21 October 2003


NEW YORK, 20 October (UN Headquarters) -- Despite major achievements in the international arena for the protection of the rights of the child, the situation of war-affected children remained grave and unacceptable, said the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict, Olara Otunnu, today as the Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural) continued its review of the protection and promotion of children’s rights. 

He highlighted recent steps taken in the field of children’s rights, notably the deployment of child protection officers in peacekeeping operations, the establishment of the international research network on war-affected children and the new practice of naming and listing involved countries before the Security Council.  Unfortunately, children’s rights were still being violated with impunity during armed conflicts in many parts of the world, including in areas such as eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo, the Indonesian province of Aceh, Iraq, Liberia, the occupied Arab territories and Uganda. 

The international community was before a huge chasm, he said.  On one hand, there were clear and strong standards for the protection of children with genuine advances on the international level.  On the other hand, atrocities continued largely unabated on the ground.  The key to addressing this chasm was a systematic campaign for the “era of application”.  The campaign for this era must focus on advocacy and dissemination, development of local civil society networks for advocacy and protection, mainstreaming of the issue into the programmes of key institutions, and monitoring and reporting leading to action. 

In a subsequent question-and-answer session, delegates asked questions about war-affected children and how to ensure their protection.  One delegate asked about the implementation of the “era of application” and how to deal with non-State actors in contravention of resolutions, not bound by United Nations resolutions.  Delegations also raised concerns about the low levels and unpredictability of resources available for the Special Representative’s Office and mandate, and stressed that if the United Nations was seriously concerned by the protection of children, resources must be provided. 

Some representatives highlighted the need to address the suffering of children living under occupation, in particular those who lived in the occupied Palestinian territories, noting the issue had not been addressed in previous reports.  Speakers also stressed that poverty was one of the reasons it was so easy to recruit children for armed conflict in poor countries. 

The physical and mental repercussions suffered by children who were recruited, abused and exploited in armed conflicts were also highlighted.  In this connection delegations said that United Nations funds and agencies must cooperate with each other, as well as with non-governmental organizations and civil society, in order to make a difference on the ground. 

During today’s general discussion speakers stressed the need to promote and protect children’s rights at all times, during armed conflicts and times of peace alike. The representative of the International Labour Organization (ILO) told the Committee that 246 million children still worked; 180 million were intolerably exploited; 8.4 million children were trapped in human trafficking, debt bondage and other illicit activities; and 73 million of them were less than 10 years old. 

Protection of children was also of special relevance at a time when so many children were left stranded and orphaned by the HIV/AIDS pandemic, the representative of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies said, noting that there were an estimated 14 million children living as orphans and vulnerable children in Africa as a result of HIV/AIDS.

Other speakers highlighted the importance of education for children, not only in terms of schooling, but also as a key factor for sustainable development.  Speakers also noted the importance of the family -- an essential instrument in ensuring the best interests of children that helped them acquire positive values and social responsibility.  It was stressed that the international community must work together to spare millions of children from unnecessary suffering in a world that had the means to feed and care for all its citizens.

Also speaking today were representatives of the following countries: Ukraine, Japan, Sudan, Cuba, Qatar, Egypt, Uruguay (on behalf of MERCOSUR), Venezuela, Russian Federation, Myanmar, Algeria, Ecuador, Libya, Burkina Faso, Singapore, Andorra, Kazakhstan, Pakistan, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and Malaysia. 

The Observer for the Holy See also addressed issues related to the promotion and protection of children’s rights.

The Committee will reconvene tomorrow, at 10 a.m., to continue its consideration of the promotion and protection of children’s rights.


The Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian, Cultural) continued the consideration of the promotion and protection of children’s rights. 

For further background information, please see Press Release GA/SHC/3746 of 17 October.

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