Committee on the Rights of the Child opens online limited eighty-sixth session
The Committee on the Rights of the Child today opened its online limited eighty-sixth session.
Luis Ernesto Pedernera Reyna, Chairperson of the Committee, said the Committee had been working on the Third Optional Protocol, and General Comment 25, and would spare no efforts to discharge its mandate. Because of COVID-19, pre-existing problems had worsened. Child poverty was increasing and the closure of schools had had a devastating impact, increasing dropout rates. This had resulted in what the United Nations Secretary-General had called a “generational catastrophe.” The likelihood of sexual abuse of children was now greater. Children were more vulnerable to threats posed by the Internet. Children must be listened to, and their proposals should be heard as well. They were the silent and silenced victims of the pandemic.
Turning to methods of work, Mr. Pedernera Reyna said the Committee had put forward several proposals, including some to address the backlog, and it was time for the President of the General Assembly and the representatives of States to respond to the suggestions. The treaty bodies could not continue to work in uncertainty.
Orest Nowosad, Chief of the Groups in Focus Section of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, said that, while the last year was a testament to human resilience and adaptability, the future surrounding the pandemic and other existential challenges – including climate change and loss of biodiversity - remained uncertain. Within the last year, the number of children living in poverty had increased by 142 million. Reductions in health service coverage levels were leading to higher rates of child and infant mortality and malnutrition, and nearly 100 million children under the age of one were missing out on non-COVID 19 related life-saving vaccines because of the COVID-19 measures. The number of children out of school was expected to increase by nearly 25 million, and school closures continued to affect children – more than a third of all schoolchildren worldwide – who did not have access to remote education.
Mr. Nowosad noted that the Committee’s work to ensure that children were not left behind was therefore more and more crucial in the current challenging circumstances. Thanks to the Committee’s decisions, children were allowed to go to school, mothers were not deported and children were reunited with their families. The Committee’s General Comment on children’s rights in relation to the digital environment, which would be discussed during this session, could not come at a timelier moment. In the past year, the world had seen how increased digitalization facilitated remote learning and social interactions among children and their families during periods of lockdowns and travel bans. However, it had also widened inequalities between children, increased their exposure to harmful online content, and magnified risks of online sexual exploitation and cyber-bullying.
Unfortunately, the regular budget recently adopted by the General Assembly for 2021, while approving the additional meeting time, had not yet approved the commensurate requisite staff resources, including for the additional individual communications received under the Optional Protocol of the Convention on a Communications Procedure. There were no additional staff resources to correct the shortfall in resources to support the human rights mechanisms. On recent developments regarding the rights of the child at the intergovernmental level, Mr. Nowosad said the annual full-day meeting of the Human Rights Council on children’s rights would focus on the rights of the child and the Sustainable Development Goals. It was due to take place in hybrid format at the upcoming forty-sixth regular session to be held from 22 February to 19 March 2021. The Office was in the process of preparing its annual report on child rights to the High Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development, which this year would address the 2021 theme “Sustainable and Resilient Recovery from the COVID-19 Pandemic”.
Gina Berg of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights said that during the first half of 2021, the Office envisaged, jointly with the World Health Organization and the United Nations Children’s Fund, organizing an on-line expert meeting on the marketing of harmful products to children. Following the completion and launch of the Global Study on Children Deprived of their Liberty, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Violence against Children was coordinating a United Nations task force leading inter-agency follow up on the recommendations of the study.
Alex Conte of Child Rights Connect expressed regret over the Committee’s decision not to review States during the current session. The Committee was one of only two treaty bodies that had not yet decided to undertake online State reviews. Civil society was increasingly worried about the accountability gap, the mixed message this sent to States parties, and the negative impact on the work of civil society organizations in affected countries.
Anne Grandjean of the United Nations Children’s Fund said UNICEF had adjusted its programme intervention throughout the year to minimize the impact on children and their families. It would continue to do so in 2021, maintaining a focus on most vulnerable children, and drawing lessons from the past year. There was a growing pushback against children’s rights, and this was one more reason for the Committee to resume its dialogue in the May session. This would send the message that child rights were as important as those of other segments of the population.
The Secretary of the Committee, Allegra Franchetti, said reports under the Convention had been received from 10 Member States since the last session, held in September and October 2020, bringing the number of reports pending consideration to 73. The total number of ratifications of the Convention remained at 196. The number of ratifications to the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the involvement of children in armed conflict remained at 170; to the Optional Protocol on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography at 176; and to the Optional Protocol on a communications procedure at 46. One report had been received under the first Optional Protocol and one under the second.
Mr. Pedernera Reyna said the Committee had decided to postpone the examination of the reports of the following States parties: Afghanistan, Cambodia, Cyprus, Eswatini, Czech Republic and Tunisia. He noted that during the eighty-sixth session, the Committee would finalize its work on its new General Comment on the rights of the child in the digital environment.
The Committee then adopted its agenda.
The Committee will meet in private for the rest of the limited online eighty-sixth session. It will publicly close the session on Thursday, 4 February at 5 p.m.