphasized that social investment in children must be protected, including in difficult economic situations; it must be guided by the Convention and must be visible, identifiable and must take into account the needs of vulnerable children. Despite the progress made in the realization of the rights of the child, there were 17,000 children under the age of five who died every day from preventable causes, said Cuba and called for the immediate implementation of policies and the show of cooperation and solidarity. Colombia said that investment in children was decisive in breaking intergenerational cycles of poverty; it could not be focused purely on one sector, but must encompass health, education, sexual and reproductive rights and others. Investing in the rights of the child was a national priority in Bulgaria, which put in place measures to improve the well-being of the most vulnerable and marginalized groups, including children with disabilities. The commitment to the rights of the child of Monaco was reflected in providing education and health care and combatting all forms of violence against children nationally; internationally, programmes for education and health of children and mothers were supported.

Algeria had recently established a fund to provide support to children of divorced women, and provided about 25 percent of its national budget to sectors linked to children. Developed countries should respect their commitment to provide international cooperation. Kazakhstan said it was in the process of establishing an ombudsman’s office on the rights of the child, and had adopted programmes to build schools and hospitals. Full State support was provided for children without parental care to access education. Angola had adopted a law on the protection of children, and had taken measures for the implementation of a national development plan, which included guidelines for the protection of children. Angola sought international assistance to develop the collection of data and statistics. Bahrain said governments were required to change attitudes and strengthen the transparency of their policies on children. Bahrain had funded various community centres for children, and would continue supporting the sharing of good practices. Qatar had enacted legislation on the rights of the child, and sponsored projects on access to education in conflict areas, particularly in Gaza. Sierra Leone said the rights of children had to be considered in all themes discussed within and outside of this Council. Each of the Special Procedures had to consider the rights of children in the exercise of their respective mandates. Sudan was making efforts to implement programmes and policies to address the problems experienced by the children, particularly refugees; it had set up a National Council for the care of orphans and the network for the protection of children which provided assistance to refugee and displaced children.

Nearly 61 million children in Latin America, or half of the children were affected by poverty, said Save the Children in a joint statement, adding that public policies were not reaching children in rural areas and indigenous children. Alsalam Foundation called attention to torture and ill treatment of children and juveniles in detention in a number of countries in the Middle East, while coerced confessions were often admitted in court. World Organization against Torture, in a joint statement, welcomed the continued support of States and the Council to the Global Study of Children Deprived of Liberty and said that the detention of children generated negative short- and long-term impacts on both children and the society.

Comments by Panellists

AMINA MOHAMMED, Special Advisor of the Secretary-General on Post-2015 Development Planning, in response to questions and comments raised in the discussion, said that many of those were relevant for the discussions on financing the framework for sustainable development.

STEFANIE CONRAD, Global Advisor for Citizenship and Governance at Plan international, was impressed by efforts of States to increase investment in children’s rights and said that it was important to ensure that the money was used in an efficient and effective way. Investing in children was also an opportunity to involve children themselves in the monitoring and feedback on the quality of services received. Investments made by many States to establish Youth Councils or Parliaments were crucial opportunities to help children contribute to budget monitoring. Education was crucial to develop aptitude and skills in children to act as citizens and participate in budgeting process.

ENRIQUE VÁSQUEZ, Director, Master Programme in Social Investment Management, Universidad del Pacífico and Executive Director of the Peruvian University Consortium,
said it would be useful to have some sort of a compendium of good practices. There was a need to identify children and raise their profile. It was necessary to respect the identity of children, and ensure that there was updating of information. Then there was a need to breakdown that information according to age, income, ethnicity and other factors. There was also a need to ensure that public services respected the rights of the child. One could measure how much Governments were devoting to children’s rights and the maximum use of those resources, in particular towards reduction in violence, provision of social programmes, and comprehensive care and education. It was important to consider how to evaluate and monitor the impact of Government policies, and how to improve the access to information by civil society organizations working with children. A great deal of progress had been made in improving information systems, and now the question was how those numbers could translate into concrete policies benefiting children. Results based budgeting meant that all institutions linked up their work. Three main work areas were emerging: visibility of children, provision of public goods and services, and monitoring and assessment of policies.

MARC DULLAERT, Chair-Elect of the European Network of Ombudspersons for Children and Children’s Ombudsman of the Netherlands, noted that the children’s ombudsman could play an important role in collecting and analysing relevant data, and in effecting children’s participation in policy making. He strongly recommended that all States establish so-called children budgets at national and subnational levels. Finally, he urged States not to delay investing in children, to listen to them and to act accordingly.

YEHUALASHET MEKONEN, Head of the African Child Observatory, African Child Policy Forum, expressed delight that investment in children was a priority in a number of countries, and said he looked forward to developments in that respect. First, investment in children in many developing countries relied on external resources, which was a concern. A fair chunk of money should come from domestic sources. Second, planning of budgets for children usually was not based on evidence, and that called for improvements in data collection systems. Investment should be based on evidence that clearly showed gaps. The African Union therefore called for national child rights observatories. A few existed in north Africa. Finally, there was a major gap between policy making and budget making. There was a need for coordination in that area, otherwise there would be no meaningful investment in children. Lack of coordination between implementing agencies was another reason that there was missed opportunity in achieving effective investment in children.

Discussion

Ecuador said States were legally obliged to invest in children; the resources allocated to improving the living conditions of children would lead to a more egalitarian and developed society. Ecuador understood that; it had invested in children on an unprecedented scale. Australia said investing in early childhood was the most opportune time to break the cycle of poverty, and had since 2008 allocated more than $2 billion for quality preschool education, particularly for children living in remote Indigenous communities. Malaysia said it believed that the advancement of the present generation of children would result in more confident, responsible and caring future generations. Malaysia asked the panellists for examples of tangible international cooperation to address investment challenges for children. Ghana spoke about its efforts to address challenges faced by children in enjoying their rights. The opportunities for the fair development of the child in Ghana were wide and improving. Ghana, asked for shared experiences and best practices in that regard. Indonesia spoke about its successful anti-corruption campaign, and agreed that the consequences of tax evasion had a negative impact upon the fulfilment of the rights of children. Egypt highlighted that investment in the rights of the child was more than just a matter of public spending; other dimensions included the impact of armed conflict, climate change, food security and global inequalities. Montenegro said it had made remarkable progress in terms of moving children out of institutions and into foster care. It had also undertaken reforms and now the Montenegrin judicial system was child-friendly and close to international standards. Maldives provided free and compulsory education for children and had one of the highest levels of literacy in the world. Infant and child mortality remained low. Maldives had recently passed a sexual violence act that also sought to protect children.

Sudwind said investment in children was possible in all countries if measures were taken, and highlighted the situation in Iran, where the number of street children was on the rise and where efforts to eradicate poverty had been insufficient. World Jewish Congress said education should serve as a bridge between cultures and faiths, rather than promote hatred and fuel conflicts and extremism. World Economic and Resource Council said Pakistan denied a constitutional framework to Gilgit Baltistan due to its status as a conflict area, which had resulted in the lack of the rule of law and accountability and judicial resources governing education matters. Human Rights Advocates said migrant children arriving in the United States were often immediately deported after expedited legal proceedings that violated due process protections, or were transferred to detention centres in violation of international and domestic standards. Drepavie spoke about efforts to manage sickle-cell disease, the most prolific genetic disease in the world, which affected more than 50 million people worldwide, and called for more investment by States into public screening programmes, particularly in Africa.

Concluding Remarks

AMINA MOHAMMED, Special Advisor of the Secretary-General on Post-2015 Development Planning, responding to a question about international cooperation, spoke about successes in multi-stakeholder and vertical funds such as the GAVI programme for immunization and the Every Women Every Child initiative. The data revolution and the post-2015 development agenda indicators would rely on how much investment could be made at the country level; when States said they wanted to invest in every child, they needed disaggregated data and real-time feedback on how that investment was working. They must not forget that child rights were human rights.

STEFANIE CONRAD, Global Advisor for Citizenship and Governance at Plan International, spoke about the importance of using natural resources sustainably in order to ensure that not only today’s children but also future generations could continue to enjoy their rights. It was important to understand the profile of vulnerability for each country. Ms. Conrad also emphasized that it was crucial to make young people a part of the decision-making process in order to ensure they did not become politically apathetic or that their major frustrations resulted in civic unrest.

ENRIQUE VÁSQUEZ, Director, Master Programme in Social Investment Management, Universidad del Pacífico and Executive Director of the Peruvian University Consortium,
said that the availability of resources needed to be improved, foremost tax and fiscal policies. He suggested that it was important to address the planning, implementation and monitoring of tax policies. First of all, States had to implement progressive taxes. Secondly, it was necessary to develop the capacity of Governments to collect more taxes. Thirdly, it was necessary to develop instruments to quantify the needs of societies, and particularly the needs of children. As for the implementation of tax policies, two recommendations could be made: combat corruption, and combat tax evasion. The monitoring of tax policies required international cooperation. Looking at fiscal policy and the best use of those resources was also needed, as well as to ensure that there was disaggregate information in order to identify populations with specific needs. There was also a need to improve technical and moral capacities of State officials, in other words to improve transparency. States would not make any progress on the rights of the child unless they improved their monitoring centres for children and the availability of solid information.

MARC DULLAERT, Chair-Elect of the European Network of Ombudspersons for Children and Children’s Ombudsman of the Netherlands, said it was urgent to follow up on the link between the rights of the child and the new sustainable development goals. Many developing countries faced difficult economic situations, but even in developed countries many children lived in poverty. He called on all European Union Member States to take targeted measures so that children could exercise their rights. Another area promising for international cooperation was children’s participation in budgetary processes.

YEHUALASHET MEKONEN, Head of the African Child Observatory of the African Child Policy Forum, said that investment in children went beyond the rights of the child and included economic, social, political and stability terms. More needed to be done, and States had to review their policies, planning systems and accountability mechanisms to ensure the effectiveness of investment in children. It was important to move from a sectorial to a multidimensional approach to investment in children. There was a need to document and share good practices, as one aspect of international cooperation. He insisted that the international community had to keep the promises it had made to children and move from rhetoric to action.

PETER SØRENSEN, Permanent Representative of the European Union to the United Nations Office at Geneva and panel moderator, said the European Union would continue its efforts, and underlined the importance of moving from words to action, making sure that investments were appropriate and national policies were properly assessed. He called for as many delegations as possible to co-sponsor the resolution on the issue that would be introduced by the European Union and the group of Latin American States at this session.

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