49th Session of the Human Rights Council
28 February - 1st April 2022
ITEM 3 – Interactive Dialogue with Special Representative on violence against children
15th of March 2022
By Elina Siegfried / GICJ
At the 28th meeting of the 49th Regular Session of the Human Rights Council held on the 15th of March, Dr Najat Maalla M’jid, Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Violence against Children, presented her report to the Human Rights Council on the same topic. In her report, Dr M’jid stressed the worrying effect the COVID-19 pandemic and the ongoing conflict in Ukraine have had on children’s protection and well-being. In her statement, Dr Maalla M’jid highlighted the importance of measures states should take to ensure greater protection of children including investing and strengthening integrated services for children and their caregivers, suggesting that the investment in child protection and violence prevention could be considered as a “vaccine against the pandemic of violence against children”. Furthermore she encouraged states to include children in the specific solution process as they are the “key role as agents of change.” She further underlined the role these integrated services play in preventing children from suffering abuse and ensuring the enjoyment of their fundamental rights. Dr M’jid noted that in order to accomplish the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, the rights of children must be upheld by all states. Such efforts to guarantee the rights of children and families will enable them to recover from the worst effects of the pandemic and ensure an inclusive rehabilitation for society at large leaving no one behind.
In the ensuing Interactive Dialogue, the delegations expressed their concern about the disturbing increase of violence during the Covid-19 pandemic and the shift towards a more hidden, less conspicuous level of violence on the internet and on social media. The delegations agreed on the urgent need to collaborate on an international basis and implement more effective measures to put an end to this violation. The increased need for dialogue on how specific action can be implemented to fully recover from the pandemic and the different ways in which states can involve children in the fight against this form of abuse were further discussed.
In May 2019, Dr Najat Maalla M’jid, was appointed by the Secretary-General as Special Rapporteur on Violence against Children. Dr Najat Maalla M’jid has previously served as the Special Rapporteur on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography from 2008 to 2014. Over the last 30 years, she has devoted her life to the promotion and protection of children’s rights and continues to do so under her mandate to advance children’s protection from violence through her advocacy, advisory and bridge-building roles.
Dr Maalla M’jid has successfully illustrated her devotion to redressing the ongoing violations against children around the world. Supported by the General Assembly, she has continued her mandate in promoting further implementations of recommendations by the UN. As elaborated in her previous reports to the General Assembly (A/75/149) and (A/76/224 ), the Special Representative pointed out to the international community the great dangers children were exposed to by exacerbating the inequalities that already threatened their physical, emotional and mental well-being long before the current crisis. Her present report (A/HRC/49/57) submitted to the General Assembly pursuant to resolution 74/133, considers the global, regional and national actions taken to fulfil her mandate and the progress achieved by the Special Representative over the past year to respond to the pandemic and to support the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals 2030. However, Dr Maalla M’jid reiterated the crucial need for the international community to invest in children’s protection, development and wellbeing. “Investing in children is essential for building an inclusive, peaceful, just and resilient society that keeps children safe from harm and leaves no one behind,” the Special Representative noted. By bringing up the issue of investment, she tried to shift the international community’s attention to get back on track with the common goal of ending to violence against children once and for all.
Report of the Special Rapporteur on the Situation
In Report A/HRC/49/57 on violence against children, the Special Representative emphasized the consequences implicated through the two years of the Covid-19 pandemic and its devastating effect on child protection measures and children’s well-being. The ongoing health situation not only increased the risks of violence children faced in their domestic environment, but it also opened up avenues for online abuse as children were increasingly spending time on their electronic devices. The negative effects associated with social media is that children were, and still are frequently exposed to dangers such as sexual harassment or virtual mobbing.
Beyond the effects of the pandemic, the welfare and security of children is increasingly threatened as they are exposed to dangers caused by ongoing crises of conflict, food insecurity, climate change, natural disasters and political instability. Violence has disastrous continuous, lifelong and intergenerational effects on children and their families. This affects not only persons concerned and their families, but results in enormous economic costs on individuals, communities and governments. As childhood abuse hinders child development, the cost is a regression in the social and economic development of the entire society. Mrs Maalla M’jid highlighted the importance of measures to be taken by states which included the investment in strengthened and integrated services for children and their caregivers. Furthermore she outlined the efforts taken within her mandate and enumerated possibilities on expediting action in order to achieve the vision of the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
Supporting Member States in implementing the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development
The Special Representative underscored the importance of outreach and close cooperation with member states as they prepare their voluntary national reviews. As such, specific guidance is provided to countries in order to encourage their efforts on the review process. In addition, the Special Representative conducted country visits to 38 member states in 2021 and worked closely with regional organisations. She stated that her efforts lie in supporting them in their early preparatory process and encouraging them to adopt an integrated approach to putting an end to violence against children at a national as well as a regional level. Mrs Maalla M’jid expedited collaboration among different entities of the United Nations at a regional and national level. The Office of the Special Representative cooperated with the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) while setting up a “voluntary national review lab” and promoting collaborative work such as bringing together representatives of governments, the United Nations, children, young people and international financial institutions. In this, the importance of a system-wide approach by the United Nations system at the country level was emphasized once again.
Ending the deprivation of liberty of migrant children
According to UNICEF, the numbers of children on the move are increasingly high. Most of these children are forced to leave their homes as a result of environmental catastrophes, conflict and violence or lack of food security. At all stages of their travel, children are even more exposed to dangers and deprived of their rights as they are specifically vulnerable. These children, in search of opportunity and better living conditions, are still being detained in multiple countries. These detentions have far reaching impacts on their physical and mental health and are under no circumstances in their best interest. The Special Representative pointed out her work with the United Nations task force on children deprived of liberty and other partners to put an end to migration-related detention and underlined the urgent need to take action through collaboration with partners at a global, regional and national level.
Children as agents of change
In order to find effective and long lasting solutions, the Special Representative stressed the urgent need to involve children themselves in raising their voices and being part of the action plan as “acting as agents of change in efforts to combat violence“. In many countries, children build part of a community, helping others in need. Together with local organizations they advocate for their own rights, fight abuse, educate others on mental, sexual and reproductive health and address gender stereotypes or connect their peers to referrals, helplines and support services. Despite the increasing contribution by children, barriers based on decision-making processes as well as social and cultural barriers, still undermine many from enjoying their fundamental rights.
Towards better investment in child protection and children’s well-being
When addressing the above-mentioned issues and presenting solutions, the Special Representative paid particular attention to a particular approach which includes a strengthened and integrated system. She noted the urgent need to provide an effective and sustainable global solution to the crisis of violence against children, which should specifically focus on integrated and strengthened social services. She insisted upon states taking action to ensure access to services across all social sectors to address the multiple needs and underlying vulnerabilities of every child. It was emphasised that states should work on bringing another dimension to children’s rights by implementing them into policies, practices and by changing people’s mindsets. Such an adjustment would also accelerate the progress towards the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
Interactive Dialogue on the Special Representative’s Report
Geneva, 15th March 2022. At the 28th meeting of the 49th Regular Session of the Human Rights Council, the Special Representative on the Situation of violence against Children, held an interactive dialogue regarding the ongoing and increasing violence against children around the world.
In opening her statement, Mrs Maalla M’jid voiced her concern over increased levels of violence during the pandemic. Not only has violence become more incremental, but it has also become less visible considering that it has shifted to the internet and social media. Ms M’jid touched upon the latest events in Ukraine and the increasing human rights abuses and violence towards children and families. She called on states to work together and to put an end to the ongoing suffering, not only in Ukraine but around the world.
The Delegate of the European Union applauded the work of the SR in her mandate to end violence against children and set up an efficient system to prevent further abuses in the future. The delegate expressed deep concern over the findings in the Special Rapporteur’s report concerning the increasing levels of violence during the two year Covid-19 pandemic and the devastating effects on children and families. The delegate revealed that combating violence against children is one of the six priorities of the EU. The EU affirmed its commitment to working closely with the Special Representative’s mandate to protect children and contributing to a collective strategy by the international community.
In the ensuing statement by the Delegation of Lithuania on behalf of the Nordic and Baltic States, the delegate acknowledged the Special Rapporteur for her important work in promoting the prevention and elimination of all forms of violence against children by 2030. He noted again the upsetting impact the Covid-19 pandemic had on families and children which catalysed the risk of violence, sexual abuse and cyber bullying. The delegate expressed his concern about the dangers children face in conflicts, environmental factors and food instability and stressed the importance of providing a safe and stable environment and eliminating violations of all forms, in order to attain an efficient and persistent result. The delegate further emphasized decisions by states to include a child rights based approach and active child engagement in sustainable policies on a national and international level. Concluding his statement, the delegate requested the Special Representative elucidate how specific action can be implemented to fully recover from the pandemic.
The Delegate from Argentina spoke on behalf of Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Honduras, Mexico, Panama, Paraguay, Peru and Uruguay and stated that in order to attain the goals of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, the international community must look at the issue from a perspective of co-responsibility. He elaborated further that only with a change of point of view, that is, in view of children’s rights, the problem can be solved. The international community must treat children as subjects and not objects of the problem.
Subsequently, the Delegation of Cambodia, on behalf of the Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), emphasized that numerous mechanisms have been put in place by governments of member states in order to oppose the increasing violence after the pandemic. In this context, the delegate pointed out the ASEAN Guidelines on the protection of children from 2016 that serve as a fundamental basis to address the issue. The delegate encouraged states to participate in the fight for the protection of all children and promote their full potential and wellbeing. In concluding his statement, the delegate expressed ASEAN’s objective to collaborate with UN mechanisms and to promote camaraderie among all members.
The Delegation of Sierra Leone concurred with the other delegations and highlighted the need to foster an environment where children can grow up free from violence and abuse. The delegate called on states to realise constructive collaboration on sub divisional and regional levels. Furthermore, the delegate emphasized the importance of recognising the need for investment in the fight against violence and the protection of children.
The Chinese delegate remarked on the upsetting impact of the pandemic and its consequences on the vulnerability of children. The delegate expressed deep concern over the long term detention of immigrant children as well as the frequent shootings in schools in the USA. The State representative condemned the US immigration policy and urged the USA not only to change their immigration policies and stop separating children and their parents, but also to implement measures to prevent gun violence and tackle gun use.
UNICEF shared their concern that Covid-19 pandemic has set back efforts to end violence against children and has disrupted the sustainable goals of the 2030 Agenda. The delegate found that essential violence prevention and response services were seriously disrupted in at least 104 countries due to the pandemic. The delegate further expresses her commitment to join the SR in her urgent call to invest in integrated services for children and their caregivers across all relevant sectors and emphasized that these investments are a legal and moral imperative. Investments to prevent violations can both avert the economic costs that result from violence and remove a critical barrier to the realisation of children’s rights. In her concluding remarks the delegate stressed UNICEF’s commitment to supporting states in their endeavours and to continue working closely with the Office of the Special Representative.
NGO representatives welcomed the report of the Special Rapporteur and acknowledged the risks children had faced during the Covid-19 pandemic that continue to exist as a result of ongoing conflicts, environmental and other factors. Emphasis was placed on the need to invest in prevention services as well as to implement a child inclusive approach on an international, national and regional level. Several representatives called upon the international community to listen to children, making them part of the process of being able to shape their own future. NGOs reinforced the need for states to take collaborative action in order to improve the wellbeing and lives of children and their families and invest in a better future.
The Special Rapporteur reiterated her position that the key to protecting children around the world lies in the cooperation of the UN together with states, private actors and organisations at an international, national and regional level. In order to recover from the pandemic, it is crucial to implement cooperative solutions that are people oriented to make sure these steps consider the needs of people, especially of children. The measures adopted by states should include integrated services with a special emphasis on the need for social protection and assistance for children and their caregivers. The Special Representative pointed out the necessity to involve children in action plans and empower them to advocate for their own rights. The international community needs to pay particular attention to the fact that children are expressing themselves increasingly through social media and needs to take this evolution into account when adapting their improvement plans.
Concerning child marriage, the Special Representative indicated the importance of taking into account all root causes. There needs to be a change not only in the legal sector but also a change in the social conditions as well as in gender discrimination standards to provide an effective and sustainable solution. This also includes improving living conditions in the rural areas of many African countries to make change possible. The Special Representative once again addressed the ongoing detentions of children in many countries and noted that depriving children of their liberty is not a solution in fighting the real problems and that she would do everything feasible within her mandate to stop these internments. She highlighted the importance of states to act in areas of peace and with financial resources and encouraged states to maintain cross-border cooperation to ensure the safety of children.
Position of Geneva International Centre for Justice
Geneva International Centre for Justice (GICJ) acknowledges the well prepared report by the Special Representative and the efforts she has undertaken within her mandate to face the truth of the ongoing and increasing violence against children. We are convinced that national and regional co-operations that were set up by the Office of the Special Representative have created an important stepping stone in redressing the negative effects of the pandemic and will effectively and positively impact children’s lives around the world in the future.
However, GICJ is deeply concerned about the increasing threats of violence children have been facing due to the pandemic. Not only has violence increased, it has also become less visible, putting children even more at risk. GICJ calls on all states to make greater efforts to protect children from all forms of abuse. We encourage the international community to take effective measures to ensure the rights of children are upheld, and call on states to take greater efforts to guarantee the protection of children online. Children must be actively included in this process, must be able to advocate for their own rights and must have the opportunity to make a change. It is only together that we are able to find a sustainable solution that effectively contributes to changing children’s living conditions throughout many areas in the world - only together can we find this “vaccine against the pandemic of violation against children”. The youth is depending on states to step up and take action – because children are not only our future, they are also our present.
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