For the protection of children’s rights under international law, the United Nations (UN) Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) is the most important legal instrument. The CRC, adopted unanimously by the General Assembly of the United Nations on November 20, 1989, has been ratified by 192 of the 194 States that exist in the world; only two States have yet to ratify it. No other human rights treaty comes that close to universal ratification. The CRC is at the same time the human rights treaty with widest coverage. But paper does not change the reality. If one reads the text of the CRC, it is clear that there is a often wide gap between the text and the realities in the life of children. Let me give you some examples which can be complemented with thousands of other similar cases.
Article 2 CRC: “States Parties shall respect and ensure the rights set forth
in the present Convention to each child within its jurisdiction without discrimination
of any kind….”
Article 28 CRC:“State Parties recognise the right of the child to education
and with a view to achieving this right progressively and on the basis of equal
opportunity, they shall….make primary education compulsory and available free
Hula does not go to school in the Dominican Republic. She has been told it will
make her less attractive if she is educated. Her parents will not even let her
look at her brothers textbooks. She stays at home with her mother to cook and
clean. Hula is 14 years old. There are another 68 million girls like Hula, who
do not receive any education at all.
Article 24 CRC:“States Parties recognise the right of the child to the enjoyment
of the highest attainable standard of health.”
Article 7 CRC: “The child ….(has) the right to know and be cared for by his
or her parents.”
Monica is connected to a feeding tube. Her cheeks are puffy, her stomach distended
and weighs only 10 lbs. She does not smile, laugh or even cry. She lies there
with a blank look on her face. She probably will not make it through the end of
the month. She is a crack baby. Her mother left her on the front step of an American
hospital. Again, this is one example of the many Monicas in this world. Many more
children die before they can celebrate their first birthday. In fact, every 24
hours about 35,000 children die of preventable diseases.
Article 33 CRC:“States Parties shall take all appropriate measures…to protect
children from the illicit use of narcotic drugs.”
Micky started using heroin when he was 10. He uses any needle he can get his hands
on. He’ll even sell his body. Three of his Canadian friends have died from AIDS
in the last year.
Article 19 (1): “States Parties shall take all appropriate….measures to protect
the child from all forms of physical or mental violence…including sexual abuse.”
Article 27 CRC:“States Parties recognize the right of every child to a standard
of living adequate for the child’s physical, mental, spiritual, moral and social
development…States Parties shall…assist parents and other responsible for the
child to implement this right and shall in case of need provide material assistance…particularly
with regard to nutrition, clothing and housing.”
Jule was raped by a neighbor. She takes care of her infant daughter with the scant
money she earns from making bread. The rest of her family died from AIDS. She
has never been to school in Ghana. Jule is 13 years old.
Musa was about 16 years old when he was held in a detention centre in Chernokovo,
a town in Chechyna, from Januray 16. 2000 until February 5, 2000, and he was severely
beaten and tortured every day. He was left with a fractured spine, which may cause
permanent paralysis. Another boy (17 years old) was brought to prison; his teeth
were sawn off with a metal file and his lips are shredded, leaving him unable
to eat, drink or speak.
Unfortunately, many more examples of torture, and inhumane and degrading treatment
of children can be given. Organisations, like Amnesty International, Human Rights
Watch, and OMCT (Organisation Mondiale Contre Ia Torture), regularly report on
the many instances of violence against children, which happen in many different
ways and in a wide variety of settings, such as families, foster care, schools,
institutions, and facilities that serve law enforcement purposes.
These and many other examples of violations of children’s rights seem to suggest
that the CRC-operational for more than 10 years has had little or no impact. It
may be true that the CRC had little, if any, meaning for many children, particularly
the very poor and the most vulnerable. But at the same time, it is fair to say
that a lot has been achieved in the last 10 to 15 years, a very short period,
given the misery hundreds of millions of children live in, is the result of many
decades of structural neglect of children and their rights. But, it is also true
that a lot still needs to be done. Let me elaborate a little bit (more will result
in a book) on these two elements: the achievements and the challenges, with particular
attention to how these challenges can be addressed.
A Change of Policy and Attitude?
The developments in the field of children’s rights since 1990 (the CRC had entered
into force on Sept. 2, 1990) can be characterised with words like awareness raising,
training, change of laws, efforts to change attitudes, and the development of
national plans of action. These activities, changes and developments were and
are the result of major and very visible international events and of less visible,
but ongoing and rather structural, activities within the framework of the monitoring
of the CRC implementation by the CRC Committee. The first, and very visible, event
that should be mentioned is the World Summit for Children (WSC) organised by UNICEF
in September 1990, where over 70 Heads of States and a large number of other State
Representatives adopted a declaration and a plan of action for the survival and
development of children. The WSC was important for various reasons. For example:
The WSC contributed unmistakably to an unprecedented level of ratification. Within
7 years, 191 States Parties had committed themselves to the implementation of
children’s rights by ratifying the CRC. The importance of this almost universal
and legally binding commitment to children’s rights implementation should not
In many States, serious and often successful efforts were made to develop and
implement a national plan of action in accordance with the WSC’s plan of action.
Sometimes plan of action were made for specific areas of concern. These plans
were focused on education, health care, commercial sexual exploitation, street
children, and/or child labor.
UNICEF became, and currently is, fully committed to the implementation of the
CRC, although the CRC was only scarcely mentioned in the document.
The WSC’s plan of action provided an excellent instrument for the implementation
of the CRC, although the CRC was only scarcely mentioned in the document.
The follow-up to the WSC, accompanied by end of the decade reviews from over 130
governments indicating the achievements and challenges for the years to come,
was the Special Session of UN’s General Assembly (UNGASS), which was held in May
(8-10) 2002. The Secretary General used the national end of the decade reviews
and other documents in his report to the General Assembly, presenting the achievements
over the past decade and perspectives for the future. Before giving more examples
of the achievements in more concrete terms than in the first part of this paragraph,
I have to mention another factor (other than the WSC’s plan of action) that has
been important for the achievement; the implementation of the CRC.
It is not possible to present very concrete statistical data of the impact of
this implementation. At the international level, the impact is very noticeable
in the area of children in armed conflicts. It is furthermore very likely that
some major events like the Stockholm (1996) and Yokohama (2001) conferences on
commercial sexual exploitation, other international and regional conferences,
and the adoption of ILO Convention No. 182 would have not taken place and/or been
less successful without the existence of the CRC.
But, all States Parties should report the progress they make with the implementation
of the rights of the child to the CRC Committee. This may seem to be an exercise
in moving paperwork, but experiences have taught us that it is much more than
that. The preparation of the report requires, given the broad content of the CRC,
the involvement of many ministries and other governmental bodies, such as those
responsible for health, welfare and education, justice, public order, defence
and the national budget. In addition, the NGOs in many countries submit their
own reports (shadow, supplementary, or other types) to the CRC Committee. These
reports are often the work of close cooperation between the various specialised
NGOs in the country via the establishment of a national forum or coalition of
NGOs. Finally, quite a number of specialised UN agencies, in particular UNICEF,
submit their reports on the country to the Committee.
In short, reporting to the CRC Committee is a process that very much contributes
to raising awareness among civil servants throughout the governmental bodies regarding
the activities of NGOs. Furthermore, reporting fosters cooperation at the national
level and provides valuable information to UN agencies, which are not limited
to writing alternative and/or supplementary reports. The examination of a report
results in the so-called Concluding Observations. In this document, the CRC Committee
recommends the State Party to undertake specific actions in various areas. It
is again a tool for initiatives by NGOs and UN agencies that not only puts pressure
on the government-via such avenues as the media and parliament-to undertake the
recommended actions, but also provides the government with very concrete help
in terms of service provisions and/ or technical assistance. In many countries,
this reporting and follow-up process was more or less linked with the efforts
to implement the WSC’s plan of action.
The increased and growing attention for the CRC also contributed to important
progress in the following areas: children in armed conflict, commercial sexual
exploitation, and child labor.
Children in Armed Conflict
At the time of drafting of the CRC, one of the most heavily debated provisions
was Article 38. A number of States felt, very strongly-supported by many, if not
all, NGO’s-that Article 38’s minimum age for recruiting children to become soldiers
at 15 years-old was much too low. Efforts to increase this age failed, and the
States most concerned about this matter finally decided to accept Article 38 as
it was (and is ) because they did not want to endanger the unanimous approval
of the CRC by the General Assembly. But they clearly had the intention to raise
this issue again as soon as possible after the CRC was ratified by the 20 States
necessary for the CRC to enter into force (on September 2, 1990). This explains
why the Committee devoted its first day of General Discussion in 1992 to Children
in Armed Conflicts. One of the Recommendations of this discussion was to undertake
an international study on this matter. In 1993, the Secretary General appointed
Graca Machel as the expert to conduct this study with the support of a secretariat
provided to her by the UN. The report published in 1996 had at least two very
The appointment of Mr. Otunu of Nigeria by the Secretary General of the UN as
his special representative for children in armed conflicts. Mr. Otunu, who has
an office in New York, has been and is, very active , visiting the countries where
children are (and have been) recruited as soldiers or are (and have been) involved
in armed conflicts in any other way. He also succeded in making children in armed
conflicts a topic for the agenda of the Security Council that now regularly (at
least once per year) discusses the developments in this area covered by the CRC
and its related Optional Protocol (see Resolution 1261 (1999), Resolution 1314
(2000) and Resolutions1379 (2001) adopted by the Security Council).
The drafting and adoption by the UN General Assembly (on 25 May 2000) of an Optional
Protocol (OP) on Children in Armed Conflicts. This OP entered into force on February
10, 2002 and, as of March 2003, has been ratified by 46 States Parties. In this
OP, the minimum age for non-voluntary recruitment (conscription) is 18 years;
for voluntary recruitment the States Parties commit themselves to increase that
age to above the minimum of 15 as set in Article 38 of the CRC. Another rule of
this OP is that no child below 18 shall be directly involved (as a soldier or
otherwise) in armed conflicts. States Parties also commit themselves to the development
and effective implementation of programs for demobilisation, recovery, and social
reintegration of child soldiers.
The study and its follow-up (via special representatives/optional protocols and
other actions) have resulted not only in significant social reintegration, but
also in terms of prevention. Crucial in this regard have been, and still are,
specialised UN agencies, in particular UNICEF and international NGO’s (e.g. the
Coalition against Child Soldiers) that provide technical, financial and other
assistance. Some of the concrete results of all this will be presented in the
Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children (CSEC)
Since the end of the 1980’s the growing international attention resulted, inter
alia, in the appointment by the Commission on Human Rights of a Special Rapporteur
on the Sale of Children, Child Prostitution, and Child Pornography and in the
establishment of an international NGO focusing on these phenomena: ECPAT (End
Child Prostitution, Child Pornography and Trafficking of Children for Sexual Purposes)
with branches in quite a number of countries. This NGO supported by UNICEF, other
NGO’s and governments, organised the First World Congress against Commercial Sexual
Exploitation in 1996 in Stockholm. At this Congress, an Agenda for Action was
adopted by 122 governments. About the same time, a working group of the UN Commission
on Human Rights started the drafting of an Optional Protocol to the CRC on the
Sale of Children, Child Prostitution, and Child Pornography. This work was completed
in 2000, and the text was adopted by the UN General Assembly on May 25, 2000.
This OP entered into force on January 18, 2002 and has been ratified by 45 States.
As of March 2003, the OP requires States Parties, inter alia, to make all kinds
of commercial sexual exploitation punishable under their criminal law, to introduce
extra-territorial jurisdiction, to provide for the seizure and confiscation of
products and benefits from such exploitation.
In addition to criminalising CSEC, the States Parties should develop and implement
programs to support the victims of CSEC, not only when they are involved in legal
(Criminal or civil) procedures but also after such procedures by providing them
with recovery, treatment/therapy, and social reintegration. It is too early to
present results of this OP because the first reports by States Parties on its
implementation are not expected until 2004.”
At the end of 2001, the Second World Congress against Commercial Sexual Exploitation
of Children was held in Yokohama, Japan to evaluate results and to set an agenda
for the next 5 years. In this agenda, the States committed themselves, inter alia,
to address the root causes that place children at risk of sexual exploitation,
such as poverty, inequality, discrimination, violence, armed conflicts and dysfunctioning
families. Furthermore, they promoted networking among the key actors to combat
CSEC, ensured adequate resources for the prevention an elimination of commercial
sexual exploitation of children, and took adequate measures to address negative
aspects of new technology, in particular child pornography on the internet.
At the beginning of the1990’s the efforts to prevent and eliminate child were
given a very strong boost, not so much because of the CRC’s entering into force
but due to a very substantive donation from the German Government to the ILO earmarked
for elimination of child labor (50 million DM for a period of 5 yrs); This marks
the beginning of the well known integration program for the elimination of child
labor, the International Labour Organisation (ILO-IPEC). This program is now financially
supported by about 15 donor countries and different national programs carried
out in about 75 Countries.
But, it is very likely that the ratification of the CRC by 191 states in 1997
contributed to the remarkable increase of international attention for Child labor.
The same fact may have been favourable to the ILO efforts to draft a new ILO convention
focusing on the Elimination of Worst Forms of Child Labour around 1997. These
efforts were successful, and in 1999 the ILO adopted ILO Convention No. 182.
The CRC Committee regularly recommended the States Parties ratify ILO Convention
No. 138, a recommendation, which in 1999 also included the ratification of ILO
Convention No. 182. In this regard, it is important to note that the definition
of the worst forms of child labor in Article 3 of the ILO Convention No. 182 lists
various forms of exploitation of children already covered in the Articles 32-36
of the CRC.
I agree with the UN Secretary General that the CRC helped to enhance existing
ILO standards (first ILO Convention No. 138 and later ILO Convention No. 182).
The relevant provisions of the CRC have also helped to promote a growing recognition
of the connections between the protection of children from economic exploitation
and the enjoyment of their rights to education, health care, rest, play, and an
adequate standard of living.
The awareness of the worst forms of child labor and the need for its prevention
and elimination was not limited to governments. The tripartite structure of the
ILO meant and means that employers’ organisations and trade unions are involved
in the fight against child labor.
At the same time, many national NGO’s were created in the field of child labor.
These NGO’s UNICEF, other UN agencies and the ILO partners (governments, employers,
workers), developed and maintained a momentum which, interalia, resulted in a
Global March against Child Labour and in more awareness among consumers and international
Awareness was the drive behind actions/programmes like the Rugmark initiative
and agreements for the elimination of child labor from the garment industry in
Bangladesh and the soccer ball stitching industry in Sialkot, Pakistan, as well
as the development of codes of conduct by international corporations to include
the prohibition of child labor in their production processes.
In light of the above and of many more activities which can be mentioned, it is
fair to conclude that the CRC has created a movement with participants from all
walks of life, from children and parents, to governments and all kind of organizations,
including small, local, not-for profit action groups, and large international
The CRC has become a foundation for, and the driving force behind, a wide variety
of activities aimed at improving the world of and for children. These activities
have largely been devoted to increasing awareness and understanding the meaning
of the child rights approach of the CRC in order to ultimately change the traditional
attitudes regarding children. A change which I once summarized as “from charity
Although this can be considered a major and fundamental, achievement, one may
wonder, is this all there is? Theoretically it sounds fine, but what about the
children? Did they not benefit from the CRC and all the related activities?
Improvements for Children Since 1990
For those who expected the CRC to quickly make the world a better place for children,
the results may be very disappointing. This kind of expectation is not very realistic.
An international human rights instrument like the CRC cannot in and of itself
improve the world for children. Even a serious and rigorous implementation will
only produce visible and measurable results after some time.
The CRC has been operational since September 1990, and I think it is fair to say
that the results in just 13 years are quite impressive, not only in terms of international
action and policies as described in the previous paragraph, but also for the children
themselves. Let me briefly describe some of the improvements that can directly
or indirectly be attributed to the implementation of the CRC.
Legal Protection and Child Participation
In the first reports on the implementation of the CRC now submitted by 175 States,
one can find a wide variety of changes in laws enacted to strengthen the rights
of children and their legal protection.
There is growing trend-although not equally present in all States Parties to recognise
the child as a bearer of rights who should be given a fair opportunity to express
her views and to participate in decisions relevant to their school environment.
At the community level, youth councils are actively participating in the development
and implementation of programmes and policies. Regional and national children
and youth parliaments have been established allowing for a direct input in the
political decision-making process.
It may be true that some to these and other forms of participation have a high
degree of decoration, tokenism, or symbolism, but it is also clear from recent
developments that authentic child participation is growing at the local, national,
and international level. This has been most recently illustrated by strong child
participation to the Special Session on Children of the UN General Assembly.
In many States Parties, legal provisions for the protection of especially vulnerable
children have been improved. This happened by increasing the minimum age for child
labor through the introduction of more severe penalties and extra-territorial
jurisdiction in cases of commercial sexual exploitation and trafficking.
Many legal and other measures have been taken to prevent and combat abuse of children
in the family and in care institutions, including, inter alia, rules for child
sensitive interviewing by well-trained professionals of victims of child abuse.
The protection of girls from various forms of discrimination has improved via
legal and other measures in quite a number of States Parties.
Many States Parties have changed or are in the process of changing their laws
on juvenile justice in order to better protect juveniles suspected of having committed
crimes throughout the prosecution process, including at the pre-trial detention
stage, trial itself, and execution of sanctions stage with a growing preference
for non-punitive alternatives for traditional custodial sentences.
But all these improvements of the rights of the child and his/her legal protection
are not always implemented and sometimes even violated. The child therefore needs
easy access to effective remedies.
It is encouraging to note that more and more children are being given a possibility
to file complaints in case of violation of their rights, either via specially
created procedures (for example, the limited opportunities for children in institutions)
or more generally via independent institutions for the monitoring of children’s
rights implementation like child commissioners or children’s ombudsperson.
There are a growing number of these institutions, particularly in Europe, as well
as in other parts of the world.
Improvements in Health Care, Education and Special Protection
The improvements made during the first decade of the CRC’s implementation (1990-2000)
can also be presented in concrete figures and statistics. Keep in mind that factors
other than the CRC, in particular the International Plan of Action of the WSC
in 1990, have contributed to these improvements. While these improvements are
perhaps not as good as one may want, they are never the less considerable. Here
are a few examples:
>>The mortality rate of children under 5 years of age went down from 94
(1990) to 81 (2000) per 1000 live births;
>>The children suffering from malnutrition, as measured by stunting or underweightness
decreased from 177 million in 1990 to 149 million in 2000, with about two-third
of them living in Asia.
>>Polio has been eradicated in more more than 175 countries.
>.>Sustained routine immunization (three doses of combined diptheria/pertussis/tetanus
vaccine, DTP3) has reached a coverage of 75%.
>>The reported incidences of measles have declined by nearly two thirds.
>>Deaths due to diarrhoea have been reduced by 505.
>>About 72% of households in developing countries are using iodised salt
(less than 20% in 1990). As a result 90 million newborns are protected yearly
from significant loss of learning ability.
>>In more than 40 countries, over 70% of the children receive at least one
high dose vitamin A supplement a year. UNICEF estimates that, as a result the
death of one million children has been prevented in the period between 1998-2000.
>>Access to safe drinking water and access to proper sanitation facilities
has improved for 816 million and 747 million people respectively.
>>Enrolment in primary education has increased and the global goal set in
1990 at the WSC (80% enrolment) has been achieved.
>>In 2001, 21 countries reported that school enrolment and retention of
girls increased (in South Asia the gender gap in school enrolment was reduced
From these and other figures it is clear that the implementation of the right
to the highest attainable standard of health and of the right to free and compulsory
primary education has made considerable progress. But still a lot remains to be
done (see The Challenges);
In the period 2000-2001 more than 1000 working children and almost 30,000 parents
have benefited from the ILO-IPEC programmes.
Thousands of child soldiers have been demobilised thanks to actions by UNICEF
and those supported by other UN agencies and NGO’s. For instance, 2,400 in Angola,
2,600 in the Democratic Republic of Congo (Plan of Action 2002), 6821 in Sierra
Leone (since October 1999) and 3,351 in Sudan, since February 2001. Education,
psycho-social, and medical support was provided to the thousands of child victims
of armed conflicts.
Improvements can also be recorded in the area of special protection although they
are still very moderate given the magnitude of the problems (see The Challenges);
they are clearly less impressive than in the areas of health and education.
The Challenges: What To Do?
Despite the achievements mentioned in the previous paragraph, the world is not
yet a place fit for far too many children. Some facts to illustrate this;
>>600 million children have to live, that is to be fed, clothed, housed,
and educated with less than $1 US per day. Even in the richest countries of the
world, one in every six children (about 47 million) live under the national poverty
>>21 million children aged 5-14 are engaged in some form of economic activity,
and 186 million of them are engaged in the worst forms of child labor with the
same applying for almost 60 million children age 15-17 years.
>>About 110 million of those working children of primary education age do
not receive any education at all.
>>About 11 million children die every year of preventable diseases, that
is about 20,000 per day, a fact that goes without any media attention.
>>At the end of 2001, there were 2.7 million children under 15 years living
with HIV/AIDS. In that year, 800,000 children under 15 years were newly infected
with HIV and 580,000 children of that age group died of AIDS. The number of African
children who had lost their mother or both parents by the end of 2000 is estimated
at 12.1 million and is forecast to more than double over the next decade.
>>Polio is still endemic in 20 countries, while less than 50 percent of
children under one year of age in Sub-Saharan Africa are immunized against DPT
3. In more than 15 countries, the measles vaccination coverage is less than 50
>>In the past decade two million children died as a direct result of armed
conflicts and an additional six millions were injured or disabled.
More facts and figures can be presented to show that the world is still and by
far not a place fit for children. Think, for example, of the 11 million refugee
children, the many million child victims of violence and abuse in their homes,
their institutions, their schools, their work places and the streets. The UN’s
General Assembly – following a recommendation of the CRC Committee-decided to
request that the Secretary General conduct an in depth international study with
the support of a secretariat established by UNICEF, the WHO, and the OHCHR.
From the above listed and many other overwhelming problems it is clear that the
international community faces many challenges in its attempt to implement the
CRC and make the world fit for children.
The problems seem to be almost insurmountable, and it may be difficult to decide
where to begin, given the reality that not all problems can be tackled at the
same time. The traditional opinion is that governments of States Parties need
to make their own choices and set their own priorities. This is rightly so, because
the problems in the Netherlands, for example, are quite different from those in
South Africa, which in turn are different from the problems in Brazil or Indonesia.
But, the setting of priorities is not an arbitrary matter, or a lottery. The goals
that the 191 States Parties have committed themselves to, are clear and can be
found in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child which they ratified voluntarily
and wholeheartedly. These goals are elaborated upon in detail in the Declarations
and International Plan of Action, A World Fit For Children, (WFFC) which was adopted
unanimously by all members of the UN in May 2002, including those which have not
yet ratified the CRC. In light of these commitments and taking into account national
differences, the motto for the next decade could: “Say what you do and do what
The Governments of all 189 United Nations Member States did say what they intended
to do, not only in the WFFC, but also in 2000 by adopting the Millennium Development
Goals. They all pledged to, inter alia:
>>reduce by half the proportion of people living on less than a dollar a
day by 2015 and reduce by half the proportion of people who suffer from hunger
by that same year;
>>achieve universal primary education and reduce by two thirds the mortality
rate among children under five by 2015
>>In their declaration, A World Fit for Children, the governments of 189
States said; “We reaffirm our obligation to take action to promote and protect
the rights of each child-every human being below the age of 18 years including
adolescents. We are determined to respect the dignity and to secure the well being
of all children. We acknowledge that the Convention on the Rights of the Child,
the most universally embraced human rights treaty in history, and its Optional
Protocols contain a comprehensive set of international legal standards for the
protection and well being of children.
The States call on all members of society to join them in a global movement that
will help to build a world fit for children via upholding their commitments to
the following principles and objectives”
>> Put children first
>> Eradicate Poverty; invest in children
>> Leave no child behind
>> Care for every child
>> Educate every child
>> Protect children from harm and exploitation
>> Protect children from war
>> Combat HIV/AIDS
>> Listen to children and ensure their participation
>> Protect the earth for children
These principles and objective are translated in specific goals and measures that
should be included in the Plan of Action. So, since all States have said what
they intend to do, let us now turn to the question of whether they are going to
do what they said, and if so, how? It is too early to give an answer to these
questions. The more cynical observer may tell you that he has heard similar commitments
and promises before, and a world fit for children was not built then. For example,
with reference to the problems described before, the promise was made about 30
years ago that the well developed countries should allocate 0.7% of their Gross
Domestic Product (GDP) for international development assistance to the developing
countries. By 2003, only 4 countries had met this promise, and many well developed
countries remain below even 50% of that standard. The history so far may not be
encouraging and the picture may be bleak, but not completely back. The achievements
described in the previous paragraph show that progress has been and can be made.
Attempts to answer the question “What to do?” will not produce a magic solution,
and we have to accept that progress most likely will be slow.
If the Global Movements for Children (GMC), the movement of all States in the
world, UN agencies, international NGO’s and members of society like children and
parents, want to build a world fit for children, the first priority, in my opinion,
should be reduction and eradication of poverty. “Chronic poverty remains the single
biggest obstacle to meeting the needs protecting and promoting the rights of children.
It must be tackled on all fronts…Children are hardest hit by poverty”. (In the
WFFC Declaration, the 189 States members of the UN reaffirmed their vow to break
the cycle of poverty within a single generation. They are also united in the conviction
that investments in children and the realisation of their rights are among the
most effective ways to eradicate poverty.)
In its efforts to reduce and eradicate poverty, the GMC should remind States that
they have committed themselves in the Millennium Development Goals to create a
global partnership for development. This global partnership should do what the
Further, develop an open trading and financial system that is committed to good
governance, development and poverty reduction, both nationally and internationally;
Address the special needs of the least developed countries which includes, inter
alia, enhanced debt relief for heavily indebted poor countries, cancellation of
official bilateral debt, and more generous official development assistance (ODA)
for countries committed to poverty reduction.
In this regard, by the end of the 90’s the 41 most heavily indebted poor countries
(HIPC’s) owed about 205 billion dollars in external debt, accounting for about
130 percent of their combined gross national product (GNP). Due, at least partly,
to heavy debt servicing, most of these countries under-invested in basic social
services making many of goals set for 2000 unreachable.
Most likely, poverty will also make many of the goals set for health care, education,and
child protection in the plan of Action WFFC for 2005 or 2010 unreachable for most,
if not all HIPC’s. The global annual additional cost, (which is in addition to
the $80-$90 billion spent annually for education), to achieve education for all
in developing countries by 2015 is approximately $9 billion per year. This represents
less than 0.033% of the world’s GNP and 0.14% of the combined GNP of developing
countries. Poverty may hamper these kinds of expenditures, but it also indicates
that reduction of poverty should go hand in hand with changing priorities at the
national and international level. Poverty reduction is not enough; we should also
invest in the children.
Development of a global partnership for development not only requires the actions
mentioned above, but it also makes it a priority that all developed countries
do meet the standard for ODA which they set about 30 years. This ODA should be
increased as a matter of urgency to the promised 0.7% of the GDP. In addition,
more serious efforts should be undertaken to achieve the full implementation of
the 20/20 initiative; the commitment of developing countries to spend 20% of their
national budget to basic social needs (health care, education, water and sanitation)
and of the developed countries to match that with 20% of their ODA.
This requires a reconsideration of current expenditures, such as defense spending.
Spending in developed countries on defense is about 10 times the money allocated
Poverty reduction and elimination should be given the highest priority. However,
this does not mean that States should not try to make as much progress as possible
in achieving the goals set in the WFFC, including improving protection of children
against commercial sexual exploitation, abuse in the family, institutions, and
on the streets. Many things that contribute to respect for the rights and dignity
of the child can be achieved with little money. Poverty cannot be used as an excuse
for doing nothing. Progressing towards.the goals set by the State Parties themselves
require structures and resources that may not be immediately available. But States
are nevertheless under the obligation to undertake as many of the technical and
financial measures as possible via, inter alia, re-prioritisation of their expenditures.
All national governments in this world have committed themselves to build a world
fit for children. In the Declaration and Plan of Action unanimously adopted by
their representatives in the UN General Assembly on May 10, 2002 following a three
day Special Session on Children, they have set out an ambitious programme with
many concrete goals, set to be achieved in either 2005 or 2010.
The biggest challenge of the first decade of the 21st century is to turn these
commitments into visible and considerable progress towards achievement of the
goals set. In my opinion, the reduction and eradication of poverty should be given
the highest priority. This cannot happen without a serious and, in someways, drastic
change of the current priorities at the national and international level. Children’s
rights implementation is not a matter of charity, but it requires political choices-sometimes
perhaps difficult ones. The realisation of children’s rights is a matter of politics
because so much more money should be invested in children. Poverty reduction can
help us to do so. A war that in itself costs already close to $100 billion is
not a very promising beginning, but it also shows that, if the world really wants
something, the money can be provided. In other words, the Global Movement for
Children governments individually and collectively, UN agencies, NGO’s and individual
citizens, should continue to develop and implement effective actions to generate
the necessary money and take all other measures to build a world fit for children.
The CRC Committee – in close collaboration with the support of UNICEF, other UN
agencies and NGO’s should strengthen its monitoring of the implementation of the
It should remain important that an international body can regularly review and
examine the activities of the States to see to what extent they meet the commitments
they agreed upon by ratification of the CRC and adoption of the WFFC documents,
as well as providing them with guidance and well targeted recommendations for
Progress in the next decade may not be as good as we would want and like. But
there is a saying in the Netherlands: With a lot of perseverance the snail finally
could reach Noah’s Ark. With that Kind of perseverance and with an unfaltering
belief that we can build a world fit for children, we will make progress and achieve
Jaap. E. Doek
is the Chairman of the CRC.