62nd Session of the GA 3rd Committee, Promotion and Protection of the Rights of Children
Statement by Portugal on behalf of the European Union, New York
Mr. Chairman [Mr. Raymond Wolfe (Jamaica)],
I have the honour to speak on behalf of the European Union.
The Candidate Countries, Turkey, Croatia1* and The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia*, the Countries of the Stabilisation and Association Process and potential candidates Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, Serbia, as well as Ukraine, the Republic of Moldova, Armenia, and Georgia align themselves with this declaration.
This 62nd Session of the GA and the year 2007 give us an excellent opportunity to take stock of the significant progress the world made in the realisation of children’s rights and to boost synergies between relevant actors with a view to strengthening the protection of these rights.
In fact, we have today many reasons to commemorate achievements and landmark events in the area of child rights, and these will enlighten and guide us in identifying and overcoming the unmet challenges.
1. 18 years ago the UN General Assembly adopted unanimously the Convention on the Rights of the Child. Back in 1989 the world united around children’s rights in recognition of the importance of adopting a legally-binding text aimed at enhancing children’s status and protection.
The Convention brought a new vision of the child, recognising they require a distinct attention and are neither the property of their parents nor are they helpless objects of charity. Children are human beings and are the subject of their own rights. The Convention offers a vision of the child as an individual and as a member of a family and community, with rights and responsibilities appropriate to his or her age and stage of development.
The results achieved by the CRC were truly impressive. Less than one year after its adoption in November 1989, the Convention rapidly reached the minimum number of ratifications to enable it to enter into force in September 1990. The Convention has been ratified more quickly and by more governments than any other human rights instrument. The CRC does, in fact, illustrate the truly universal nature of human rights: having been ratified by virtually all States, it also embodies the full range of human rights: civil, cultural, economic, political and social.
Over the last 18 years the results achieved in the area of child rights have been truly impressive. The CRC proves to have played a major role and acted as an inspiration at both domestic, regional and international levels. In some countries, the CRC has been incorporated into national constitutions. Guided by its provisions, national laws have been adopted in family law, on matters like child health and education, juvenile justice, and on the protection of children from violence, labour, sexual exploitation and armed conflict. Many countries enacted comprehensive child rights codes or laws on different aspects of child lives. There has also been a rapid increase of independent national institutions for children’s rights – such as children’s ombudsman offices and commissioners for children – over the last 18 years. Since 1997, a European Network of Ombudspeople for Children has been established. Similarly, we note an increasing consideration of the Convention in judicial decisions, by national and international courts. The European Court on Human Rights uses the CRC as a key reference and complement to the European Convention on Human Rights. The Court has for example stated that “The human rights of children and the standards to which all governments must aspire in realising these rights for all children are set in the Convention on the Rights of the Child”.
Moreover, at the international level, the CRC had an impact on numerous international legal instruments, like the Hague Convention on Inter-Country Adoption, the ILO Worst Forms of Child Labour Convention, the Riyadh Guidelines for the Prevention of Juvenile Delinquency, the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, the Convention against Transnational Organised Crime and its Optional Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children.. In the European context the Convention on Contact concerning Children were both influenced by the CRC. The EU´s Charter of Fundamental Rights explicitly recognizes children’s rights and reaffirms the obligations to act in the best interest of children and to take their views into account. EU Guidelines on Children in Armed Conflict have been adopted and we are now in the process of elaborating European Guidelines on the Rights of the Child.
2. This year also marks the fifth anniversary of the entry into force of the two Optional Protocols to the CRC on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict and on the Sale of Children, Child Prostitution and Child Pornography. We can now celebrate the fact that each one of them has over 100 States Parties and equally over 100 signatory States, many of which have already submitted implementation reports to the Committee.
3. The Convention’s monitoring body, the CRC Committee, has likewise played a fundamental role in the promotion of child rights. It has received almost 400 State reports on the application of the Convention and the Optional Protocols. Up until the end of last year, the Committee considered over 300 reports on the application of the Convention. It also considered 15 initial reports under the Optional Protocol on the involvement of children in armed conflict and 12 under the Optional Protocol on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography.
In its 15 years of activities, the Committee held 49 sessions, 17 days of general discussion, which were followed by the adoption of recommendations; it has adopted 10 General Comments and 8 Decisions. It also had a decisive influence in the adoption of the Optional Protocol on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict, in the creation of the mandates of Independent Experts on Children in Armed Conflicts and on Violence Against Children.
4. This year, we equally celebrate the 10th anniversary of Graça Machel’s groundbreaking report on the “Impact of armed conflict on children”. As is mentioned in its 10-year Strategic Review, Machel’s study galvanised significant action and progress for children. The progress achieved includes a strengthened international legal framework and equally the first prosecutions of perpetrators by international tribunals.
5. 2007 also marks the moment that initiates the first year of implementation of the recommendations on the UN Study on Violence against Children by Professor Paulo Sérgio Pinheiro. The UN Study on Violence has been a strong catalyst for change, identifying key areas where urgent action is needed. The Study is generating a visible impact, including on legislation to safeguard children’s right to physical integrity. The Independent Expert, in his report to the current session, exemplifies some of the initial progress achieved, but also reminds us of how much there is still to do, namely in pursuing his 12 overarching recommendations. In this context, this GA Session has an opportunity to agree on the establishment of a high-level mechanism to promote the further process of implementation of these recommendations.
6. Also this year, and during the current GA session, we will hold a mid decade review of the UN Special Session on Children. The report of the Secretary-General containing a review of the progress achieved in implementing the “World Fit for Children” acknowledges that there have been notable successes since 2002, including significantly reducing deaths among children due to measles, a sharp decline in the number of polio cases and a remarkable increase in primary school enrolment.
7. However, and despite these very positive and inspiring achievements, in a world full of promise, of new technology, communication, wealth and opportunity, children still face injustice, violence, exploitation, including child labour and involvement in hazardous work, involvement in armed conflicts, poverty and insecurity. The existing wave of opportunities still has many children left out. Many countries continue to face constraints on the capacity of delivery systems to ensure widespread, equitable access to basic services that are critical for child survival, development and protection – like health, a proper education, protection from violence, exploitation and abuse and an opportunity to have a say in decisions that affect them. Many children, in particular girls, children in rural areas, indigenous children, children belonging to ethnic minorities or migrant children, are still the victims of discrimination, poverty and exclusion. While there have been inspiring examples of greater participation of children and young people in decisions that affect their lives, such participation is rarely built into local practices and national systems.
It is nevertheless clear that by investing in children we lay the foundation for a world that cares and where passivity and indifference have no place.
It is true that a lot remains to be done. But the normative and ethical framework of the Convention, together with the agenda for the decade agreed upon at SSC, as well as the results of its mid-decade review, are a strong foundation for the way forward.
The last 18 years have been instrumental in placing children’s rights on the map. The next ones are key to achieving their effective mainstreaming into the national and international agendas, translating them into tangible and relevant public policies, promoting an engaged participation of the civil society and generating an effective public scrutiny of governmental action. They give us an opportunity to turn our words into action, leaving no single child out. The normative framework, the communication capacity, the technical know-how and the financial resources already exist for the world to act. It is no longer a question of what is possible – it is a question of priorities.
For our part, we remain committed to build "a world for the children of those who were themselves never children", as the Portuguese writer Soeiro Pereira Gomes so eloquently put it.
* Croatia and The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia continue to be part of the Stabilisation and Association Process.