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Child protection from violence, exploitation and abuse

Universal ratification and effective implementation of the Optional Protocols to the CRC close at hand

© UNICEF/NYHQ2009-2583/Noorani
Komali (name changed), 17, applies make-up in the village where she has been forced into prostitution, in Bangladesh.

By Clara Sommarin and Pernille Ironside

NEW YORK, USA, 31 May 2012 – The 25th of May 2012 marked the two-year anniversary of the campaign for universal ratification and implementation of the Optional Protocols to the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC).

The CRC, adopted in 1989, is the most endorsed human rights treaty in the world. Its two Optional Protocols, adopted in 2000, address the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography (OPSC) and the involvement of children in armed conflict (OPAC).

Ratification is necessary but not enough

Since the launch of the campaign, steady progress has been made. More than three quarters of all UN Member States are now party to the Optional Protocols, compared to two thirds at the launch in 2010. In the past two years, 20 additional States have ratified the OPSC and 15 States have ratified the OPAC, bringing the total number of State Parties to 157 and 147 respectively. Other States are expected to become Parties to the Optional Protocols in the near future.

While the ratification of the Optional Protocols is necessary, it is not enough. Measures must be taken to implement their provisions. Without effective implementation, the Optional Protocols are simply words on paper.

© UNICEF/NYHQ2011-1201/Holt
Sahal (name changed), 9, has escaped from an armed group in Somalia.

State Parties need to develop and implement comprehensive strategies to prevent and respond to violence against and exploitation of children.

Legal and policy reforms and their effective implementation

Governments and civil society around the world are taking steps to implement the Optional Protocols, often with UNICEF support. In Ukraine, for example, efforts are under way to reform the criminal code to combat child abuse images and protect children from sexual exploitation. UNICEF is supporting this process.

In several countries, specialized police units have been set up to ensure sensitive responses to child victims of violence, including sexual exploitation and abuse. More countries are investing in comprehensive support services for children who have experienced violence and exploitation, including health, legal, protective and counselling services. In Uganda, more than 14,200 children at risk or affected by abuse were identified in 2011, and at least 80 per cent accessed protective services from UNICEF-supported NGOs and district authorities. 

There have also been strengthened efforts to bridge emergency and development work in emergencies. In the aftermath of Haiti’s 2010 earthquake, UNICEF has been working with the Government to strengthen the child protection system through legal reform, regulations and capacity building. In the Government of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, with UNICEF’s support, has developed four protocols on the provision of medical, psychosocial, socioeconomic reintegration/schooling and judicial referral.

UNICEF marks the two-year anniversary of the campaign for the universal ratification of the Optional Protocols of the Convention on the Rights of the Child. The campaign was launched on the 10th anniversary of the protocols' adoption.

In situations of armed conflict and other situations of concern, the United Nations has established mechanisms to monitor and report on grave violations being perpetrated against children, and to trigger the necessary responses. For example, in the Central African Republic, this mechanism has enabled the United Nations to develop Action Plans with three armed groups for the release of children in their ranks, and enabled the reintegration of these children into their communities.

Addressing harmful attitudes, social norms and practices

Local communities must also become a first line of protection for children. Individuals and communities need to be empowered and motivated to take action. UNICEF supports awareness-raising and capacity building for children, parents, teachers, community leaders, faith-based organizations, media and the private sector to help them break the silence around practices that harm children. In Guyana, the ‘TELL Campaign’ has reached over 9,000 primary-school-age children with information about sexual abuse, empowering them to report abuse. 

In situations of protracted armed conflict, the legacy of war often includes the breakdown of local and traditional mechanisms for managing conflict and tension. This may result in the normalization of violence, whether within society or at the family and individual level. UNICEF works with communities and children to build a culture of tolerance and to resolve conflicts through non-violent means, such as constructive mediation and consensus-building.

More action needed

Over the past two years, the global campaign has presented a powerful opportunity to strengthen protections for children. Still, accelerated efforts are needed at national, regional and global levels to ensure universal ratification and effective implementation of both Optional Protocols in 2012 and beyond.



Progress made during campaign

Ratifications: Côte d'Ivoire, Djibouti, Grenada, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Guyana, Jamaica, Luxembourg, Malaysia, Malta, Mauritius, Myanmar, Micronesia, New Zealand, Nigeria, Pakistan, San Marino,  Saudi Arabia, Suriname, Zimbabwe
Signatures: Central African Republic, St. Lucia

Ratifications: Congo, Côte d'Ivoire, Cyprus, Djibouti, Gabon, Georgia, Grenada, Guyana, Malawi, Malaysia, Niger, San Marino, Saudi Arabia, Seychelles, St. Vincent and the Grenadines
Signatures: Central African Republic, Ethiopia, Iran, St. Lucia

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