Special Event on Violence against Children at the Human Rights Council: Full Report

[GENEVA, 19 March 2007] -  A special two-hour thematic event on Violence against Children was held this afternoon at the Human Rights Council. The event served as an opportunity for Paulo Pinheiro, the Independent Expert on Violence against Children, to present his Study on Violence against Children, which was launched at the 61st session of the UN General Assembly in October 2006, to the Council, but also to engage governments and civil society to discuss plans to follow up the Study's recommendations.  

Following the launch of the Study, a resolution was adopted which extended his mandate as Independent Expert for another year until the end of 2007. He will present a follow-up report, which he is expected to finish in July, to the General Assembly in November.

The meeting, which was chaired by the Council's President, Luis Alfonso de Alba, opened with a video by Save the Children, showing how children around the world were participating in initiatives to raise their voices against violence. 

Moushira Khattab of the Committee on the Rights of the Child said that “we will be conscious that children will be monitoring our actions”. She said that the Study was just the beginning, and implementation has just begun. She stressed the importance of challenging tradition, which is so often used to justify or even normalise violence against children. Of the five recommendations that the Independent Expert has singled out as priorities, she said that each stakeholder must focus on those with which they have most experience. She added that High Commissioner and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights will provide leadership and partnership with others to support the recommendations’ realisation.

Moushira Khattab highlighted the importance of partnership and a sense of ownership of all the stakeholders for the follow-up to be successful. Every region, every state, and every stakeholder within the State must see the recommendations as their own recommendations. Such widespread participation is a unique feature of the Study, which must now be implemented at a national level. It is time for everyone to work together and make sure every State has a legal framework which criminalises violence and a monitoring body where children can report on this, budgetary allocation, and promote the involvement of all sectors of civil society.

She went on to say that Egypt would be hosting the launch of the Arabic translation of the Study, which would be organised by the National Council of Childhood and Motherhood, with the participation of the First Lady, from 7-9 May. The agenda would include Female Genital Mutilation, early marriage, trafficking, street children, child labour, and sexual exploitation. She emphasised the importance of empowering regional mechanisms. She said the Committee on the Rights of Child would continue its mandate, but that a Special Representative was needed to follow up the recommendations of the Study comprehensively.

Professor Paulo Pinheiro said that despite repeated commitments, violence persists in all settings and is implicitly condoned by society. The World Report on Violence against Children calls for end to all justification for violence against children. It cannot be legal in any country or in any setting. It gives very specific recommendations to focus the work of states and civil society. He stressed that , since beginning, it has been clear that the study should be a tool for action against violence against children and disseminated to all stakeholders. The Resolution passed by the General Assembly encouraged everyone to widely disseminate and follow up the recommendations. Success depends more than ever on States commitment to recommendations. He said that his role was to disseminate and galvanise in particular UN agencies and Member States to implement a long-term strategy, as well as to outline a long-term strategy for follow up. Dissemination alone is not sufficient, but requires coordination at all levels.

He emphasised that five out of 12 of the overarching recommendations should be given priority. This may require strengthening or adapting practices already in place. The Study process has convinced him that Member States are ready to take action. He noted that 30 statements from the high level segment of the Human Rights Council mentioned violence against children. However, the impact will not be felt without political will and comprehensive support. Children have often been far down the agenda when it comes to international debate. This Special Event is an indication that the new Human Rights Council is ready to change this pattern.

Government delegations

Uruguay reiterated its commitment to the rights of child. This Human Rights Council must participate in the first year of implementation of study. The HRC has a fundamental role to play in the Study’s dissemination. Uruguay launched the Study at a national level in November 2006. The issue of violence against children is an example of a gap in the HRC’s Special Procedures. Uruguay expressed concern about the current revision of the mandates of the Special Procedures and the gaps in protection of children.

Germany spoke on behalf of the European Union. It said the HRC can play a supportive role and complement existing international efforts. Prof. Pinheiro provides a global picture and concrete recommendations. It expressed support for the Study’s statement that “No violence against children is justifiable, all violence against children is preventable.”

Norway, which spoke on behalf of the Nordic countries, urged action by governments, civil society etc. to follow up the Study at an international level. This requires strong commitment and leadership. The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights can provide leadership in the field of legal reform. The Committee on the Rights of the Child must be actively involved in follow up. The issue of violence against children must be addressed in all relevant Special Procedures. Norwaz asked Pinheiro to recommend how the issue of violence against children could be integrated in the procedures of the UN.

Argentina: In this Special Event, although there will be no concrete result, Argentina hopes it will be recorded and remembered. It supports a mechanism of the Council to resolve the issue of follow-up. The report will be key tool for all those working on child rights issues. Argentina has endorsed the report in its new public policy on children. In reference to the juvenile justice system, Argentina asked to what extent we should go beyond resources and legislative measures.

Egypt was active in its support of the Independent Expert. The First Lady has chaired three meetings on violence against children. Egypt remains committed to all possible efforts to follow up.

Mexico spoke of the need to transform daily family practices and society to recognise children as subjects of human rights. Mexico has worked on statistical indicators on a national and in Latin America more generally to give special attention to violence against children and young people. It aims to have national systems to compile statistics on this issue in place by 2009. Mexico also supports the recommendation to establish focal points for follow-up as well as for a timeline as a guideline for the follow up. Mexico supports the review of the Special Procedures which is currently underway, saying it is important that the review considers violence against children.

Australia spoke of the impact of armed conflict on children and its support for initiatives in Sri Lanka to investigate human rights abuses. Australia asked for assistance from the HRC to address the impact of armed conflict on children.                                                                        

Uzbekistan has taken some measures to eliminate violence against children. It has developed a number of draft laws to guarantee children’s rights in partnership with UNESCO and a number of NGOs, including: setting up a children’s ombudsman, and has established a coalition of NGOs to help develop a national plan of action.

New Zealand said that the Study is more than a set of recommendations, that it has generated a momentum, which we must work to keep up. It seeks clarification on the violence against children with disabilities: this is a hidden form of violence and is often not reported, leaving many vulnerable to violence. Recent research in New Zealand shows that children with disabilities are more vulnerable to sexual abuse. It asked for further suggestions about what should be done to research and consider the situation of these children.

India has the largest population of children in the world. Children’s right to protection is at the core of the right to development. This issue is being looked at holistically by the newly established Ministry of Women and Childhood. This Ministry is setting standards for care, and has already undertaken a number of child protection advocacy activities and programmes. It is currently undertaking a major commission for child rights in 2006 laws and programmes, comprehensive child protection study on child abuse to measure the magnitude of the problem.

The UK was actively involved in the recent 51st Commission on the Status of Women round table discussion on the elimination of discrimination and violence against the girl child. Three questions for the panel: 1. The lack of data disaggregated by sex and age is an obstacle; what measures are being taken to provide urgent and accurate disaggregated data about violence against children? 2. there is a lack of information on violence against children with disabilities, does the panel know of any plans to combat this, taking into account the particular vulnerabilities of such children? 3. Which of the recommendations from the recent Commission on the Status of Women is UNICEF prioritising?

Pakistan: We should focus on conflict resolution, especially foreign occupation, which has wreaked havoc for millions of children; enhance to implement the Millennium Development Goals; and focus on improving education.

Malaysia: The challenge is implementing the recommendations effectively. The Child Act 2001 in Malaysia is based on the four core principles of the Convention on the Rights of the Child. Malaysia is amending the Child Act to ensure full protection of children and to abolish punishment of whipping in the care and justice systems. It is also concerned about the situation of children with disabilities.

Ecuador asked Prof. Pinheiro how the HRC could promote study

Morocco spoke of the necessity of adapting legislative measures, national strategies, the school system of human rights education to change mentalities, as well as the ratification of international instruments, the involvement of all civil society organisations in combating violence, strengthening international cooperation on MDGs, and strengthening the family as the cradle of values.

Brazil said that MERCOSUR (the Common Market for the South) has high level meetings on human rights and intends to follow up the recommendations of the Study within this mechanism. For Brazil, violence against children is central to its social policies. Two questions: medium to long term follow up is crucial to momentum, can Prof. Pinheiro offer some guidelines? Does UNICEF have, or intend to have, an internal action plan related to the recommendations of the Study?

Cuba said that the Study leaves out some central manifestations of violence: unilateral policy matters, armed conflict, negligence in terms of unjust impact of the current international order. We should not forget about poverty, hunger, illiteracy, and marginalisation. Trade boycott of Cuba by the US is cruel and affects children directly. Cuba requests that the content of the recommendations and mandate be adjusted, but without duplicating the activities of other Special Procedures.

Japan has been working to strengthen its legal framework to combat child abuse and sexual exploitation. It highlighted that in situations of armed conflict and natural disasters children are the most vulnerable.

China: Violence against children is a scandal for society and has negative effects on the physical and spiritual development of children. Combating this has always been a concern for the Chinese government. Two questions: 1. Children are often obliged to become sex workers, both in developed and developing countries, what measures can be taken to prevent this phenomenon? 2. The problem often lies with parents who think mistreating children is a way of educating children, how can the international community deal with and resolve this problem?

Canada is interested to hear how panellists plan to follow up the recommendations. Canada has established a national focal point on violence through the Family Violence Initiative. It supports data collection and research to reduce family violence and is working on interventions, prevention strategies and programmes to combat  bullying. Canada would like to hear about prevention activities for the follow up and if any lessons learnt can be provided.

Azerbaijan: Strategies must be comprehensive and address root causes. The primary responsability for elimininating violence rests with the State, but the role of civil society organisations is no less important, for example in providing data. The issue of poverty must be addressed, and an integrated approach is required. Military aggression, and foreign occupation are particular concerns. Azerbaijan asked for recommendations about how to better address challenges of children and armed conflict.

Bangladesh: We must address the underlying causes of violenceö poverty, under-development etc. Development of society depends on the development of our children.

Slovenia asked what would Pinheiro’s recommendations for follow up to the Study be?

A joint statement on child participation by the International Save the Children Alliance and a number of members of the Subgroup for the Human Rights Council highlighted the importance of children's meaningful and ethical participation in the Study process saying that children's active involvement is key to addressing violence against them. They asked Prof. Pinheiro what was being done to support the production and dissemination of child-friendly material, and to ensure that children remain informed about the follow-up. They stressed that children's participation in the follow-up should be supported in a structured way both at international and national level. Addressing the Human Rights Council, they asked how it would ensure the meaningful and ethical participation of children in its work. 

Human Rights Advocates and the Association of Criminal Defence Lawyers:  A number of international human rights instruments, including he International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, prohibit life sentences without parole for people under 18, but several states continue to violate this provision. For this reason, the system of State reporting and monitoring by the UN is crucial. They said that children are lost in an adult system. Some States, such as Iran, are still sentencing children to death. In others, such as the US, children as young as 10 are being sentenced to life imprisonment without parole. UN reporting mechanisms in countries where children are tried and tracked as adults, is crucial to determining status of the law.

International Islamic Federation of Students Organisation spoke of atrocities against children in Kashmir, saying that violence against children is more pronounced in areas of armed conflict or under foreign occupation.

World Population Foundation: Child marriage has been described as institutionalised violence against children; a form of non-consensual sex and as such an abuse of human rights. What are the key steps that Prof. Pinheiro would recommend for eliminating this specific violation of child rights?

In a joint statement by the World Organisation against Torture, International Federation of Terres des Hommes and other members of the Subgroup for the Human Rights Council, said they found it "regrettable that the General Assembly could not agree upon stronger recommendations that clearly assert the role of the State in ensuring action." They reiterated the need to appoint a Special Representative to the Secretary-General on Violence against Children to comprehensively address all aspects of violence against children in all settings. They urged Members of the Human Rights Council to pledge their support for this mechanism today and added that they should specify the decisions and actions they will support and take in the near future to end all forms of violence against children.

Association of World Education: Female genital mutilation has no religious or hygienic justification, but girls are still being brutally mutilated. In Sudan almost 90 per cent of girls have been subjected to FGM. Speaking about child marriage, thez asked what is considered under age? Iran recently saw a bill to end marriage of children under 9, which was overthrown by mullahs. The international community should cry out at the Council, will this ever happen?

Comments by agencies involved in the Study

UNICEF is working to improve data collection and analysis. Last year 64 countries had programmes for gender appropriate responses against violence, as opposed to 46 in 2005. UNICEF will continue to develop child protection indicators, but governments need to create demand for these at national level. Disability: UNICEF has played an active role in the disability convention. UNICEF will strengthen community protection: services that support care-givers, which is often not a strong sector at national level, with a view to avoiding institutionalisation as children in institutions run an exceptionally high risk of violence. The recommendations of the UN Study on Violence against Women dovetail neatly with those of children.

Those interested in armed conflict, can refer to the Paris Principles which were adopted in February in Paris.

An action plan: protection is already a strong priority, but this year UNICEF has committed to a 10 year strategy, instead of their usual four year strategy, in which they commit to taking lead on national child protection systems and strategies rather than short-term projects. Instead, the focus will be on social change.

The World Health Organisation will continue to develop data systems for collecting data on violence. What is needed is political will for agreed set of standards and norms for collecting such information and building the capacity of regional experts for collecting violence against children.

International Labour Organisation spoke of their work to combat the worst forms of child labour: sexual exploitation, child trafficking, etc. They have suggested the goal of eliminating the worst forms by 2016 in a report last year. Part of their work already goes in the direction of the recommendations of the report. They have experience of gathering child labour statistics, which they hope to contribute. Child domestic labour is one of their priority areas for the coming years. They emphasised the need to change perceptions and tackle root causes.

Roberta Cecchetti, representing the NGO Advisory Group (soon to be the Advisory Council) on Violence against Children, reiterated NGOs' commitment to the follow up process. She spoke of the role and structure of the NGO Advisory Council which is in the process of being created, and which would support the work of a Special Representative when appointed. Such a high level mechanism is important because violence against children relates to the mandates of multiple Special Procedures; this role is essential to ensure effective cooperation because, without leadership, focus is lost. Furthermore, there are gaps which the current system does not address such as corporal punishment. She added that children's participation should be institutionalised in all matters concerning them.   

The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights will continue in partnership with UN partners to disseminate and mainstream the Study’s recommendations, both in Headquarters and in the field, as well as within the Special Procedures, particularly those dealing with trafficking.

Closing the meeting, Professor Pinheiro told Members of the Council what he expected of them. He urged them to prioritise the adoption of some of the recommendations; work with partner agencies to provide information on implementation; and ensure the resources and political will to bring about change. He concluded by pointing out that, after three years of involvement in the Study process, it was time for children themselves to play a key role in implementing pilot projects for the follow-up.  

Note: A second special thematic event will be held on Monday, 26 March on the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. For more information, go to:

Further information

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