From 29 February to 24 March 2016, the 31st session of the Human Rights Council (HRC) convened in Geneva, Switzerland. Defence for Children International once again played an active role to promote child rights at the Palais des Nations.
Justice for Children
DCI, as co-convenor of the NGO Panel for the Global Study on Children Deprived of Liberty, organized a side-event to the Human Rights Council on Thursday 10 March 2016, together with the OHCHR, the SRSGs on Violence against Children and Children and Armed Conflict, the SR on Torture, UNODC and Unicef, and with the support of the Permanent Missions of Algeria, Norway, Uruguay and Switzerland.
In his introductory speech, UN Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson said that “children who are deprived of liberty fall into a statistical vacuum, with numbers of these children potentially ranging anywhere from the tens of thousands to the millions”. Anna Giudice Saget of UNODC added that the study will provide appropriate information and evidence to policy makers, hence enabling them to plan and implement effective strategies to drastically reduce the number of children deprived of their liberty worldwide. As all panellists noted, the detention of children continues to remain common practice while it should be used as a last resort. Marta Santos Pais, SRSG on Violence against Children, also recalled that the study was a moral, ethical and legal imperative, directly in line with the Sustainable Development Goals agenda.
The event discussed the next steps for further advancing Study. In particular, as reiterated by all panellists, an urgent commitment towards its funding would be necessary and the support expressed by States would now have to be translated into tangible resources. Peggy Hicks, Director of the Research and Right to Development Division for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) indicated that her office would be willing to host the secretariat for the study should funding be made available.
Last but not least, panellists agreed on the necessity to have an independent expert appointed to conduct this Study. In this regard, DCI delivered a statement to the Human Rights Council during the Interactive Dialogue with the SRSG on Violence against Children on Tuesday 8 March. Read the statement here.
A Practical Guide to monitor child detention facilities
On 7 March, DCI held a side-event to present the very first European Practical Guide for the monitoring of places where children are deprived of their liberty. The Guide is an innovative practical tool that offers a child sensitive and preventive perspective on the monitoring of child detention facilities. The aim of the side-event was to discuss and identify the various opportunities for use and cross-pollination of the Guide in other regions. Read the full article and download the guide by clicking here.
DCI also delivered a statement during the interactive dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on Torture. The statement called on Member States to establish independent mechanisms to ensure proper monitoring of child detention facilities and to use the Practical Guide as which is to be used as a blueprint document for action.
Children in the Occupied Palestinian Territories
DCI shared a statement on Israel’s armed forces and grave violations of children’s rights. The statement called for a condemnation of Israeli forces’ use of excessive force in the occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem, against Palestinians. DCI called on the UN Secretary General to list Israeli forces in the annex of his upcoming annual report on children and armed conflict in light of the intensified violence in the West Bank that has claimed the lives of forty children at the hands of Israeli forces. Read the statement here. To know more about DCI-Palestine’s activities to promote and protect Palestinian’s children rights, visit their website: http://www.dci-palestine.org/
Protection of the family
Respect for the individual rights of children in all forms of families or other caring environments must be a foundation for all debates and discussions undertaken at the HRC. DCI, together with other child rights organisations, reiterated this principle through an oral statement that was delivered by Child Rights Connect on 11 March 2016. Through this joint submission, child rights advocates particularly urged the Council and States to: 1) support and strengthen all forms of families to fulfil children’s rights, in line with basic principle of non-discrimination against children on any basis, 2) explicitly acknowledge the broad contextualised nature of “family” and refer to “all forms of families in different contexts” in debates and international documents, and 3) reaffirm that all children are individual rights holders whose rights cannot be limited or negated based on family environment or other living arrangement. You can read the full statement here.
Children’s rights and the Sustainable Development Goals
Together with Save the Children and 15 other NGOs, DCI delivered a joint statement to welcome the commitment from all States made in the 2030 Agenda to “leave no one behind,” especially those furthest behind. The statement called on States to implement the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and targets in a holistic and integrated manner, focusing on the needs of the most marginalized people first. DCI and other NGOs encouraged States to end extreme poverty with measures including increasing incomes, providing universal social protection systems, and ensuring equitably access to quality essential public services. In addition, the statement called for a strong, people-centered system of accountability for the 2030 agenda, spanning from local through to national and international levels and based on principles of universality, equality, transparency and participation. “Improving the lives and realizing the rights of the most deprived children today will create a better future for all children tomorrow.” Read the full statement here.
In addition, DCI-Costa Rica, as member of the working group on investment in children, welcomed the OHCHR follow-up report on investment in children’s rights, calling on States to promote change in the way public resources are mobilized, equitably allocated and effectively spent to best realize children’s rights. Members of the working group also stated that the 2030 Agenda on Sustainable Development provides a key opportunity to accelerate implementation of the UNCRC, including through its commitment to ‘leave no one behind’, but that the SDGs will only be realized if States put fair financing behind the 2030 Agenda and its vision of a world which invest in its children. Read the full statement here.
In a related event, Unicef and the European Union launched the Child Rights Toolkit for integrating child rights in development cooperation. The toolkit examines how child rights can be made a priority in all sectors of development and aid. Read more about the toolkit here.
Internet and communications technologies (ICTs) and children’s rights
The annual full-day discussion on the rights of the child took place on Monday 7 March, with special emphasis on ICTs and child sexual exploitation. On this occasion, DCI co-sponsored a statement delivered by Plan International, which reminded the audience that ICTs are an important tool to empower children and young people and that all relevant actors must take immediate action to ensure that children can take full advantage of these technologies in a safe and protected manner. ICTs can allow children acquire new skills, enable them to be champions for their rights and denounce human rights abuses and violence, and enhance the participation of children that are excluded from social/community circles. These technologies can also contribute directly to the reduction of violence against children and the strengthening of child protection systems. For example, the digitalization of birth certificates can directly increase children’s access to their rights to health, education and protection from violence. Therefore, providing equal access to information and media becomes necessary to ensure that the promise of the Sustainable Development goals – that no one is left behind – is fulfilled. You can read the full statement here.
Sexual violence, FGM and early marriage: DCI-Mauritania in Geneva for the UPR outcomes
In light of the UPR outcomes for the State of Mauritania, AMSME/DCI-Mauritania was in Geneva to share an oral statement on the need to tackle gender-based violence against girls, especially sexual abuse, feminine genital mutilations and early marriage.
While the age of marriage is set at 18 in the Mauritanian law, legal tutors have the right to marry their child under 18 years of age if this is considered to be in their interest and approved by a judge. Strong social pressures and the “best interests” argument represent clear shortcomings is the effective implementation of the aforementioned law. Recent surveys reveal that 32% of children in Mauritania are married before the age of 18.
Moreover, FGM continue to be common practice. Campaigns and investments supported by the Mauritanian State in recent years have failed to changed mentalities towards this traditional harmful practice, since the rate of FGM has only decreased from 71 to 69%.
Finally, sexual violence against girls has expanded in recent years. In 2015, DCI-Mauritania assisted 122 girl victims of sexual abuse. In almost all cases, the perpetrators have not been charged. The absence of legal medicine, and DNA testing, is a clear shortcoming that prevents girls from seeking justice. On the ground, impunity continues to prevail. Read the full statement here (French only).
 UN OHCHR, Follow-up report on investment on children’s rights, A/HRC/31/33
 UN (2015), Transforming our World: The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, paragraph 8