Violence against Children Has Increased Due to Pandemic and Multiple Humanitarian Crises

OHCHR

The Human Rights Council this afternoon heard from the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Violence against Children, who said that violence against children has increased due to the pandemic and multiple humanitarian crises.  It also heard from the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict who said that 2021 had posed unprecedented challenges for the protection of children living in conflict zones.

Najat Maalla M’jid, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Violence against Children, said the urgency of ending violence against children had not diminished since she last addressed the Council.  On the contrary, it had increased due to the impact of the pandemic and multiple humanitarian crises caused by conflict, climate change and natural disasters.  Based on all her work, the Special Representative shared three key takeaways.  The first was that ending violence against children could not wait because violence against children was increasing worldwide.  The second key message was that ending violence could not wait because of the serious human and economic costs of violence.  The third message was that ending violence was possible, feasible and cost-effective.  Investing in child protection and violence prevention should be seen as a “vaccine” against the pandemic of violence against children.

In the discussion on violence against children, speakers said that violence had immediate, lifelong and inter-generational impacts on children and their families.  Combatting violence against children was an important priority, and all relevant services and authorities should work together to serve the best interest of the child.  The risk of violence and abuse, cyber-bullying, the mental health gap, the increase in violence and other factors were all matters of great concern which had been exacerbated by the pandemic.  Children were agents of change as well as the future, and should be respected as such.

Virginia Gamba, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict, said 2021 had certainly posed unprecedented challenges for the protection of children living in conflict zones.  The year was marked by a sustained high number of grave violations against children: killing and maiming remained the highest verified violation, followed by the recruitment and use, and the denial of humanitarian access.  Compounded by political, security and climate emergencies, the repeated waves of the COVID-19 pandemic had continued to increase children’s vulnerability and to hamper the monitoring and verification of grave violations, as well as the engagement with parties to conflict.  There were further areas that also needed increased attention, such as children with disabilities, the nexus between climate change and grave violations against children in conflict-affected countries, and accountability mechanisms.

In the discussion on children and armed conflict, speakers said the protection of children in armed conflict was a vital concern for all: children had the right to a future, and one where peace prevailed, and it was up to the international community to give them the opportunity and future in which they could be the ones who made changes.  Resources must be allocated to the effective implementation of the rights of the child.  Girl children in particular should be guaranteed education, especially in the situation of armed conflict, in which they were at ever-greater risk of sexual violence. 

Speaking in the discussion on violence against children were: European Union, Lithuania (on behalf of a group of countries), Argentina (on behalf of a group of countries), Cambodia (on behalf of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations), Sovereign Order of Malta, Germany, Egypt, Sierra Leone, Montenegro, Israel, UN Women, Paraguay, Libya, Fiji, Slovenia, United Nations Children’s Fund, Malaysia, Iraq, Cuba, Venezuela, France, Maldives, Kenya, Luxembourg, Ethiopia, Brazil, Namibia, China, Marshall Islands, Saudi Arabia, Lesotho, Austria, Russian Federation, Cambodia, Indonesia, Panama, Algeria, India, South Africa, Mauritania, Uruguay, Tunisia, United States, Belgium, Afghanistan, United Kingdom, Azerbaijan, Albania, Malta, Nigeria, Croatia, Italy, North Macedonia, South Sudan, Portugal, Malawi, Georgia, Tanzania, Ukraine, Philippines, Iran, Armenia and Morocco.

Also speaking were: Commission Nationale Indépendante des droits de l’homme du Burundi,  National Human Rights Commission of India, International Catholic Child Bureau, International Volunteerism Organization for Women, Education and Development – VIDES, Arigatou International, Child Rights Connect, Asian-Pacific Resource and Research Centre for Women (ARROW), Defence for Children International, Families of Victims of Involuntary Disappearance (FIND), Associazione Comunita Papa Giovanni XXIII, Edmund Rice International Limited, and World Organisation Against Torture.

Speaking in the discussion on children in armed conflict were European Union, Estonia (on behalf of a group of countries), Belgium (on behalf of States members of the International Organization of la Francophonie), Argentina (on behalf of a group of countries), Uruguay (on behalf of a group of countries), European Union (on behalf of a group of countries), Paraguay, Israel, Italy, Germany, Sovereign Order of Malta, Qatar and UN Women.

Speaking in right of reply were China, Armenia and Azerbaijan.

The webcast of the Human Rights Council meetings can be found here.  All meeting summaries can be found here.  Documents and reports related to the Human Rights Council’s forty-ninth regular session can be found here.

The Council will next meet at 9 a.m. on Wednesday, 16 March, when it will hear the presentation of thematic reports under agenda item three on the promotion and protection of all human rights, civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights, including the right to development, and then hold a general debate on item three.  It will continue the discussion with the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict in the afternoon.

Interactive Dialogue with the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Violence against Children

Documentation

The Council had before it the report (A/HRC/49/57) of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Violence against Children on the damaging effects of two years of COVID-19 on child protection and on children’s well-being.

Presentation of Report

NAJAT MAALLA M’JID, Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Violence against Children, said the urgency of ending violence against children had not diminished since she last addressed the Council.  On the contrary, it had increased due to the impact of the pandemic and multiple humanitarian crises caused by conflict, climate change and natural disasters.  Based on all her work, the Special Representative shared three key takeaways.  The first was that ending violence against children could not wait because violence against children was increasing worldwide.  Waves of devastating crises were fuelling a rise in the number of children experiencing violence online and offline.  Rising poverty, lack of access to education, social disparities and increasing displacement of children were exacerbating child labour, sexual violence, child marriage, trafficking, smuggling, and enrolment in criminal gangs and armed groups.  These crises had severely tested the capacity of States, communities and families to ensure children’s education, protection, wellbeing and social welfare, and yet, much had been achieved – and achieved rapidly – through a combination of political will, innovation and adequate resources.

The second key message was that ending violence could not wait because of the serious human and economic costs of violence.  Violence had a huge impact on children’s mental health.  Children were experiencing anxiety, behavioural disorders, depression and suicide attempts.  Child victims of violence may not reach their full education and health potential, which would limit their future income and productivity and impact human capital development.  A huge financial toll was paid by its victims and societies.  The third message was that ending violence was possible, feasible and cost-effective.  Building back better and beyond must be seen as an opportunity to end violence against children in all settings.  The vision and action must be broad, ensuring complementarity between humanitarian action, security and people-centred development.  To this end, cross-sectoral child and gender sensitive protection and violence prevention systems must be strengthened and scaled up.  Investing in child protection and violence prevention generated a large, long-term prevention dividend.  Investing in child protection and violence prevention should be seen as a “vaccine” against the pandemic of violence against children.

Discussion

In the ensuing interactive dialogue, speakers appreciated the efforts of the Special Representative to develop guidelines.  Violence had immediate, lifelong and inter-generational impacts on children and their families.  Combatting violence against children was an important priority, and all relevant services and authorities should work together to serve the best interest of the child.  The risk of violence and abuse, cyber-bullying, the mental health gap, increase in violence and other factors were all matters of great concern which had been exacerbated by the pandemic.  Child-rights based approaches should be employed by States in attaining the Sustainable Development Goals and ensuring children’s well-being.  The international community should work to reverse the negative effects of the pandemic.  The report allowed all to analyse the detrimental effects that the last two years had had on children and their well-being.  It was important to think about the problem of violence against children from the perspective of co-responsibility, reviewing starting points, modalities, prejudices and belief, before implementing new policies.  Violence against children in the home, online and in the community had both increased and become less visible during the pandemic.  Children were agents of change as well as the future, and should be respected as such.

Today’s armed conflict in Ukraine and conflicts in other countries around the world were having a dramatic effect on children, and it was vital to take urgent action; these children were exposed to differing forms of violence, which would have an effect for generations.  The protection of children should always be the priority of the international community, and there should be an immediate end to the hostilities.  Ongoing parallel crises, including the climate crisis, only served to further put children in danger.  Adolescent girls were at greater risk of violence, facing sexual and gender-based violence, and were ever more exposed to multiple risks.  The international community should redouble its efforts to put an end to and respond to the situation, which could not be more urgent.  Ill-treatment and sexual abuse were a grave concern for many speakers, as was child marriage.  It was imperative to foster a progressive environment in which children were able to grow up free from exploitation and abuse.  The importance of holding the rights of all children at the forefront of national programmes for recovery should not be neglected or ignored.  Children should be further involved in decision-making that concerned them.

Interim Remarks

NAJAT MAALLAA M’JID, Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Violence against Children, said that one of the main gaps that the United Nations as a whole system needed to recover from after the pandemic was dealing with the lack of coordination and the weak multilateralism and bilateralism.  What was needed was closer collaboration mechanisms that were people centred and were not only based on geo-political interests.  They should be based on the needs and rights of children and not donor-driven approaches.  It was important to have less silos and ensure that humanitarian support was linked to people-centred development and peace.  She further highlighted the need for stronger coherence between Geneva and New York as well as more constructive brainstorming meetings to discuss the main barriers and have more South-South collaboration.  They had discussed having a knowledge platform and having context specific practices.  Children were not divided so the services for children needed to be a chain.  

It was important to pay attention to what was happening at the grass root level as well as to listen to children.  As for questions on involving children, they were already involved online.  It was important to inform and empower children.  They needed to see children as actors of change as more and more children were expressing themselves on social media.  They were part of the solution.  The Special Representative further highlighted the need for integrated services, which she recognised was easy to say and less easy to do.  They needed a safe, inclusive and empowering education, since early childhood, including digital learning, gender mainstreaming, mental health and sexual reproductive health, which would result in social protection for children and their care givers.

Discussion

In the discussion, speakers said that violence against children continued to grow and all stakeholders should work together to combat it.  The work of the United Nations Taskforce on Children Deprived of their Liberty was appreciated, and children should not be detained due to migration issues.  The Convention on the Rights of the Child had enshrined the promotion and protection of children’s rights, but they were still being challenged by climate change and the pandemic.  The international community should collectively invest in the future of the children of the world and ensure that no one was left behind.  Vaccinations and medication should be provided to all children without discrimination, including migrant children and children in conflict zones.  Ukrainian children were suffering due to the Russian invasion.  Pandemic-imposed lockdowns had increased incidents of violence against children in the home.  Children were, after all, the most vulnerable group of society, and girls were the most vulnerable of that group, suffering from the double handicap of age and gender. 

COVID-19 had harmed children’s mental well-being, and the report painted a grim picture as to how the violence against them was invisible.  The pandemic had revealed and exacerbated social inequalities that were already affecting the most vulnerable children.  The international community must work vigorously to end this injustice: it was an urgent matter, and all tools must be used to end the pandemic of violence against children, which had a life-long effect.  Social and political awareness should be increased wherever possible, and children should be listened to in order to ensure that their needs were met at all possible levels.  They should be involved in decision-making that implicated them, and policies designed to provide them with the services they needed to reverse and remedy the situation. The international community should do more to ensure the effectiveness of policies.  There were as many child problems in the world as there were children, and all should work together to put an end to these problems.

Concluding Remarks

NAJAT MAALLAA M’JID, Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Violence against Children, explained that, on COVID-19 related violence against children, she had already collected many good practices using online and offline responses.  Regarding partnership with Africa, she said that it was one of the priority regions as well as the Middle East and North Africa region and that she was working at the country level.  On child marriage, she said that it was important to take into account all root causes, education being one of them.  She underlined the need for the legal and economic empowerment of women as the increase in child marriage was a coping mechanisms to poverty.  All religious and traditional leaders must be involved in the desired change. 

Migrants were not a homogeneous group, she continued, and the push factors (which could be poverty, war, and climate change) as well as the pull factors had to be analysed.  They could not respond properly if they were not dealing with both factors.  She called on the international community to play a strong role as it was needed to make sure that children’s rights were embedded at all levels.  Child deprivation of liberty was not the solution and she was pushing for alternative solutions to detention.

Interactive Dialogue with the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict

Documentation

The Council has before it the annual report (A/HRC/49/58) of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict on children and armed conflict.

Presentation of the Report

VIRGINIA GAMBA, Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict, said 2021 had certainly posed unprecedented challenges for the protection of children living in conflict zones.  The year was marked by a sustained high number of grave violations against children: killing and maiming remained the highest verified violation, followed by the recruitment and use, and the denial of humanitarian access.  There were continued increases in attacks on schools and hospitals, sexual violence and child abduction. The detention of children for their actual or alleged association with parties to conflict, including those designated as terrorist by the United Nations, remained a disturbing reality.  Compounded by political, security and climate emergencies, the repeated waves of the COVID-19 pandemic had continued to increase children’s vulnerability and to hamper the monitoring and verification of grave violations, as well as engagement with parties to the conflict.  Most worryingly, last year the internationally agreed definition of a child had been increasingly challenged.

The interconnected nature of the world had become ever more visible over the last two years, including with the COVID-19 pandemic, but it had also shown once more that by working together the international community could achieve results for children.  Collaboration also entailed providing a space for children to be heard.  The past 25 years had shown the centrality of this mandate to the human rights, peace and security, peacebuilding, development, and humanitarian agendas.  During those years, the mandate had contributed to developing and strengthening policies and systems, including in the area of national justice mechanisms, and the protection of children either through action plans, joint commitments or command orders, advocacy and technical support to parties to conflict.  However, there were further areas that also needed increased attention, such as children with disabilities, the nexus between climate change and grave violations against children in conflict-affected countries, and accountability mechanisms.  Children around the world deserved better; they deserved to be brought up in the spirit of peace, safety, dignity, tolerance, freedom, equality and solidarity as agreed on jointly by Member States in the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

Discussion

In the discussion, speakers said as Russian rockets laid waste to Ukraine, children in the country were facing unbearable trauma, in full disregard of international humanitarian law and the United Nations Charter.  More than one million children had fled the country, many alone or separated from their family members.  The decision of the International Criminal Court to open an investigation into the situation in Ukraine was welcomed.  The protection of children in armed conflict was a vital concern for all: children had the right to a future, and one where peace prevailed, and it was up to the international community to give them the opportunity and future in which they could be the ones who made changes.  Resources must be allocated to the effective implementation of the rights of the child.  Girl children in particular should be guaranteed education, especially in the situation of armed conflict, in which they were at ever-greater risk of sexual violence.  All students and educators should be able to learn and teach in a safe context.  Education was not only fundamental for human rights, it was also an essential protection mechanism.

The creation of the mandate was an important milestone in the international human rights system, but it would not reach its fruition until the involvement of all children in armed conflict came to an end.  The scale and severity of all six categories of grave violations committed against children as reported was a particular concern.  Human rights mechanisms should help to contribute to all efforts to protect children.  The United Nations estimated that 30 per cent of the population of Ukraine was in dire need of urgent humanitarian assistance, many of whom were children, and there should be safe passage of civilians as well as an end to indiscriminate attacks on civilian infrastructure.  Respect for international humanitarian law was paramount.  Children in Ukraine needed help, protection, supplies, and access to basic social services such as health and education.  States should respect obligations derived from human rights law and international human rights law; they should put an end immediately to serious violations and ensure the implementation of the rights of all civilians, including children.  There should be no impunity for those who violated children’s rights.

Link: https://www.ungeneva.org/en/news-media/meeting-summary/2022/03/afternoon-human-rights-council-violence-against-children-has

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