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Policy advocacy and partnerships for children's rights

Signing onto international protocols, Member States join fight to protect child rights

Optional Protocols to the Convention on the Rights of the Child

© UNICEF/NYHQ2009-0154/Pirozzi
A child draws as part of a group activity at the United Nations Relief and Works Agency School for Girls in Qabatya, a town near the separation wall in the West Bank.

By Nina Martinek

NEW YORK, USA, 29 September 2010 – Seven new countries signed or ratified the Optional Protocols to the Convention on the Rights of the Child during a treaty event at the 65th UN General Assembly, further strengthening the rights of children worldwide.

The annual treaty event represents a unique opportunity for Member States to adhere to the two Optional Protocols to the Convention on the Rights of the Child: the Optional Protocol on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict (OPAC) and the Optional Protocol on the Sale of Children, Child Prostitution and Child Pornography (OPSC).

Two years to universal ratification

Four new Member States joined the OPAC at the event, with the Gabonese Republic and the Republic of Malawi ratifying and the Islamic Republic of Iran, Ethiopia and the Central African Republic signing. The Republic of the Congo acceded to the Optional Protocol. Nigeria and Malta ratified the OPSC while the Central African Republic signed it, bringing the total number of Member States adhering to this Optional Protocol to 141.

© UNICEF/2010/Weissleder
Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General on Violence against Children Marta Santos Pais (right) with H. E. Dr. Tonio - Borg, the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs of Malta, and H. E. Mr. Saviour F. Borg Ambassador, Permanent Representative of Malta to the United Nations (left).

“The ratification of this treaty is a message of hope for children,” said Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Violence against Children Marta Santos Pais, who attended the event. “It strengthens the protection of child victims and consolidates international cooperation to fight impunity for crimes against children.”

On 25 May 2010, the 10th anniversary of the UN’s adoption of the two Optional Protocols, a two-year global campaign for universal ratification was launched with the participation of the UN Secretary-General. The campaign – which is supported by the Special Representative on Violence against Children, the Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict, the Committee on the Rights of the Child, UNICEF and the UN Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights – aims to achieve the universal ratification of the Protocols by 2012.

Fundamental rights

Thousands of girls and boys are associated with armed groups in conflicts around the world. Many are exposed to tremendous and sustained violence – as witnesses, as direct victims themselves and as forced participants.

The impact on children’s mental and physical well-being breaches the most fundamental human rights and represents a grave threat to durable peace and sustainable development, as cultures and cycles of violence are perpetuated. The urgency to address this issue has been increasingly recognized by the international community over the past fifteen years.

© UNICEF/NYHQ2006-1460/Giacomo Pirozzi
A child's drawing, made in a camp for people displaced by the conflict on Mindanao Island, Philippines, depicts an armed soldier in a burning home as a family runs away.

The OPAC, which demands the protection of children from recruitment and the impact of armed conflicts, recognizes that children associated with armed forces are being deprived of their basic rights. Active legal consequences for the recruitment of children are a way to safeguard the rights of child victims and witnesses.

Similarly, the OPSC promotes the protection of children, particularly the most vulnerable, from all forms of sexual exploitation. It promotes legal reform to criminalize these violations and to safeguard the rights of child victims, and calls on the strengthened capacity of professionals working with and for children to prevent and address all forms of sexual exploitation. 

Need for political will and social support

The signature, ratification or accession by the remaining Member States and continued international support is necessary to promote the universal ratification of these two Optional Protocols by 2012.

The signing and ratification of the two Optional Protocols strengthen the moral consensus that it is a basic human right for all children to live free from violence and exploitation. With universal ratification, there will be a shared normative foundation to guide concerted efforts, to prevent any loophole in child protection systems and to fight impunity within and across borders.

“We welcome the Member States that have stepped forward to strengthen a growing moral consensus that violence against children is not acceptable,” said UNICEF Chief Child Protection Dr. Susan Bissell. “Our collective goal is to make certain that the right of boys and girls to enjoy a childhood of learning without disruption and playing without fear is respected in every land.”



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