49th Session of the Human Rights Council
28 February - 1st April 2022
ITEM 3 – Interactive Dialogue with Special Representative on the sale of children
9th and 10th of March 2022
By Patricia Jjuuko / GICJ
During the 19th and 20th meeting of the 49th Session of the Human Rights Council held on the 9th and 10th of March, the Special Rapporteur (SR) on the sale and sexual exploitation of children, Ms Mama Fatima Singhateh, presented her report during an interactive dialogue on the same topic. In her statement, Ms Singhateh highlighted the concrete measures states should adopt in the fight to end exploitative practices against children including the sharing of good practice to tackle the sale of children for the purposes of child marriage, policies to end the sexual exploitation of children in prostitution in the context of travel and tourism, and ideas to ensure the online safety of children. Furthermore, she underscored the need for states to provide services to children that have faced abuse and violations including child friendly justice systems that are free.
In the ensuing Interactive Dialogue, delegates expressed their concern about the increasing number of violations against children facilitated by new technologies. The delegates further provided an overview of some of the key steps that could be taken to protect children from the sale, sexual exploitation, and abuse.
Geneva International Centre for Justice (GICJ) welcomes the update of the Special Rapporteur. Together with the international community, we are deeply concerned with the continuing threats children face across the world and call on all stakeholders to make greater efforts to protect children from all forms of abuse. Furthermore, we urge all states to bring perpetrators of crimes committed against children to justice.
In 1990, international awareness about the commercial sexual exploitation and the sale of children led to the appointment of a United Nations Special Rapporteur on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography through resolution 1990/68 of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights. It mandated the Special Rapporteur to investigate the exploitation of children around the world and to submit reports to the General Assembly and the Commission on Human Rights, making recommendations for the protection of the rights of the children concerned.
The mandate on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography has been regularly renewed ever since. In its resolution 7/13, the Human Rights Council mandated the Special Rapporteur, in particular through visits and exchange of communications with Governments, to; analyse the root causes of the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography; address all the contributing factors, including demand and identify new patterns of sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography. Furthermore, the Special Rapporteur was given the task, to identify, exchange, and promote best practices on measures to combat the sale and sexual exploitation of children; promote comprehensive strategies and measures to prevent the sale and sexual exploitation of children; make recommendations on the promotion and protection of human rights of children, actual or potential victims, as well as on the rehabilitation of child victims of sale and sexual exploitation and integrate a gender perspective throughout the work of the mandate.
In March 2020, Ms Mama Fatima Singhateh, was appointed by the Secretary-General as Special Rapporteur on the sale and sexual exploitation of children. Ms Singhateh has held several high-level positions in public service in the Gambia including filling the role of Justice Minister, prosecutor, legislative draftsperson, High Court Judge and Justice of Appeal. She has drafted laws, organised, and conducted many training sessions, delivered presentations at both national and international fora and written articles and reports on many issues relating to the protection and promotion of human rights, particularly on the rights of the child. As the Minister of Justice, Ms Singhateh personally supervised and oversaw the drafting of the laws that prohibit and criminalise female genital mutilation and child marriage, and successfully presented them in Parliament for enactment in 2016.
Report of the Special Rapporteur on the Situation
In report A/HRC/49/51 the Special Representative on the sale and sexual exploitation of children, including child prostitution, child pornography and other child sexual abuse material, Mama Fatima Singhateh, presented a practical approach to addressing the sale and sexual exploitation of children by providing a set of concrete measures and good practices, collected from across the world, to tackle the sale of children for the purpose of child marriage and the sexual exploitation of children in prostitution, in the context of travel, tourism, and online.
The report refers to prevention, protection and rehabilitation services, and presents a checklist on the Special Rapporteur’s website for states and other stakeholders to use as a concrete and user-friendly tool in their work to prevent these forms of sale and sexual exploitation, to protect children and provide adequate services to child victims and survivors.
In her report, Ms Singhateh stated that, although there are international and regional instruments, including literature aimed at promoting the rights of children and protecting them from all forms of violence, the incidences of sale, sexual abuse, sexual exploitation of children continue to increase, and many child victims do not receive adequate support. She further noted that the key challenge to addressing the sale and sexual exploitation of children at the national level is the inadequate implementation of existing laws and policies.
She commended the government of Montenegro for the significant efforts they have made to improve their policies to protect women and children from violence and sexual exploitation. Montenegro, which has ratified most of the major international instruments of relevance to the sale and sexual exploitation of children, has also created initiatives to provide services and assistance for children in need. However, Ms Singhateh noted that despite the various positive steps already taken, there was a lack of reliable, centralised, disaggregated data on the phenomenon of child sexual abuse and exploitation which makes it difficult to determine the nature and prevalence of the problem.
To address these issues, in Ms Singhateh’s recommendations, she encouraged governments to ensure that the issues of the sale, exploitation and abuse of children are included in the national school curricula so that a comprehensive education system including the effects of child marriage are accessible to all children in accordance with their ages and evolving capacities. Teachers and counsellors in schools should also be provided with extensive training on these issues including on how to detect and report incidences of sexual abuse and exploitation of children and how best to support victims. She concluded her statement by encouraging member states to positively respond to her requests of country visits as they are very crucial in forming a pillar of enriching her mandate and enhancing continued dialogue and cooperation with states.
Statement by the Montenegro Delegation
The Permanent Representative of Montenegro to the United Nations Office, Ms Slavica Milačić, highlighted both the achievements and shortcomings of the government’s approach to tackling exploitative practices against children. As a founding member of the core group on early and forced marriages, the representative stated that authorities in Montenegro have committed themselves to ensuring that adequate policies are in place to respond to all forms of violence against children. The representative acknowledged that their legislative framework will be further streamlined to ensure full compliance with Articles 2 and 3 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC).
The delegate of the European Union, Ms Linda Ekholm thanked the SR for her detailed report and expressed the support of the European Union for the mandate. She voiced her concern over the increasing abuse of children and remarked that the EU is convinced that real progress can be made only when efforts are made in all relevant areas. Ms Ekholm stated that the development of the digital world facilitated the creation of a global market for child sexual abuse material. To curb this, the delegate revealed that the EU is preparing legislation that requires relevant companies to detect and report child sexual abuse material to public authorities.
The Delegate from Uruguay, Mr Álvaro Moerzinger Paganispoke on behalf of Chile, Argentina, Brazil, Mexico, Colombia, Costa Rica, Honduras, Ecuador, Panama, Guatemala, and Peru and strongly condemned the severe violations of the rights of children and stated their commitment to continue working at all levels to eradicate it. He emphasised that they regretted cases of violence against children committed or facilitated by new technologies which continue to increase, posing a major challenge to states. Mr Moerzinger Pagani noted the importance of seeking ways to strengthen cooperation between the public and private sectors including with technology and tourism companies. Concluding his statement, the representative asked the SR if her mandate could serve to facilitate that goal.
The Delegate of Latvia, Mr Bahtijors Hasans on behalf of the Nordic and Baltic States, thanked the Special Representative for her report which provided a valuable overview of the key steps that states could take to protect children from the sale, sexual exploitation, and abuse of children. In his statement, Mr Hasans stated that the Nordic Baltic countries are committed to the fight against the sale and exploitation of children. This he noted does not only include the establishment of a comprehensive legal policy network but also ensuring its effective implementation. The representative asserted that information and communication technologies have increasingly been used as a means of child sexual exploitation which became more prevalent during the pandemic. He further emphasised the need to increase digital literacy among children and include other relevant topics in the school curriculum such as a comprehensive sexual education. In his concluding remarks, Mr Hasans asked the SR if she could share the best practice of integrating a gender perspective in addressing the sale and sexual exploitation and abuse of children.
The Delegate of China on behalf of a group of countries, expressed deep concern with the growing crime of trafficking persons, especially children. The delegate, Mr Jiang Duan noted that trafficking persons was a serious violation of human rights particularly for children. He further asserted that systemic racism, racial discrimination and hate crimes in some countries have exacerbated the trafficking of children. Mr Duan called upon countries concerned to take measure to combat all crimes of human trafficking and bring the perpetrators to justice.
The Libyan delegate, Mr Hesham Huwisa appreciated the efforts reflected in the report of the Special Rapporteur. The delegate underscored the need to strengthen the measures to prevent child exploitation and supported the recommendation of analysing legal frameworks and policies of protection. He further agreed with the Special Rapporteur that states have a responsibility under international law to exercise due diligence to prevent the sale of children, investigate and prosecute traffickers and fight impunity while taking preventative measures to put an end to these violations.
The Delegate of Namibia, Ms Tongi Shikongo welcomed the Special Rapporteur’s comprehensive report and thanked her for the reference in the report to some of Namibia’s efforts in preventing the sale and sexual exploitation of children. Ms Shikongo noted that Namibia remains concerned over access to the internet which plays a role in the sexual exploitation of children. To address this concern, the delegate stated that Namibia runs a reporting portal to receive reports of child exploitation and abuse and has a developed a protocol for investigating child online sexual exploitation and abuse cases. She further stated that the Childcare Protection Act of 2015 places the welfare of children at the forefront of all matters that impact the Namibian child. This Act provides a comprehensive protection of the rights and welfare of the child and prohibits harmful practices such as child marriage and sexual initiation practices. It also reaffirms the voice of the child by allowing children to consent to medical procedures and HIV testing from the age of 14 years. Namibia therefore recognises the value of child participation and legally requires that children as far as possible, are addressed in a language that they understand.
The representative of UN Women, Mr Akseli Lamminmaki affirmed that preventing sexual violence against children requires holistic efforts to address gender inequalities in societies. The representative also welcomed the recommendation to address social norms held by the wider community that allow child marriage and sexual exploitation to happen. He emphasised the need to involve men, women, boys and girls, to increase their understanding of the long term societal costs of harmful social practices which is crucial for preventing of the sale and sexual exploitation of children. The representative further expressed the need for policy responses to be holistic, gender and age sensitive.
UNICEF shared its concerns that despite the effort of the international community to tackle child violations, children continue to be subjected to sale and sexual exploitation in every corner of the world. The representative, Ms Anne Grandjean stated that they were encouraged by the promising examples of states working to avoid the sale and sexual exploitation of children as well as to protect children and provide rehabilitative services and access to justice. She further emphasised the need for a systematic and comprehensive approach to prevention including universal access to birth registration, family and parenting support, access to justice, safe schools as well as the universal adoption of transformative norms and values. In her concluding remarks, the representative urged states to step up their efforts to overcome the setbacks from the pandemic and ensure that every child is protected from exploitation.
Following interventions by delegations, interested states, and civil society entities, the Special Rapporteur made her closing remarks. She thanked States for engaging in activities that address the sale and exploitation of children. Ms Singhateh reiterated the need for states to draft laws that are applicable to those in need, in rural and marginalised communities. She underscored the importance of services that should be provided to victims of sales and sexual exploitation including child friendly justice systems that should be accessible freely with specifically trained individuals to handle children that have been traumatised.
Regarding strategies to integrate children in activities that address the sale and exploitation of children, the Special Rapporteur emphasised that children's participation is key, and it should be institutionalised. Children should be involved in the designing of policies that address matters that relate to the sale and exploitation of fellow children and be involved in the enacting of laws.
Ms Singhateh concluded her statement by encouraging members to read the report and endeavour to learn from other states who are doing things differently to enable them build on those good practices and even develop them further to ensure that together, they address the issues and the scourge related to the sale and exploitation of children.
Position of Geneva International Centre for Justice
Geneva International Centre for Justice (GICJ) commends the Special Rapporteur for the crucial work already completed in promoting the safety of children in the world and thank her for the detailed report on the practical approach to addressing the sale and sexual exploitation of children. We applaud the recommendations in the Special Rapporteur’s report that should pave the way to the safeguarding of children and their futures.
We remain deeply concerned however, of the increasing abuses and exploitation of children in all corners of the world. We call on all states and the international community to make concerted efforts to protect children by not only strengthening their laws but by enforcing them. We emphasise the need to involve children in the process of enacting laws that affect them to enable them to advocate for their own rights. Furthermore, we encourage states to include as part of their curricula, the education of children about sexual abuse and exploitation. Together as a team, we can protect children who are the world’s most valuable resource and its best hope for the future.
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