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Statements Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights

Opening of the 90th session of the Committee on the Rights of the Child

03 May 2022

Delivered by

Michelle Bachelet, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights

Distinguished Chair and Committee Members,
Colleagues, Friends,

I am delighted to open this session, and to meet the Committee in-person. Let me thank you, at the outset, for your commitment to your critical mandate, in particular throughout these challenging times over the past two years.

As a grandmother and paediatrician, it is close to my heart to be here at this session.

I am also glad to welcome representatives from other UN agencies and Child Rights Connect.

It is through our complementary efforts and voices that we can strengthen our work and be better connected, so that no child is ignored or left behind.

The current global situation of instability due to armed conflicts, the COVID-19 pandemic, and intersecting political, economic and environmental crises poses an immediate threat to all children’s rights.

The impacts of COVID-19 are reversing decades of gains made towards realizing children’s rights, placing them at risk in many countries.

According to the Office of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Violence against Children, more than 1.3 million children worldwide lost at least one parent or guardian in one year due to the pandemic.

Children have been exposed to heightened physical and psychological violence amounting to human rights violations, including sexual exploitation and neglect, child labour, child marriage, and trafficking. Victims have not been granted with effective remedies. Furthermore, services to address these increasing needs of these victims are gravely lacking: 66% of countries reported a disruption in violence against children-related services due to COVID-19.

An estimated 100 million more children were living in multidimensional poverty by the end of 2021 compared to the pre-COVID situation.

Disruptions in health coverage are leading to higher rates of child and infant mortality, and an estimated 80 million children under the age of 1 are at increased risk of contracting vaccine-preventable diseases in the context of COVID-19 containment and response measures.

In the last two years, nearly 150 million children missed more than half of their in-person school, amounting to 2 trillion hours of lost learning. Two thirds of the world’s school-aged children could not access online education during school closures because they did not have Internet access at home. And this continues: UNICEF estimates that 23 countries – home to more than 200 million schoolchildren – have yet to fully open schools, putting many children at risk of dropping out.

And those who were already marginalized and discriminated against have been affected the worst – children with disabilities, from the poorest households, girls, migrants, displaced and those living in conflict-affected settings, among others.

In Afghanistan, Myanmar, Ukraine, Yemen and other conflict-afflicted areas, children continue to suffer the most serious consequences of war. Killings, injuries, suffering and trauma. They are separated from their families. Their homes are destroyed and their education is interrupted or discontinued entirely. Their daily lives and routines are utterly shattered.

The gap between their rights under international law and their everyday reality could not be wider.

These children are entitled to care, assistance and protection at all times, including protection from violence, access to adequate healthcare including mental health and psycho-social support, nutrition, education and housing.

The effects of climate change continue to threaten the most fundamental rights of every child in every country. And yet, a ray of hope is the increased involvement of child human rights defenders in climate action. I welcome this Committee’s own Children’s Advisory Team to support the drafting of its general comment on children’s rights and the environment with a special focus on climate change.

Children all over the world have demonstrated their role as change-makers and innovators in defining a more stable, sustainable future. States and other stakeholders must uphold children’s right to participate meaningfully in decisions and processes affecting them.

As you all know, the Secretary-General decided to develop a Guidance Note on child rights mainstreaming through an inter-agency process. My Office will continue to cooperate with the Committee, UNICEF, and the inter-agency core group on this initiative, including by supporting relevant consultations with civil society and with children.

Distinguished Chair,

At your last session, my Office updated you on the 33rd annual meeting of the Chairs of the treaty bodies, which took place in June last year. Since then, the Chair of the CRPD, who is the Chair of the Chairs meeting, tabled several proposals. I understand that all Committees have provided their inputs, and this Committee provided an updated proposal during your session in February 2022.

As you very well know, the financial resources to the Treaty body system have not kept pace with the increased workload, and our staff is challenged to meet competing and urgent demands. The Office of Internal Oversight Services’ audit report in 2021 confirmed this, acknowledging that the General Assembly did not provide the treaty bodies with the staff resources stemming from its funding formula.

The Secretary-General in his report “Our Common Agenda”, appealed to Member States to put the human rights mechanisms on a more sustainable financial footing. My Office is fully engaged in this process, I have been in touch with the Controller and been speaking with States in the Fifth Committee on this as well. I was pleased with the support since expressed by several member State delegations and we hope that this will translate into concrete action.

The Secretary-General’s next report on the status of the treaty body system to the 77th session of the General Assembly is an opportunity to present a unified proposal for a strengthened Treaty body system, which can be then costed by the Secretariat for inclusion in the Secretary-General’s proposed budget for 2024.

As you further consider the recommendations of the co-facilitators on the predictable review cycle, the alignment of working methods and the digital shift to better support your work, I assure you of my full support and encouragement.

You, together with members of other treaty bodies, have a crucial role for strengthening and adapting the work of this system, to ensure it is fit for purpose in these challenging times.

Distinguished Chair, Committee members,

You have issued important findings related to children of foreign fighters and on the cross-border impact of climate change on the rights of children, some of which I referred to in my last oral update to the Human Rights Council in March 2022.

Your scrutiny and recommendations are crucial in a context that is becoming increasingly polarized. 

Discrimination, inequality, lack of political will, inadequate allocation of public budget, among other barriers, have meant that children’s rights are often far from a reality.

Without urgent action, these impacts may persist well beyond the immediate crises, causing potentially irreversible harm to present and future generations. 

Ensuring that every child has the best possible start in life and the means to develop their potential helps secure human rights and development for everyone.

I wish you every success going forward.