Special Rapporteur on violence against children and for children and armed conflict

On 12 March 12th 2014, the Human Rights Council held a “Special Rapporteur on violence against children and for children and armed conflict” session at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

Marta Santos Pais, Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Violence against Children, presented the annual report on the cruel consequences conflicts around the world have on children. The various forms of violence they face include trafficking, rape, sexual abuse, child marriage and child labuor. 168 million children around the world are child labourers, with many working excessive hours and in hazardous, exploitative conditions. Sexual violence is used as a weapon of war, compromising the rights of children in order to punish the opposite side. The survey found that although governments have worked towards policies to protect children against armed conflicts, progress has been too slow and too fragmented. Pais said this leads to bad social indicators; countries that have high levels of violence against children are the worse affected by poverty and have higher levels of children out of school. GWI supports all children having access to an education, so it condemns the violent conditions children face in armed conflict.

Pais also expressed how crucial it is for children to have legal protection. There are 37 countries prohibiting all forms of violence against children, but legislation is often poorly enforced and there is a lack of family support. Although there have been improvements, there are still 39 countries in which corporal punishment is lawful. Risk of violence is present everywhere, such as homes, schools, justice institutions; so every measure needs to be taken to protect children’s human rights. GWI opposes all forms of domestic violence and works to ensure children are safe from abuse.

Leila Zerrogui, Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Children and Armed Conflict, reiterated the urgency of the issue. Children are the majority of the population, so if no solution is reached, this jeopardises future generations. She also asked for support on the recent “Children, Not Soliders” campaign launched jointly with UNICEF last week to end the recruitment of children by government security forces.

Member states and NGOs also contributed to the discussion, all expressing that violence against children is a violation of their basic human rights. Improving the legal system and holding governments accountable is crucial. Governments also have to guarantee that every child has access to an education and monitor attacks against schools during armed conflict. GWI urges governments to pass legislation to make sure girls and women are obtaining a quality and safe education.

The speakers also addressed the need to improve restorative justice. Child offenders are often detained without trial and kept in poor circumstances. There needs to be community service or social programmes in place instead of prison for juveniles. There can also be better implementation of rehabilitation programmes and strengthening of child support services to prevent the same issues from reoccurring.