Universal ratification of Optional Protocols on child rights within reach
By Emily Meehan
NEW YORK, USA, 18 May 2011 – On the first anniversary of a campaign for universal ratification of the two Optional Protocols to the Convention on the Rights of the Child, advocates held a forum in New York earlier this week on enacting legislation to protect all children from violence and exploitation by 2012.
The forum was organised by the Government of Slovenia, UNICEF and UN partners. Parliamentarians, representatives of civil society and other participants in the event discussed the objective of the ratification campaign: to encourage all UN Member States to become party to the Optional Protocols, which were adopted in 2000.
The protocols prohibit the sale of children; criminalise all forms of sexual exploitation, including prostitution and pornography; and ban the recruitment and use of children by armed forces and groups.
Since its launch last year, the campaign has seen 15 new ratifications of the Optional Protocols and multiple formal commitments to the treaties. Three quarters of all Member States have now ratified both protocols.
Curbing abuse and exploitation
During the forum, three countries – Finland, Mauritius and Pakistan – committed to ratify the Optional Protocol on the Sale of Children, Child Prostitution and Child Pornography. Pakistan committed to ratify the Optional Protocol on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict shortly thereafter.
UNICEF Deputy Executive Director Hilde F. Johnson noted that despite such progress, there is a long way to go. Real change will come with more widespread and effective implementation of provisions laid out in the protocols, she suggested.
“While new international networks and legal mechanisms are helping to reduce the sexual exploitation and abuse of children, millions of children continue to be lured, forced and sold into child prostitution, child pornography and child labour every year,” said Ms. Johnson.
The Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Violence against Children, Marta Santos Pais, said these children may be stigmatised as a result of being exploited, and they face the risk of being criminalized when they deserve protection.
Luca Zelioli, First Counsellor at the Permanent Mission of Italy to the United Nations, explained how his country – which ratified the protocols in 2002 – has established a National Observatory against child abuse and child pornography. The government has also involved local authorities and civil society in combating the sexual abuse of children. But data collection and analysis have remained a challenge, said Mr. Zelioli.
Children in armed conflict
Meanwhile, UNICEF and partners contributed to the release of approximately 20,000 young people caught in armed conflict from 2008 to early 2010. The affected children have since benefited from programs to reintegrate them into society. But an unknown number are still affected, a problem addressed by the Optional Protocol on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict.
In recent months, the Committee on the Rights of the Child – which monitors implementation of the Optional Protocols – has found cases of extrajudicial killings of children, prosecution of children before military courts and use of children as spies and military shields. These are all violations of the protocol on armed conflict, said Ivan Šimonovic, Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights, who attended the forum.
“All countries, no matter how small or large, peaceful and with no standing army, must support this initiative to establish a moral consensus that war is no place for girls and boys,” added Radhika Coomaraswamy, Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict.
“These protocols are action-oriented,” concluded Mr. Šimonovic. “They oblige states to report regularly on actions taken to implement the protocols.”
The Committee on the Rights of the Child has so far received more than 80 such reports on the Optional Protocol on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict and 70 reports on the Optional Protocol on the Sale of Children, Child Prostitution and Child Pornography, he reported.
UNICEF and its partners in the ratification campaign are ready to assist countries facing challenges to implementation of the protocols. “Whatever the process or the price,” asked Ms. Johnson, “how can it compare to the cost of a child’s life, or his liberty, or her right to be free from abuse and exploitation?”
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