Honouring the Convention
Photo: zahedul i khan
The convention on the rights of children has become the most widely accepted human rights treaty in history, but 20 years after its adoption the promises to protect children have not yet materialised.
The UN Secretary General, Ban Ki Moon stated that the convention, which has been ratified by 193 states has inspired new approaches and advances in child survival and education as well as increased awareness of children's specific problems. But realising the rights in the convention remains a huge challenge' he told a special event in New York to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the adoption of the landmark treaty by the UN general assembly.
The convention articulates a set of universal children's rights such as the rights to an identity, a name and a nationality, the right to education, and right to the highest possible standards of health and protection from abuse and exploitation. But thousands of children still die before their fifth birthday from largely preventable reasons such as lack of access to clean food, water and education and are victims of violence and exploitation.
However this is especially true now at a time when multiple atrocities threaten the poorest people particularly in developing countries. But children must be at the heart of our thinking on climate change, on food security and on the other challenges that humanity must face today. Despite all that has been achieved during the past 20 years, thousands of children continue to die before reaching their 15th birthday; most children who have been subject to sexual violence, abuse and exploitation or are abandoned by their family or just because of sheer poverty, end up living in the streets. Millions of children are forced into child labour particularly hazardous forms of child labour: girls end up as garments workers, domestic aides and sex workers in brothels or on street corners of the city.
Let us speak about the unspeakable violations of the rights that occur almost daily to the most innocent street children. It can be stressed that the rights of the girl child requires special social attention. Girl's enrolment in the primary education has increased but this is not replicated at the secondary level education. Only half of the proper aged children are attending secondary school.
In addition to the actions mentioned above, States, UN agencies, NGOs, the private sector, academia, children and young people and other relevant actors are called uponto:
-Adopt a clear definition of child pornography in accordance with international standards.
-Criminalise the production, distribution, receipt and possession of child pornography, including virtual images and the sexually exploitative representation of children, as well as the consumption, access and viewing of such materials where there has been no physical contact, extending legal liability to entities such as corporations and companies in case of responsibility for or involvement in the production and/or dissemination of such materials.
-Sexual exploitation of children and adolescents in prostitution:
-Harmonise domestic laws in accordance with international standards including the definition of the child, and the sexual exploitation of children and adolescents in prostitution;
-Address the demand that leads to children being prostituted by making the purchase of sex or any form of transaction to obtain sexual services from a child a criminal transaction under criminal law;
-Establish specialised, gender-appropriate programmes to provide care, recovery and rehabilitation not only for girls but also for boys vulnerable to or victims of sexual exploitation in prostitution;
-Pilot and where appropriate replicate alternative models of care, such as community-based recovery, rehabilitation and reintegration which will serve as a longer-term preventive measure as well as help to redress the ostracism and social isolation faced by child victims of sexual exploitation in prostitution;
-Provide specialised and appropriate health care for children who have been exploited in prostitution, and support local models of recovery, social work systems, realistic economic alternatives and cooperation among programmes for holistic response.
-Undertake research on contemporary patterns of socialisation of boys and men across different contexts to identify factors that inhibit and discourage adults from engaging in sexual exploitation of children and adolescents.
Girls are more likely to suffer sexual violence, be trafficked, forced into child marriage, become victims of dowry violence often getting killed by their husbands or in-laws or committing suicide. In many cases they are less likely to receive essential health care. Girls are the most vulnerable and at risks of contracting HIV/AIDS and must also face ostracism and discrimination. Most children are still not registered at birth. During disasters such as Aila or SIDR, children are even more vulnerable and suffer more because of illhealth and lack of access to clean water. A huge number of children are used in the begging profession and the number is increasing rapidly. Disabled children are the worst victims.
In November 2008, the World Congress III against the sexual abuse and exploitation of children and adolescents was held in Rio-de-Janeiro, Brazil. Many participants from around the world gathered there representing different communities and professions to review developments and the previous plan of action and follow up to the Stockholm declaration and agenda for action 1996 and the Yokohama Global Commitment 2001 to identify lessons learned and keep challenges. It was to bring attention of the world leaders and renew their commitment to prevent, prohibit and stop sexual abuse and exploitation of children and adolescents and provide necessary support to children who have fallen victims to it. High officials from UN, GO, NGOs and journalists represented from Bangladesh participated congress III in Rio de Janeiro.
Sexual violence against children and sexual exploitation of children are the biggest evils of society and states must address them on a priority basis.
Child trafficking is also a huge problem for many countries, more so because it is so difficult to control. The Palermo Protocol and other relevant international instruments and standards, as well as the OHCHR Principles and Guidelines on the Trafficking of Human Beings (including children) have chalked out ways to do this.
It is for example important to engage communities in dialogue to talk about social norms and practices that make children vulnerable to trafficking, and how this can be prevented. Successful models can be started and replicated so that survivors of trafficking can be reintegrated into society without facing the trauma of ostracism. Not only cross-border trafficking but internal trafficking of children have to be stopped through effective policies and programmes.
Strengthening cross-border and internal cooperation of law enforcement officials is also crucial to preventing trafficking. Law enforcement agents have to be given clear guidelines on how to treat child victims of trafficking, not as criminals but as victims in need of protection.
Legislative and other measures must be taken to ensure that a guardian is appointed without delay for every unaccompanied trafficked child, that an effective system of registration and documentation of all trafficked children is established, and that every trafficked child is provided with not only short-term protection but also with the necessary economic and psycho-social support for full and long-lasting recovery and social reintegration (in line with the UNICEF Guidelines for the protection of child victims of trafficking and UNHCR Manual for assessment of the best interests of the child).
In the Congress they committed to the most effective follow-up to this Plan of Action:
At the national level, inter alia, annually reporting on the measures taken for the implementation of the Rio Declaration and Plan of Action and promoting discussions on the progress made and the remaining challenges.
At the international level, encouraging and supporting coordinated actions by the relevant special mandate holders to maintaining awareness of the Rio Declaration and Plan of Action and encouraging the private sector to join the UN Global Compact and communicate their implementation progress with regard to addressing the sexual exploitation of children and adolescents and supporting the realisation of this platform for coordinated corporate efforts and sharing of best practices.
In Bangladesh we have gathered 2/3 times to review and plan the Rio declaration to ensure its implementation in Bangladesh. Meanwhile we have developed the draft National children's policy 2010 and proposed draft on children act 1974 as child law 2010. Adoption of these two policies would be the big achievement in the country to prevent, prohibit and stop child abuse and exploitation. Therefore, all concerned must come forward to rescue our children.
The writer is Executive Director, Aparajeyo Bangladesh & Chairperson,
Bangladesh Shishu Adhikar Forum.
(R) thedailystar.net 2010