The UN's Violence against Children Study - News from CRIN
They have sent out a communication on the background and the developments following the the UN violence against children study, which I will summarise here. It really is a great summary – everything we could ever want to know as children's rights activists…
Off the shelf: background to the study
In 2003 Professor Paulo Sergio Pinheiro was appointed Independent Expert to lead the Study on behalf of the Secretary-General. This was the first comprehensive global research project by the UN on all forms of violence against children, and combined human rights, public health, and child protection perspectives.
The aim of the study was to research violence against children in five settings: the home and family, schools, care and justice systems, the workplace and the community. What it found was shocking levels of violence affecting the lives of children in all countries. The Study provided 12 Recommendations and proposed the establishment of a Special Representative to the UN Secretary General on Violence Against Children (SRSG).
In May 2009, two and half years later, Marta Santos Pais was finally appointed as the SRSG on Violence Against Children – almost three years after the General Assembly first called on the Secretary General to create this post.
Despite the stalling in New York, the Study inspired events around the world. The Middle East held its very own launch of the Arabic version of the violence study, while the Council of Europe launched its campaign against corporal punishment aiming to achieve a Europe free from corporal punishment.
In March 2009, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights confirmed the human rights obligations of Member States of the Organization of American States (OAS) to prohibit and eliminate all corporal punishment of children.
In September last year, more than 30 parliamentarians from 14 Latin American countries gathered in San Jose, Costa Rica, to discuss the role of parliaments in combating one of the region’s most serious social problems – violence against children.
Slowly, but surely? Beyond conferences and promises
Since the Study was presented, nine countries have banned corporal punishment in all settings: Costa Rica, Spain, Venezuela, Uruguay, Portugal, New Zealand, the Netherlands, Luxemburg and Moldova. Which region will be the first truly child friendly region?
Saudi Arabia recently voted to ratify the two optional protocols to the CRC, prohibiting the sexual exploitation and the sale of children, and the use of children in military conflicts.
In West Africa, 34 Islamic scholars in Mauritania signed a fatwa, or religious opinion, in January 2010, banning the practice of female genital mutilation. The fatwa states that the procedure has been proven to be harmful either at the time or subsequently. A few months later, parliamentarians from all over Africa gathered to push for a continent-wide ban on female genital mutilation/cutting.
The government of the Philippines signed a landmark piece of legislation that punishes producers, transmitters, sellers and users of child pornography in all forms.
Neglected issues? Children deprived of liberty
In April this year, Defence for Children International (DCI) prepared an "Appeal for Juvenile Justice to be efficient, child-specific, fair and respectful of rights" to be disseminated during the Twelfth United Nations Congress on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice which took place in Salvador, Brazil, from April 12-19, 2010.
More recently, the US Supreme Court declared sentences of life without parole unconstitutional for non-homicide juvenile offenders.
Also, in February this year, President Funes of El Salvador vetoed 15-year sentences for minors.
A minimum age
Globally, however, there are concerns that an increasing number of States have lowered (or proposed lowering) the age of criminal responsibility. They include: Georgia, Spain, Argentina, Philippines, Korea and Brazil.
Professor Pinheiro voiced concerns at a recent meeting saying that “We have to stop criminalising children, because it is a form of violence in itself and wholly counter-productive. … It is in all our interests to stop making children criminals. We should therefore treat them as children while they are still children and save the criminal justice system for adults”, he said.
The UN's top investigator on torture called recently for a new UN convention to protect the rights of detainees, saying many are held for years and sometimes for a lifetime in inhuman and degrading conditions.
Meanwhile, Iran continues to kill its children. With an estimated 346 executions last year Iran is the world’s second most frequent user of the death penalty overall after China. Amnesty International says Iran executes more juvenile offenders than any other nation.
The not so good news
The Catholic Church has come under increased pressure to act on the recent revelations about the widespread and systemic abuse of children within its institutions. A Danish children's rights group has called for a review of the country's church secrecy rules to ensure that alleged cases of child abuse are investigated. Meanwhile, prominent British atheists endorse efforts to seek the Pope's arrest when he visits the United Kingdom in September 2010 on the premise that the Holy See “can no longer ignore international law. The Catholic Church's cover-up of cases of abuse in Ireland, for example amounts to the criminal offence of aiding and abetting sex with minors."
Elsewhere, experts in Asia warn that the recent economic downturn is set to drive more vulnerable children and young people to be exploited by the global sex trade. According to a recent report by ECPAT, increasing poverty, reduced budgets for social services, and restrictive immigration laws in "destination countries" (which encourage children to avoid detection) are among the factors heightening children's vulnerability.
Finally, an 18 May report declares that bullying, sexual violence and corporal punishment are still rife in West and Central African schools.
2010: A year for change?
In March this year, the annual debate on the rights of the child at the Human Rights Council (HRC) focused on sexual violence. Read CRIN's coverage.
In early April, the HRC gave the go-ahead to begin drafting a communications procedure under the UN CRC – the only Convention that does not have such a mechanism. This comes after two years of campaigning by NGOs around the world. States will be meeting in December to discuss a possible draft for the procedure.
The African Committee on the Rights and Welfare of the Child held a Special session on violence against children in March this year. Speaking at the conference, the SRSG Marta Santos Pais said that cooperation with regional mechanisms and organisations was a key part of her strategy and welcomed the fact that addressing violence against children was high on the region's agenda.
The Council of Europe recently brought together a number of children's rights experts to share experiences and challenges in developing national strategies to combat violence against children in line with the Study's recommendations. Furthermore, A new Convention on the Protection of Children against Sexual Exploitation and Sexual Abuse will also come into force in Europe on 1 July.
The UN campaign for Universal Ratification of UN Optional Protocols (OP) on children's rights was launched on 25 May 2010. This is a two-year campaign to achieve universal ratification of the OP on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography (OPSC) and the OP on the involvement of children in armed conflict (OPAC).
A new Convention of the International Labour Organisation (ILO) on the protection of domestic workers is to be discussed this month in the Netherlands. Human Rights Watch, Anti Slavery International and Save the Children called on civil society organisations to sign on to a letter calling on members of the ILO to give special consideration to the vulnerability of child domestic workers around the world.
Across in Asia, the South Asia Forum for Ending Violence Against Children (SAF) is organising the 3rd Minister's Meeting in Kathmandu to discuss future plans for collaboration with SAARC and a five year workplan to end violence against children.
Now that we have an SRSG (who will soon have an office!), regional human rights bodies that have demonstrated their willingness to push the issue of violence onto the agenda, and a number of States that have made progressive changes, perhaps it is time for a new momentum. Most States have missed the timebound recommendations set out by the Study, but what needs to be done is clear. We should expect more from them and hold them to account for their promises.
At CRIN, we will continue to monitor developments and will count on partners around the globe to keep us up to date on what they are doing – and achieving. We will also continue to work closely with the SRSG in disseminating information about her work and progress achieved.
In September, we will be launching a new campaign aiming to end inhuman sentencing of children globally. This includes an end to executions, corporal punishment and life with or without the possibility of parole. Watch this space! http://www.crin.org/violence_2010/campaigns/index.asp
What you can do:
- Visit our new website on violence against children
- Send us information: there are many developments happening around the globe and we want to know about them.
- Email us on email@example.com
- Sign up to our Violence CRINMAIL here
Thanks CRIN, and thanks for reading!!
Our blogs are written by Amnesty International staff, volunteers and other interested individuals, to encourage debate around human rights issues. They do not necessarily represent the views of Amnesty International.