Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural)

Note:  A complete summary of today’s Third Committee meetings will be made available after their conclusion.

Background

The Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural) continued its debate on the promotion and protection of the rights of children (For background, see Press Release GA/SHC/4263).

Statements

MICHAEL BAROR (Israel) recalled his country’s implementation of a new program to improve education for mathematics and science, encouraging students to achieve higher levels in these subjects.  Through an elaborate campaign, Israel has increased the number of students involved in high-level mathematics and science in high school, he said, noting that such investments are already paying dividends.  Students have done exceptionally well in mathematics, robotics, innovation and other technology-related competitions.  Israel also invests in encouraging young women to take their rightful place in these fields.

GEORG HELMUT ERNST SPARBER (Lichtenstein) said millions of children suffer violations of their rights every day, notably from modern slavery and human trafficking.  As children comprise almost one third of all trafficking victims worldwide, Lichtenstein, together with the Netherlands and Australia, launched the “Blueprint for Mobilizing Finance Against Slavery and Trafficking”.  It is particularly devastating that children are used as human shields and sex slaves, she stressed, pointing to 1,000 such cases of conflict-related sexual violence verified by the Secretary General.  The highest figures continue to be documented in Somalia and the Democratic Republic of Congo, she added.  Sexual violence against children remains underreported and impunity for such abuse remains endemic.

ZEENA MOHAMED DIDI (Maldives) recalled several laws her country has passed to protect children, including a recent law which institutes a council to protect children in need and serves as an advisory body for stronger laws and policies.  On education, geographic dispersion of Maldives’ islands, inadequate infrastructure and a lack of economies of scale pose significant problems, especially for children with special needs.  She touched on initiatives to strengthen social protections as well as education, including a programme to provide healthy breakfasts in schools, and an improved curriculum which provides critical thinking skills.

Ms. WAGNER (Switzerland) said that while progress has been achieved, there are new challenges concerning children’s wellbeing, safety and development.  As a member of the steering group of the Interagency Network for Education in Emergencies, Switzerland engages to promote access to education in emergency situations, addressing children’s needs and vulnerabilities in a holistic manner, she said.  It also calls on all parties to armed conflict to respect international law.  In addition, she welcomed the participation and inclusion of children in discussions on issues affecting them, at the level of the United Nations, both in New York and Geneva, as well as at the national and local levels.

AYŞE INANÇ ÖRNEKOL (Turkey) said that while much progress had been made since the signing of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, challenges remain, especially concerning children with disadvantages and disabilities, as well as those facing adversities due to conflicts and crises.  She called for concerted action to address the situation of children in armed conflicts or children kidnapped or conscripted by terrorist groups to carry out attacks on their behalf.  Parents whose children were abducted by the PKK [Kurdish Workers Party/Democratic Union Party] have recently begun a silent protest.  She went on to enumerate legal and institutional measures taken to improve children’s rights, including several recent Constitutional amendments and the ratification of the Council of Europe Convention on Contact concerning children.  On refugees, she pointed out that the number of child refugees under the mandate of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has more than doubled in the past decade, adding that Turkey counts on the international community’s support, as the largest refugee-hosting country in the world.

FREDRIK HANSEN, an observer for the Holy See, stressed that too many children are still denied their rights because of extreme poverty, inequalities, conflict situations and humanitarian crises.  He thanked the Secretary-General for the special focus on “children without parental care”, underscoring that children without parental care are most likely to experience exclusion, violence, abuse and exploitation.  Everything should be done to ensure that children grow up in a family environment where they experience love, protection and security.  The Holy See remains deeply concerned about “comprehensive sexuality education” programmes that are not respectful of the rights of parents, he added. 

Ms. ADHIKARI (Nepal), associating herself with the “Group of 77” developing countries and China, said the Convention on the Rights of the Child is among the most comprehensive human rights agreements.  As a State party, Nepal has incorporated its principles into its laws, plans and policies, committed to investing in children’s health and education, and to protecting children from violence and discrimination.  The National Immunization Programme, in place for more than four decades, provides equitable services to remote regions and marginal communities.  This has benefited pregnant women and reduced child mortality, morbidity and disability associated with vaccine preventable diseases.

JOHN ZULU, Director of the Ministry of Youth, Sport and Child Development of Zambia, said the legal framework to combat abuse against children has been strengthened, and all relevant legislation has been audited in efforts to ensure a comprehensive domestic legal structure for the treaties Zambia has ratified.  The National Child Policy has been reviewed to ensure Government responsiveness to children’s needs, as well as to persistent and emerging cultural, social and economic challenges to their well-being, such as early marriage.  Progress has been seen across all pillars of the treaties, including lowered mortality and access to HIV treatment.  A service efficiency initiative aims to improve family welfare and outcomes for children in vulnerable situations.  Zambia also has recorded a considerable increase in primary and secondary school enrolment, achieving gender parity in the former.  Yet poverty, childhood diseases, harmful cultural practices, inadequate education and lack of health personnel, especially in rural areas, continue to pose problems.

Ms. OBAMA (Equatorial Guinea) described steps taken to promote children’s wellbeing, in accordance with national development plans, the African Union Agenda 2063 and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.  Having accelerated access to education, there is now a school in almost all communities and villages, however remote.  The Ministry of Education has established an office to identify children with special needs so as to design appropriate programmes, while other programmes assist children with disabilities, and help both sick children and those from economically-strapped families.  Equatorial Guinea has significantly reduced mortality of children under age five, and with the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), it is carrying out national vaccination initiatives and working to control malaria.

Mr. DRIUCHIN (Russian Federation) recalled that the 25 September high-level General Assembly event marking the thirtieth anniversary of the Convention of the Rights of the Child shows the significance of this international agreement and he expressed regret that the instrument is not universal owing to the abstention of the United States.  He expressed concern over appeals to distinguish between the best interests of children and those of the child, noting that these calls undermine cultural values.  He also underscored the importance of parents’ rights to educate their children, of assuming their best intentions, and of protecting families from unjustified external involvement.

NGUYEN LIEN HUONG (Viet Nam), associating with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), said his country has continuously improved legal and policy frameworks to better ensure children’s rights.  In that context, he pointed to the 2016 Revised Child Law, the 2016-2020 programme for the prevention and reduction of child labour and the 2018-2025 plan for the family and community-based early childhood development.  In December, Viet Nam will host the 2019 Asia-Pacific regional conference on early childhood development, he said, stressing the importance of education during war time.  Sustained progress on children’s rights depends crucially on the participation of children themselves.

MARIA-IULIANA NICULAE (Romania), associating with the European Union, said the “Bucharest EU Children’s Declaration” was finalized at the conference on “Child Participation in Decision-Making and Policy Development at EU Level”, organized by Romania in May, during its 2019 presidency of the Council of the European Union.  The declaration states that children’s participation should be supported, including through school programmes focused on their right to participate.  The family is the best place within which a child can be raised, which is why Romania is moving to close down the last of its classic type residential institutions by the end of 2020.  By 2023, the foster families network will be expanded with another 5,000 caretakers through a national project financed from European funds.

TUN LIN SWAI (Myanmar), associating with ASEAN, said the new Child Rights Law is the most comprehensive such legislation in the country.  Most significantly, a whole chapter is devoted to children and armed conflict, which criminalizes six grave violations.  Also, the Inter-Ministerial Committee for the Prevention of the Six Grave Violations during Armed Conflict was established on 7 January 2019 and is currently developing an action plan for the prevention of killing and maiming, and sexual violence against children during armed conflict.  The 2017 Youth Policy meanwhile identifies former child soldiers as one of 11 categories of vulnerable youth and children.  Myanmar is also cooperating with the International Labour Organization (ILO) to end forced labour, including by establishing a complaint mechanism.

DAVID JOSEPH AKHIGBE (Nigeria), associating himself with the Group of 77 and the African Group, said the use of children as soldiers in armed conflict is an unconscionable abomination for which perpetrators must be held accountable.  Accordingly, the civilized world must do whatever it takes to free children from the shackles and consequences of this evil.  Though conflicts threaten education, Nigeria is determined to ensure that children stay in school by providing a safe and conducive environment for learning.  In addition to the Safe School Initiative, Nigeria has endorsed its Safe Schools Declaration, with its rejection of all forms of military occupation in schools.

SACHPASEUTH SISOUK (Lao People’s Democratic Republic), associating himself with ASEAN, said children’s rights are stipulated in the Constitution, bolstered by laws to combat violence against them and curb child trafficking.  The Government is accelerating implementation of its national plan for 2014 to 2020 to combat violence against women and children.  In 2018, the national anti-human trafficking committee was set up, and regionally, the Lao People’s Democratic Republic participates in ASEAN frameworks.  A State party to the Convention on the Rights of the Child, it is preparing a national report for the third universal periodic review in 2020, which will cover the Convention, among other topics. 

FATMA NDAW DIENG (Senegal), associating herself with the African Group, welcomed the near-universal nature of the Convention, drawing attention to her country’s improved under-five-mortality rate and primary education access.  However, new strategies are needed to tackle child marriage, exploitation and abuse, and to lower the mortality of children above age 5.  She touched on stronger social protection measures, notably the adoption of a national strategy aimed at preventing violence, promoting social cooperation and all child rights, as well as a family allowance programme.  More must be done for children in rural areas, where there is some difficulty applying laws, she observed.

RENNE YARBORKOR ABBEY (Ghana), associating with the Africa Group and the Group of 77, recalled that successive Governments in her country have enacted legislation and policies to translate the provisions of the Convention of the Rights of the Child.  Ghana has also instituted policies to make quality basic education free and accessible to all children, as well as a free senior high school policy.  Moreover, the Ghanaians Against Child Abuse drive, launched in 2017, has mobilized support from influential personalities and is expected to reduce harmful practices.  Ghana’s education service has also made efforts to address violence in schools, including by enforcing a ban on corporal punishment, while the judicial service inaugurated the first child-friendly court in 2018, situated within gender-based violence courts and using more age-appropriate procedures and tools.

Ms. SHIKONGO (Namibia) said her country, which has incorporated international conventions into its Constitution, has some of the most progressive legislation on child rights in the world.  It has recently sought to broaden legal protections for children, provided for more social workers, and has instituted a dedicated advisory council.  On education, she said free and equitable access is a national priority, which is reflected in the national budget.  School enrolment — especially among girls — is at an all-time high.  She went on to note progress in achieving several Sustainable Development Goals pertaining to education access.  While Goal 4.4, on decent jobs and entrepreneurship, remains a challenge, Namibia is working to enhance the quality of technical and vocational training.  On reproductive health, a major priority in a HIV/AIDS high-burden country, she touched on initiatives including a more inclusive reproductive health and education curriculum to bring down the “unacceptable” high rate of teenage pregnancies and HIV infections among young girls.

ARIEL RODELAS PENARANDA (Philippines) said the Constitution underscores that States shall protect children’s rights, with special measures against abuse and cruelty and other conditions prejudicial to their development.  The Philippines commemorates the thirtieth anniversary of the Convention with a month of events set to take place in November.  The Department of Education will hold child-directed activities and launch a social media campaign to raise awareness on children’s rights.  Children do not belong in the battle field and have the right not to know first-hand the sights of war.  Congress passed into law in January 2019 the special protection of children in situations of armed conflict act.  As a true democracy, the Philippines values inclusion, he said, noting that its youth assembly gives children as young as 15 years old the right to vote.  It was established in 1991 and its first elections took place in 1992.

Ms. DELVERA, youth delegate from Mexico, said while there have been improvements in access to education and vaccines, changes due to technology, urbanization and global warming pose new problems that States must face together.  She pointed out that Mexico is in one of the most unequal regions in the world, grappling with child poverty and other factors such as migratory and ethnic status.  “We must enhance social protections,” she stressed, adding that while Mexico has instituted strong legal protections, there are gaps in implementation.

Paulomi Tripathi (India) said children remain the most vulnerable group in a world driven by terrorism, humanitarian crises and climate change.  It is vital to strengthen children’s literacy and facility with digital technology.  She objected to the “deceitful political propaganda” and baseless allegations made by another delegation, in a desperate attempt to justify its own criminal recruitment of children for terrorism.  India prioritizes the best interests of children with its related action plan focused on education, development, participation, necessary support for children under six years, provision of water and sanitation in schools and efforts to improve school attendance.  A robust legal and administrative framework is needed to protect children against cyberbullying and other threats.

Mr. BENTLEY (United States) said girls in rural areas are among the most vulnerable, noting that the United States Agency for International Development focuses on malnutrition of women and children, maternal deaths and incomplete education in school.  Stressing the need for global initiatives, he called for securing investments in water, sanitation and hygiene services, rehabilitating sanitation infrastructure and inclusive education and training.  There is a link between the lack of water access and greater incidence of sexual violence against women, he said, urging that efforts be made to increase girls’ literacy and address violence against girls in schools.  Faith leaders have an important role in ensuring girls can live safely, he said, stressing that child traffickers must be prosecuted.

NATHALIA SÁNCHEZ GARCIA (Colombia) said achieving the Sustainable Development Goals is inextricably linked with human rights, adding that Goal 16.2 calls for an end to violence against children.  Colombia aims to integrate these objectives into its national plan, and to cater to children facing specific vulnerabilities, including those living in rural areas or belonging to ethnic groups.  She touched on a programme that aimed at bolstering the first six years of a child’s life, to which the Government has allocated 31 billion pesos for the next six years.

Statement by Hungary to come.

Mr. MONTEIRO (Brazil) stressed his country’s commitment to children’s rights, drawing attention to its national registry for missing persons and designation of a national week to lower the incidence of teen pregnancy.  The national policy for the prevention of self-harm and suicide, meanwhile, seeks to promote children’s health, while other initiatives bring together families to combat violence against children.  Brazil is further seeking to end child labour and reduce maternal deaths, he said, stressing that the development of the nation depends on the development of children.

Ms. CALEM-SANGIORGIO (Monaco) expressed concern about the millions of children around the world who continue to die of hunger, live on the streets, and lack access to clean drinking water.  She touched on international support extended by Monaco to forced migrants and victims of trafficking in the Middle East and Africa, as well as a programme in partnership with up to 50 non-governmental organizations that aids vulnerable children in six countries.  She went on to outline a new draft law on adoption.

WAEL AL KHALIL (Syria) described a law pertaining to the interrogation and arrest of children, which ensures their treatment as victims and focuses on their social reintegration.  Those inflicting harm against children face criminal repercussions.  He went on to deplore the airstrikes on Deir ez-Zor and surrounding areas in eastern Syria, where bodies remain under debris.  “It is open to everybody who wants to verify this,” he stressed.  Underscoring Syria’s openness to dialogue and cooperation, he condemned any attempt to undermine the United Nations legitimacy by implementing a plan involving militia without prior approval of legitimate Governments.  “For us, this is an unprecedented act which violates a Security Council resolution,” he stressed, adding that the ongoing crisis is due to terrorist groups, which enjoy the support of regional countries.  This impacts the human rights of all Syrians, including children, he said.

Ms. ALOMAIR (Saudi Arabia) pointed to a law protecting children from all sorts of violations, harm and exploitation, underscoring the importance her country attaches to human rights.  She recalled cases of exploitation and discrimination against children and called for necessary measures to combat these violations.  Saudi Arabia has launched a number of initiatives, notably a mechanism to raise awareness about the negatives effects of child neglect, a hotline to provide children with support and a rehabilitation programme.  She reiterated Saudi Arabia’s commitment to help children from Syria and Yemen and provide them with free education, health care and vaccinations, also pointing to its support for UNICEF efforts to combat cholera in Yemen.

NELLY BANAKEN ELEL (Cameroon), associating with the Group of 77 and African Group, pointed to the high number of child soldiers, coupled with the fact that schools are occupied and teachers threatened — all of which have irreversible consequences on children’s development.  In Cameroon, children have been deprived access to education, as schools were burned down, terror was spread and children were threatened.  Thanks to Government efforts, children are not treated like adults and, for example, do not face the death penalty.  Children should not be involved in combat.  When they become child soldiers, when they leave school, “we have failed as adults, parents and nations”, she assured.  These events also demonstrate the failure of the international community:  children are not adults and should not be used for war, she said.  They should be with their families.

Ms. AL KUWARI (Qatar) called for more international cooperation to prevent children from being denied liberty.  She went on to underscore Qatar’s commitment to providing education and countering violent extremism.  Drawing attention to its substantial financial contribution to UNICEF, she welcomed the opening of the Fund’s bureau in Doha, which she hoped will protect children affected by armed conflict in the region.

IRNAWATI HJ MAHIR (Brunei), associating with ASEAN and the Group of 77, said his country’s utmost priority is that all children have access to free education, and as such, its education strategy is integral to its National Vision 2035.  Financial assistance is also given to children with disabilities under the 2018 Old Age and Disability Pensions Act.  Annual national immunization coverage for children from zero to five years of age remains high, he said, more broadly underscoring the important role played by the family as the basic unit of society.  At the regional level, Brunei recently hosted the fifth ASEAN Children’s Forum with the theme “OUR Children; OUR Future; OUR ASEAN”It has strengthened the enforcement of The Child Care Centre Act and licensing of these centres to ensure the safety of private child care centres.

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