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Committee on the Rights of the Child Opens its Ninetieth Session, Hears from the High Commissioner for Human Rights

Meeting Summaries

 

The Committee on the Rights of the Child this morning opened its ninetieth session, which is being held in Geneva from 3 May to 3 June and during which the Committee will review reports on the efforts of Greece, Iceland, Cambodia, Somalia, Zambia, Cuba, Djibouti, Cyprus, Canada, Kiribati, Croatia and Chile to adhere to the Convention on the Rights of the Child. Michelle Bachelet, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, addressed the opening.

Ms. Bachelet said that as a mother, grandmother and paediatrician, it was an honour to open the Committee’s session. She thanked the Committee for its commitment to its critical mandate, in particular throughout the challenging period over the past two years. The current global situation of instability due to armed conflicts, the COVID-19 pandemic, and intersecting political, economic and environmental crises posed an immediate threat to all children’s rights. The impacts of COVID-19 were reversing decades of gains made towards realising children’s rights, placing them at risk in many countries.

More than 1.3 million children worldwide had lost at least one parent or guardian in one year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In Afghanistan, Myanmar, Ukraine, Yemen and other conflict-afflicted areas, children continued to suffer the most serious consequences of war. Further, the effects of climate change continued to threaten the most fundamental rights of every child in every country.

Committee Chair Mikiko Otani, in her opening remarks, expressed deep concern about continuing grave violations of the rights of children in Ukraine. She said that the Committee would continue to address this issue in coordination with relevant United Nations bodies. The Committee would also discuss more generally how it should respond to gross violation of children’s rights in conflict and other situations in all parts of the world.

Mainstreaming children’s rights at all levels, Ms. Otani said, was crucial to achieving full and universal realisation of children’s rights. She said that the Committee would engage in the ongoing process of developing a United Nations Guidance Note on child rights mainstreaming. This was a crucial and practical step toward making the children’s rights agenda more visible and systematically integrated into all areas of the work of the United Nations.

Before adopting the session’s agenda, the Committee also heard statements from Benjamin Smith of the International Labour Organization, Imma Guerras of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Marianna Bolshakova of the United Nations Environment Programme, Anne Grandjean of the United Nations Children's Fund, Alex Conte of the non-governmental organization Child Rights Connect, and Allegra Franchetti, Secretary of the Committee.

Summaries of the public meetings of the Committee can be found here, while webcasts of the public meetings can be found here. The programme of work of the Committee’s ninetieth session and other documents related to the session can be found here.

The Committee will next meet in public at 3 p.m. this afternoon to consider the combined fourth to sixth periodic report of Greece (CRC/C/GRC/4-6).

Statements

MICHELLE BACHELET, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, said that as a mother, grandmother and paediatrician, it was an honour to open the Committee’s session. She thanked the Committee for its commitment to its critical mandate, in particular throughout the challenging period over the past two years.

The current global situation of instability due to armed conflicts, the COVID-19 pandemic, and intersecting political, economic and environmental crises posed an immediate threat to all children’s rights. The impacts of COVID-19 were reversing decades of gains made towards realising children’s rights, placing them at risk in many countries.

According to the Office of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Violence against Children, more than 1.3 million children worldwide lost at least one parent or guardian in one year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Further, two-thirds of countries had reported a disruption in violence against children-related services due to COVID-19. An estimated 100 million more children were living in multidimensional poverty by the end of 2021 compared to the pre-COVID situation.

Disruptions in health coverage were leading to higher rates of child and infant mortality, and an estimated 80 million children under the age of 1 were at increased risk of contracting vaccine-preventable diseases in the context of COVID-19 containment and response measures.

In the last two years, nearly 150 million children missed more than half of their in-person schooling. Two thirds of the world’s school-aged children could not access online education during school closures because they did not have Internet access at home. Twenty-three countries had yet to fully open schools, putting many children at risk of dropping out.

Those who were already marginalised and discriminated against had been affected the worst – children with disabilities, from the poorest households, girls, migrants, displaced and those living in conflict-affected settings, among others.

In Afghanistan, Myanmar, Ukraine, Yemen and other conflict-afflicted areas, children continued to suffer the most serious consequences of war. These children were entitled to care, assistance and protection at all times, including protection from violence, access to adequate healthcare, nutrition, education and housing.

The effects of climate change continued to threaten the most fundamental rights of every child in every country. However, a ray of hope, Ms. Bachelet said, was the increased involvement of child human rights defenders in climate action. She called on the Committee’s Children’s Advisory Team to support the drafting of its general comment on children’s rights and the environment with a special focus on climate change.

Ms. Bachelet also called on States and other stakeholders to allow children to participate meaningfully in decisions and processes affecting them. The Secretary-General had decided to develop a Guidance Note on child rights mainstreaming through an inter-agency process. The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights would continue to cooperate with the Committee, the United Nations Children’s Fund, and the inter-agency core group on this initiative.

The financial resources to the treaty body system had not kept pace with its increased workload, and staff were challenged to meet competing and urgent demands. The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights was engaged in appeals to Member States to put the human rights mechanisms on a more sustainable financial footing. Several Member States had pledged support, and Ms. Bachelet expressed hope that this would lead to concrete action.

The Secretary-General’s next report on the status of the treaty body system to the seventy-seventh session of the General Assembly was an opportunity to present a unified proposal for a strengthened treaty body system. Ms. Bachelet said that the Committee had a crucial role to play in strengthening and adapting the work of the treaty body system.

Ms. Bachelet noted that the Committee had issued important findings related to the children of foreign fighters and on the cross-border impact of climate change on the rights of children.

Discrimination, inequality, lack of political will, inadequate allocation of public budget, among other barriers, meant that children’s rights were often far from reality. Urgent action was needed to prevent these impacts from persisting well beyond the immediate crises. Ms. Bachelet wished the Committee every success in tackling these issues.

MIKIKO OTANI, Committee Chair, expressed deep concern about continuing grave violations of the rights of children in Ukraine. The Committee would continue to address this issue in coordination with the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, other treaty bodies and relevant United Nations bodies. The Committee would also discuss more generally how it should respond to gross violation of children’s rights in conflict and other situations in all parts of the world.

The universal realisation of the rights of every child in all countries was far from reality. The pandemic, conflict, climate change and various crises were exacerbating existing discrimination. Poverty and structural problems disproportionately affected children in developing countries and in vulnerable situations. The mandate entrusted to the Committee was enormous.

Country reviews were a fundamental tool for the Committee to address a whole range of children’s rights in a comprehensive, holistic and country-specific manner. Ms. Otani said that she was pleased to have returned to the in-person reviews, and appreciated the decision to add one week each to the current and the next session to increase country reviews.

The huge backlog of country reviews that had accumulated during the COVID-19 pandemic was a serious concern that remained unresolved. It was absolutely essential for the Committee to be provided with necessary financial and staff support to effectively fulfil its mandate. The Committee counted on the strong support of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and the Secretary-General in this regard.

During the eighty-ninth session, the Committee had proposed to move toward a predictable review cycle of eight years with a mid-term follow up and a simplified reporting procedure. These proposals would be raised at the thirty-fourth meeting of Chairpersons.

Mainstreaming children’s rights at all levels, including in the United Nations system, was crucial to achieving the full and universal realisation of children’s rights. The Committee would continue to strengthen cooperation with United Nations bodies and agencies. It would also engage in the ongoing process of developing a United Nations Guidance Note on child rights mainstreaming. This was a crucial and practical step toward making the children’s rights agenda more visible and systematically integrated into all areas of the work of the United Nations.

BENJAMIN SMITH, International Labour Organization, said that children everywhere had essential legal protection under the Convention, but implementing it was a challenge. There had been an increase in child labour over the past few years, and COVID-19 had exacerbated the situation. Child labour in Sub-Saharan Africa had increased by almost 2 per cent. Seventy per cent of child labour was in agriculture, and most child labour occurred within families. Social protection played a vital role in keeping children in school. The International Labour Organization would soon publish a report demonstrating that social protection played a key role in preventing child labour.

IMMA GUERRAS, Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, said the Office had established a Youth Advisory Board working with and for youth in vulnerable situations. This Advisory Board was selected from over 150 applications worldwide, and consisted of 10 young people from different countries and regions. The Board had commenced its meetings and was providing guidance and input ahead of a series of youth consultations and a forthcoming tool on youth rights. The Office looked forward to continuing to work closely with the Committee and its members on its child rights priorities going forward.

MARIANNA BOLSHAKOVA, United Nations Environment Programme, said that children were disproportionately affected by climate issues. The United Nations Environment Programme worked to promote and protect children’s rights and supported the right to a healthy environment for every child. The recognition of this right would establish a pathway to protecting the rights of children. The United Nations Environment Programme was developing a web-based platform to provide training on children’s right to a healthy environment. It had published a report on children’s right to a healthy environment in the region of the Association of South-East Asian Nations.

ANNE GRANDJEAN, United Nations Children’s Fund, said the Fund’s Human Rights Unit continued to closely follow and advocate against the pushback against child rights, in particular at the Human Rights Council. At the most recent session of the Council, the resolution on the rights of the child triggered intense negotiations around children’s status as rights holders, independently of their parents or guardians. Child participation, gender related language, and sexual and reproductive health and rights were also issues of contention.

ALEX CONTE, Child Rights Connect, said that the Committee’s backlog remained a concern for civil society. Child Rights Connect welcomed the extension of the session by a week to review an increased number of States reports. It raised concerns about the shortening of online State reviews. Too many States still did not believe that the rights of human rights defenders were under threat. States needed to be further convinced of the threats to the rights of child human rights defenders. Child Rights Connect would work to increase the profile of child human rights defenders.

ALLEGRA FRANCHETTI, Secretary for the Committee, said that four reports had been received since the last session, bringing the total number of reports to 86. The total number of ratifications of the Convention remained at 196, while 58 periodic reports were overdue. No States had ratified any Optional Protocols since the last session. One new report had been received under the Optional Protocol on the sale of children, child pornography and child prostitution. Thirty-eight initial reports were overdue under the Optional Protocol on the involvement of children in armed conflict, and 51 initial reports were overdue under the Optional Protocol on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography.

MIKIKO OTANI, Committee Chair, said that the Committee would continue its discussion on how its cooperation with various relevant bodies could be further strengthened to enhance the promotion and protection of the rights of the child. The Committee would also discuss issues related to its methods of work, the treaty body strengthening procedure, and methods of addressing the increasing backlog of submitted reports. Further, the Committee would consider any communication and information that it had received in relation to its Optional Protocol on individual communications.

Ms. Otani said that during the session, the Committee would look at the report on the day of general discussion on the rights of children in alternative care, held in September 2021. It would also continue to work on a new general comment on children’s rights and the environment, with a focus on climate change.

The Committee then adopted its provisional agenda.

 

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CRC22.006E