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Issues - Rights - EU Presidency statement

EU Presideny Statement - The rights of children

Summary 22 October 2001: Intervention on behalf of the European Union by Ms. Birgit Stevens, First Secretary at the Permanent Representation of Belgium to the United Nations. Promotion and protection of the rights of children (New York)
Mr. Chairman,

I have the honor to speak on behalf of the European Union. The countries of Central and Eastern Europe associated with the European Union Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Cyprus, Turkey and Iceland align themselves with this statement.

(Special Session on Children)

Mr. Chairman,

In recent months, the rights of children have had pride of place on the international agenda. The preparatory process for the General Assembly Special Session on Children, including the regional preparatory conferences, has helped to create a truly global dynamic on behalf of children. However, for tragic reasons of which we are all aware, the Special Session on Children has had to be postponed to a later date.

This dynamic on behalf of children will not evaporate in the month, which remains before the Session itself. We shall continue to put the higher interests of children at the very heart of our actions, as laid down in the Convention on the Rights of the Child. We shall ensure that our attention to children, especially those living in particularly difficult circumstances for whom the international community was prepared to reinforce its commitment at the Special Session, does not falter. We shall redouble our efforts to ensure that the voices of children are listened to more attentively at national and international level: children, including adolescents, must be able to exercise their right to express their opinions and to participate in the decision-making process so that, with them, we can continue to build the world that children deserve. The European Union Charter of Fundamental Rights solemnly proclaimed on 7 December 2000 contains aspects relating to children's rights, including the right to express their opinions.

The European Union reaffirms its commitment to participate constructively in the negotiations on the final document, which should define effective strategies to improve the promotion and protection of children's rights in practice. It will continue to defend with vigor the principles in which it believes in order to arrive at a strong declaration, together with an ambitious and visionary action plan.

So as not to prejudge the negotiations in the Preparatory Committee for the Special Session, which are currently suspended, GRULAC and the European Union will introduce a procedural resolution under this agenda item for the Third Committee, rather than the traditional omnibus resolution.

(Convention on the Rights of the Child)

Mr. Chairman,

5. First and foremost, our actions must be guided by the Convention on the Rights of the Child. That remains the instrument of reference, the essential legislative basis for achievement of children's rights. The European Union, together with a very large majority of delegations, is anxious to reflect the primacy of this approach to children's rights into the final text of the Special Session on children. The European Union considers it of paramount importance that the States parties to the Convention actually implement its provisions and that those who have not yet ratified it now do so. The European Union is extremely concerned about the number of reservations which have been lodged with regard to the Convention and continues to urge Member States to review and withdraw those reservations, which are contrary to the spirit and purpose of the Convention.

The European Union also calls on Member States to sign, ratify and apply the two Optional Protocols to the Convention on the Rights of the Child, one on the involvement of children in armed conflict and the other on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography.

The European Union welcomes the work accomplished by the Committee on the Rights of the Child and wishes to express its support for the Committee's efforts in promoting and protecting children's rights. It is important that the amendment to Article 42(2) of the Convention allowing the membership of the Committee to be extended should enter into force and therefore that the States which have not yet done so should give their agreement.

(Children and armed conflict)

Mr. Chairman,

The Secretary-General's report on children and armed conflict draws our attention to the dramatic and devastating impact which armed conflicts have on entire generations. It is encouraging that more and more efforts are being made to understand and analyze the problem. However, these should lead to clearer coordination of political will and tougher action to protect those who are dearest to us.

Entry into force of the Optional Protocol on the involvement of children in armed conflict, which sets the minimum age for taking part in hostilities at 18, will constitute a remarkable advance. The European Union calls on States also to sign and ratify the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, which classifies the enlistment of children under 15 years of age and their participation in combat as war crimes. In the final document of the General Assembly Special Session on Children, the European Union wishes to include firm commitments on the protection of children affected by armed conflict, particularly child soldiers and children in need of humanitarian aid.

The European Union welcomes the inclusion of the issue of children in armed conflicts in the Security Council's proceedings. The European Union fervently hopes that the Security Council will, in the course of the planned debate on children in armed conflicts, adopt an ambitious resolution designed to recommend a positive response to the calls made by the Secretary-General in his last report on the subject. Inclusion of the protection of children in peacekeeping operations, such as MONUC in the DRC and UNAMSIL in Sierra Leone, constitutes one example of tougher action on behalf of children affected by armed conflicts. Political and operational mandates for restoring, maintaining and building peace should always include special provisions on the protection and help to be given to children.

The European Union would like once again to express its appreciation in this forum of the work accomplished by the Secretary-General's Special Representative, Mr Otunnu, and by many non?governmental and international organizations, such as UNICEF, which are doing a remarkable job in the field. The EU wishes in particular to salute the efficiency and devotion of UNICEF in making a decisive contribution to the promotion and protection of children's rights. The European Union would also like to pay homage to Ms Graça Machel who, through her dedication, is contributing to the growing awareness of the tragedy of children affected by armed conflict.

(Protection against violence and exploitation)

Mr. Chairman,

Children have the right to be protected against all forms of violence and torture, mental or physical abuse or brutality, neglect or negligence, ill treatment or exploitation. The EU is in favor of unequivocal language on this subject in the final document of the General Assembly Special Session.

A better understanding of the many aspects of violence against children will enable us to formulate strategies and target our action more effectively to help the millions of children who are victims of violence. In this context, the European Union appreciated the discussion day organized at the end of September in Geneva by the Committee on the Rights of the Child, on the topic of violence against children at school and in the family. The European Union hopes that the Committee's recommendations will be taken into account in the formulation of measures to eradicate this scourge. That discussion was the second part of the general discussion on the topic of violence against children, which began in 2000. The European Union supports the Committee's call for the creation of a working party to study the issue of violence against children in depth.

Children continue to be victims of many forms of sexual exploitation, such as prostitution, pornography, the sale of children, acts of pedophilia and sexual abuse within the family. Here, too, greater awareness and an in-depth study of the problem should lead to constant tougher action. Such action must go beyond national borders, since the crime of sexual exploitation of children also goes beyond them. Such crime is increasingly professional and makes use of advances in new technology, turning to its own advantage the openings provided by globalization: ever more sophisticated cross?border organizations, possibilities offered by the Internet, prostitution networks, sex tourism, etc. In European Union Member States a number of measures, both national and international, have been introduced to combat the sexual exploitation of children. The European Union has put the STOP and DAPHNE programmes in place and will continue to step up its action at all levels. All its Member States have signed the Protocol on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography.

The European Union welcomes the work done by Ms. Calcetas-Santos, Special Rapporteur on the sale and sexual exploitation of children. The Union also welcomes the opportunity, which will be given to the international community at the Yokohama Conference against Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children (17 to 20 December 2001) to take stock of action in this sector since the Stockholm Congress. Like the UNGA Special Session devoted to children, the Yokohama Conference will also be an opportunity to make further progress.

Unfortunately, sexual exploitation is not the only form of exploitation of children. According to ILO estimates, 250 million children aged from 5 to 14 work to earn a living. Nearly half of those children work full time every day of the year and 70% of them do so in a dangerous environment. An even larger number of children are involved in "invisible" work or are exploited in conditions of virtual slavery. The eradication of any form of exploitation of children must be a priority for all States. The European Union calls on those States, which have not yet done so to ratify Convention No 182 on the Worst Forms of Child Labor and calls on the States, which are parties to it, to begin carrying out their commitments under that instrument immediately.


Mr. Chairman

The General Assembly Special Session on HIV/AIDS has stressed the need to provide special assistance for children who have been orphaned or affected by HIV/AIDS. The Community and the Member States have undertaken to draw up and implement an Action Programme on three transmissible diseases, namely HIV/AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis, including strategies designed to ensure a favorable environment for orphans and girls and boys infected or affected by HIV/AIDS. The international community has also undertaken to guarantee non-discrimination and full and equal enjoyment of all fundamental human rights for children affected by HIV/AIDS. The European Union will do everything in its power to carry out the undertakings given.

This respect for the fundamental rights of the child must also be the lodestone for our policy on health in general. Our children and our adolescents have the right to a healthy life and the promise of a future. The EU will unstintingly work to ensure that the rights to reproductive?health care and services for boys and girls, rights accepted in all the basic documents of the major UN conferences, are not called into question in the final document of the Session.

(Justice for juvenile offenders - death penalty)

Mr. Chairman

Allow me first to broach a specific question to which we are particularly attached. As it is doing in the preparatory process for the Special Session on children, the European Union wishes to make a special appeal to those countries which, although few in number, retain the death penalty for those who were minors at the time of the offence. It is indispensable that measures be taken in order to respect the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the principles developed by the United Nations in this area. The European Union would express its deep concern at the use of torture on children and calls on all States, which have not yet done so to ratify the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment and to comply with it.

(Economic, social and cultural rights)

Mr. Chairman,

The European Union believes that the building of the world that children deserve can only be achieved if we are prepared to invest in our children. That means investing in education, which can ensure their future, in their health, in their well-being and in their personal development. Enjoyment of the economic, social and cultural rights of children is of the utmost importance for their development. It has been proved that investing in primary education, particularly the education of girls, is the most productive decision a society can take. We must reduce the marginalization of disadvantaged children who are in the front line for the horrors of poverty and the lack of equal opportunities. This means we must invest in the right to education, as that constitutes an essential element in the fight against exclusion. The European Union attaches considerable importance to the conclusions of the Conference on Education for All, held in Dakar in April 2000. In accordance with the Dakar Framework for Action, which was approved on that occasion, the EU is convinced that education is a fundamental right and the key to sustainable development and peace within and between countries.

The European Union would also take this opportunity of reiterating that it is important that the education of children include education in human rights, tolerance, citizenship and the exercise of democracy.


Mr. Chairman,

Finally, it is important to stress that no child should be a victim of discrimination. Non-discrimination is one of the major principles of the Convention on the Rights of the Child. The World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance has recognized that many victims of racism and other forms of intolerance our children and in particular girls. It calls for the incorporation in programmes to combat racism of special measures giving priority to the rights of children who are victims of such discrimination.

The European Union notes that discrimination against women and girls unfortunately persists. We therefore recognize that the gender aspect must be incorporated in all our policies on young people. We must consider the kind of action needed to eliminate discrimination. It is of paramount importance that particular attention should be paid to girls when dealing with violence, exploitation, reproductive rights and female genital mutilation.

The European Union wishes to reiterate the importance of full integration of handicapped children into society. Many children suffering from handicaps do not enjoy the right to participate in the same activities as other children, including family life. Access for handicapped children to education and social services, and respect for all their rights, must be ensured.

The European Union undertakes to combat all forms of discrimination against children so that all children, both boys and girls, can participate on an equal footing in the building of a world that does justice to children.

Thank you.

Ref: PRES01-271EN
EU source: EU Presidency
UN forum: Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural Affairs)
Date: 22/10/2001

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