General Market

Council adopts conclusions on Yemen

1.       Recalling its Council Conclusions of 16 November 2015, the EU reaffirms its serious concern about the situation in Yemen. The ongoing conflict is having devastating consequences for the country and its population. In spite of the international pressure for a political solution to the crisis, the parties to the conflict have failed to reach a settlement and the fighting continues unabated. The number of civilian casualties continues to increase. Yemen’s civilian infrastructure and institutions have been heavily affected by the war and are increasingly unable to deliver basic services. The humanitarian situation is catastrophic with 17 million food insecure Yemenis depending on external aid for their survival and  7.3 million people are at serious risk of famine. The situation is especially dire among children with over 2.2. million acutely malnourished. The dramatic economic downturn and the liquidity crisis further aggravate the dire situation.

2.       Vulnerable groups, women and children are particularly affected by the on-going hostilities and the humanitarian crisis. The safety and well-being of women and girls is also of particular concern. The EU calls on all parties to the conflict to take all the necessary steps to prevent and respond to all forms of violence including sexual and gender-based violence in situations of armed conflict. The EU also strongly condemns the violations of the rights of the child and continued recruitment of child soldiers and is concerned at children’s limited access to even basic health care and education.

3.       The EU is likewise concerned at the consequences of the war in Yemen for the region’s stability. The war has created the conditions for criminal and terrorist organizations like Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, Da’esh in Yemen and others to thrive. The EU condemns all terror attacks in the strongest terms. The EU urges the Government of Yemen to assume its responsibilities in the fight against terrorist groups which are taking advantage of the current instability. It is particularly important that all parties to the conflict take resolute action against such groups, whose activities represent an additional threat to a negotiated settlement and pose significant risks to the security of the region and beyond. In addition, the conflict has resulted in an increase of incidents along Yemen’s Red Sea coast, thus undermining freedom of navigation, endangering maritime trade in a crucial international shipping route.

4.       There can be no military solution to the conflict in Yemen. The crisis can only be solved through a negotiation process, involving all the parties concerned, with the full and meaningful participation of women, and leading to an inclusive political solution. In this framework, the EU reiterates its strong support to the efforts of the UN Secretary General and the UN Special Envoy for Yemen, Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed, to achieve a resumption of negotiations and urges all parties to the conflict to react in a flexible and constructive manner and without preconditions to their efforts and fully and immediately implement all the provisions of relevant UN Security Council resolutions. The implementation of confidence building measures such as immediate steps towards a sustainable ceasefire, a mechanism for a monitored withdrawal of forces, facilitation of humanitarian and commercial access and the release of political prisoners will be essential to facilitate a return to the political track. For this process to be successful, the EU calls on all parties to urgently agree on a cessation of hostilities to be monitored by the United Nations as a first step towards the resumption of peace talks under UN leadership. The EU also calls on all international and regional actors to engage constructively with Yemeni parties to enable a de-escalation of the conflict and a negotiated settlement that respects the independence, unity, sovereignty and territorial integrity of Yemen.

5.       The EU strongly condemns attacks against civilians and renews its urgent call on all parties to the conflict to ensure the protection of civilians and to respect international humanitarian law and international human rights law, including to respect the principles of distinction, proportionality, and to take precaution in the conduct of hostilities. The EU is deeply concerned by the impact of ongoing hostilities, including bombardments,  use of cluster munitions and reported use of antipersonnel mines as well as by  attacks causing the destruction of civilian infrastructure including schools, medical facilities, residential areas, markets, water systems, ports and airports. Ensuring accountability for violations is an important part of the process to achieve a lasting settlement of the current conflict. We continue to support independent investigations into all alleged violations and abuses, with a view to ending impunity for crimes committed by all parties to the conflict in line with HRC resolution A/HRC/33/L.5 and the EU General Comment. The EU calls on all parties to the conflict to cooperate fully with the National Commission of Inquiry as well as with the enhanced OHCHR Yemen office and to allow them full access to all parts of Yemen. Both the final report by the National Commission of Inquiry as well as the written report of the High Commissioner on the situation of human rights including violations and abuses since September 2014, to be presented to the Human Rights Council in September, are essential ingredients for further discussions.

6.       The EU reiterates the urgent need to remove obstacles and bureaucratic hurdles preventing the delivery of life-saving assistance and to facilitate rapid and unimpeded passage of humanitarian relief for civilians in need, which is impartial in character and conducted without any adverse distinction. The EU calls on state and non-state actors to ensure the safety and facilitate the secure access of relief workers and humanitarian personnel. In view of the dire humanitarian situation, access to all seaports is essential. Unfettered access must be guaranteed for commercial and humanitarian supplies. The EU urges the parties to ensure the full and effective functioning of Hodeida port and stresses its importance as a lifeline for humanitarian support and commercial access point for essential supplies. The EU stresses the importance of ensuring the effective and timely processing for commercial shipping, including fuel, and fully supports the continuation of UNVIM (United Nations Verification and Inspection Mechanism) and the full and unhindered implementation of its mandate. The full support of the Coalition and the Government of Yemen is needed in order for UNVIM to operate effectively and at full capacity. The EU calls for a reopening of Sana’a airport for commercial flights so that urgently needed medicine and commodities can be flown in and Yemenis in need of medical treatment can be flown out. The EU  calls for the full implementation of the targeted arms embargo imposed by the UN Security Council. In this regard, the EU also reiterates the strict application of the rules set in the Common Position 2008/944 on arms exports. The EU urges all parties to facilitate the swift resumption of salary payments in the public sector in all of Yemen and of the fulfilment of the mandate of the Central Bank.

7.       The EU is ready to increase its efforts to support UN actions in the search of a political settlement of this crisis by offering its good offices to the parties to reach a cessation of hostilities and start negotiations. The EU and its member states are also ready to step up humanitarian assistance to the population across the country according to the rising needs and to mobilize their development assistance to fund projects in crucial sectors. On that basis, the EU is committed to provide support to the parties in reaching a settlement to the conflict and to contribute to the country’s future reconstruction. The EU stresses once again the need for a coordinate humanitarian action under UN leadership as reflected in this year’s Yemen Humanitarian Response Plan and urges all countries to contribute to addressing humanitarian needs. The EU welcomes the high-level pledging conference for the crisis in Yemen that will take place on 25 April in Geneva co-hosted by the Secretary-General of the UN and the governments of Sweden and Switzerland. The EU and its Member States will step up their coordinated outreach to the conflict parties concerning the facilitation of humanitarian access and protection of civilians and civilian infrastructure. The Council will follow the developments in Yemen closely and stands ready to increase its engagement to promote stability and prosperity in Yemen once a political solution to the current conflict has been found.

General Market

Speeches by Commissioners Avramopoulos and Jourová at the 10th European Forum on the rights of the child – The protection of children in migration

Keynote speech by Commissioner Jourová : More protection for refugee and migrant children

Dear Dimitris,

Honourable Members of Parliament co-chairs of the Intergroup on rights of the child – Ms Corazza Bildt and Ms Chinnici,

Distinguished speakers,

Ladies and gentlemen,

Welcome to the 10th European Forum on the rights of the child!

This year’s topic is ‘children in migration’. We use this term to describe children in different circumstances. It includes asylum applicants, refugees and undocumented migrants.

You will see some of these children in the background of my presentation. The pictures were taken by the EU Fundamental Rights Agency in the hotspots in Lesvos, Chios, and Samos, and the ‘Kara Tepe’ camp in Lesvos.

And I would like to begin by telling you a story.

Amira is 16 years old and fled to Europe by boat, with her mother. Her father is believed to be dead.

They travelled with other family members. She describes the conditions they are living in now and says she does not feel safe. She gives some details about her daily exposure to violence. Despite the trauma she has suffered, Amira sees clearly.

She says that she expects the European Union and its Member States to protect her human rights, and recalls that in her country people viewed Europe as a beacon for human rights.

Amira says that she missed out on several years of school because of the war. And it is now urgent for her to go to school and catch up. She wants to be safe and to get on with her life. Her mother, sitting beside her, looks lost, traumatised and desolate.

Ladies and gentlemen,

While Amira is not the real name of the child in this story, her experience was very real. It is a typical example of what many children in migration and their families have to go through in these very hard times in their life.

Of course, each and every child in migration has lived through other experiences and they have their own story to tell. Often, what they have gone through has been more than a child should have to bear.

And, yet, they may be the lucky ones. They survived and made it to Europe.

I, and many of you, have spoken with many of these children in the past few months – in many places. And their situation demands that we rise to the occasion and ensure respect for their rights. We may be their last line of defence. And we need to make sure that their voice is heard. That is our responsibility.

Let me put the current situation of child migration into context.

There are no reliable figures for the numbers of third country national children who do not apply for asylum or who are undocumented. But, we know that one in four asylum applicants in the EU is a child and ninety-six thousand unaccompanied children applied for asylum in the EU in 2015.

Thousands of unaccompanied children are missing.

This is the most shocking reality of the migration crisis.

A report from Sweden last week said that four per cent, or eighteen hundred, of the forty-five thousand unaccompanied child asylum applicants from 2013 to the present have gone missing.

In February 2016, the European Commission announced a comprehensive approach to the protection of children in migration. And my colleague Dimitris Avramopoulos will tell you about proposals for new asylum and migration laws and EU funding under the Asylum, Migration and Integration Fund.

The EU Agencies, the Fundamental Rights Agency, the European Asylum Support Office and Frontex carry out crucial guidance and support roles. They have developed helpful tools and collected qualitative data which can be used to inform policy.

The European Parliament and the Intergroup on rights of the child are defenders of the rights of children in migration.

And the UN Special Representative on the rights of migrants will have some very clear messages for us today.

In my own portfolio, the Commission provides funding for children’s rights and to protect children from violence. This year we gave priority to children in migration.

All children have the same rights under the UN Convention on the rights of the child. And, they all have the right to protection.

No child should be discriminated against and they should all benefit from equal access to national child protection systems. EU law reflects and protects these rights.

And the New York Declaration on refugees and migrants reaffirmed international commitments that we should keep in mind in our discussions.

We have the institutions and the legal framework to act.

My concern – my objective for today – is to take stock of how things really work in practice – on the ground – and what we, as politicians, can do to help fill gaps and resolve challenges.

For example, how do these laws and policies work for individual children? How do they meet their needs? Are they child rights based? What impact do they have on children such as Amira?

We all know that in a child’s young life just one week, a month, a year can seem interminable. So, we need to assess the time it takes for implementation. In particular, what can we do to speed up family reunion and reunification and ensure faster Dublin transfers?

Are procedures and processes adapted to the needs of children? What support are they given in order to be able to claim their rights? What is done to protect children from violence, whether they are in families, or unaccompanied or separated? Are we doing enough to identify individual vulnerabilities and to respond to them? How can we ensure a continuum of care and protection from arrival through to durable solutions, whether this means integration or return? Can we learn from someone else? Is transition from one stage or process to the next smooth?

There are still so many unanswered questions, particularly with regard to solutions. And I hope that we will address all of these issues at this Forum.

I’m sure effective guardianship will crop up in nearly all discussions. EU law already provides for the appointment of a guardian – which is a crucial role – for unaccompanied children. And we need to determine who the champions for a particular child are.

For children in families, we have a duty to support families in their role as primary caregiver. When I have visited reception centres, not only in Greece but for instance also Le Petit Chateau in Brussels, I am always very keen to speak with parents and to know what is done to empower them. This is important.

We must seek to restore their dignity and give them some control over their lives and let them be parents again.

Let me turn to Amira again and remind you how overwhelmed her mother was. The more integrated our responses can be, for both Amira and her mother, the better.

We are all becoming more and more aware of the importance of psychosocial support, as well as access to healthcare, not only for children but for the child’s parents. We want to restore and preserve family unity and avoid family separation.

For unaccompanied children, I see opportunities to extend the use of family-based or foster care. We need to give children the best care possible and there should be a range of options available, in line with the UN Guidelines for the alternative care of children.

We should train those working with and for children in migration so they are qualified to do so. And we should train them to identify risks of violence, exploitation, abuse and trafficking, for boys as well as girls.

We should ensure that there are standards in place for reception, and monitor implementation.

We need to assure access to education, bearing in mind the New York declaration commitment to ensure access to education within a few months of the initial displacement.

We need to do much more work to be done to ensure a range of viable alternatives to administrative detention.

We must acknowledge that it may be in a child’s best interests to return to her or his country of origin.

Not all children can or will stay in the EU. However, for any child who will not stay, we must ensure that they have enjoyed their rights to protection and non-discrimination, and benefitted from fair and effective procedures. We must also ensure that the primary consideration of their best interests is well documented.

We will compile a list of good practices for the protection of children in all phases of migration. So, I hope you will have a clear focus on good and promising practices and solutions and that you will contribute to that exercise.

After the Forum we will also issue conclusions to feed into further policy developments at both the EU and Member State level.

So, ladies and gentlemen, I invite you to discuss the situation of all these children over the next two days. I invite all of you to participate actively. And I look forward to working with you to implement our collective and coherent, comprehensive approach to the protection of children in migration.

Thank you.

Keynote speech by Commissioner Avramopoulos

Ladies and gentlemen,

This year’s European Forum on the rights of the child, with a focus on migration, could not be more timely. My thanks go out to my dear colleague Vera, for organising this event on such a topical issue.

Even if we succeed in all areas of our migration policy, if we don’t succeed in protecting children, we have not succeeded at all. This is why protecting children is such a priority for us.

And the refugee crisis has put this question even higher on the political agenda. The number of migrant children arriving on our southern coasts, both in Greece and Italy, has risen in the last two years. This is why our political and operational response should be equivalent to the needs and expectations.

Already today, the protection of children is central in EU asylum and migration law. We have important guarantees for migrant children who seek international protection in Europe.

We have had an action plan on unaccompanied migrant children for several years, and we have been carefully monitoring how Member States have implemented it.

As some of you may know, this summer the Commission has proposed a far-reaching reform of the Common European Asylum System.

So what are we proposing that will benefit the needs and interests of children?

Our proposals aim to strengthen the protection of migrant children, and in particular of migrant children who arrive alone in Europe. For example, we proposed measures to guarantee that children will be accommodated in suitable facilities. Children should also have access to specialised services and to education.

Those who are victims of trauma will receive psychosocial support. Family reunification procedures for children and unaccompanied minors will be strengthened and streamlined. Our Dublin reform proposal, for example, broadens the concept of family members to include the applicant’s siblings.

Effective guardianship for unaccompanied minors is also an issue. Our proposal to upgrade asylum procedures contains several provisions that will make guardianship more effective. We want the appointment of guardians to happen promptly, respecting the pre-set deadlines.

Guardians will have to be adequately qualified and trained for their role, and they will have to have sufficient time to meet with and dedicate to each child.

The guardianship system will need to ensure monitoring and accountability mechanisms. Guardians play a specialist and crucial role within the asylum procedures, and more needs to be done to facilitate the exchange of good practice and expertise, to possibly share joint training and to work together on any cross-border cases.

We also propose that in the future, accelerated procedures and in particular detention measures may only be applied to unaccompanied minors in limited, exceptional and fully justified circumstances.

In other words: such measures should be avoided as a rule. More needs to be done as of now to ensure that alternatives to detention are available.

Likewise, improving reception conditions for unaccompanied minors in frontline Member States is an absolute priority for the Commission.

What are we doing now? The EU has already provided substantial funding through various channels in order to improve reception conditions for children in Greece and in Italy. We will continue to prioritise this in funding, with a focus on upgrading the standards and quality of care and protection.

Child protection is also present in the context of the new European Border and Coast Guard adopted in September 2016. The child’s best interests will be a primary consideration in the activities of the Agency.

Right now, we aim to support frontline Member States to ensure appropriate first line reception and assistance for unaccompanied minors, in terms of identification, reception, provision of information and referral.

You are all aware that speedy and coordinated efforts are needed to face the phenomenon of children going missing. In terms of prevention, we need to build trust in the system by ensuring appropriate reception and care including effective guardianship; by improving the quality of information given to children; and by speeding up processes and procedures linked to relocation and family reunification.

In terms of identification, our proposal to revise Eurodac includes a lowering of the minimum age for fingerprinting from 14 to 6 years old, precisely to reduce the risks of going missing.

In the absence of travel documents, fingerprinting is one of the very few options to identify a person.

We also need to ensure that children who go missing are rapidly reported to the relevant national authorities and that every effort is made to find them.

In addition, according to the relocation decisions, applications made by unaccompanied children and vulnerable persons have to be prioritised. Despite this obligation, so far very few unaccompanied and separated children have been relocated from Greece, and not a single one from Italy.

This cannot continue.

Pledges must be urgently increased and delivered on, and internal procedures on the ground must be improved to make this all happen.

Let me also say that it is not just about making sure that children’s rights are safeguarded and implemented. It is also about making sure that their vulnerabilities are not exploited, particularly in the context of the ongoing refugee crisis.

I have already mentioned the issue of children going missing. In addition, exploitation and trafficking is a serious concern. Behind every child victim of trafficking, there is not only a trafficker but also a ‘user’, or rather an ‘abuser’.

The European Commission remains firmly committed to addressing all forms of exploitation and protecting the most vulnerable, in line with the Anti-Trafficking Directive and the EU Anti-Trafficking Stategy.

Risk assessment, durable solutions, presumption of childhood, legal and psychosocial assistance, education and assistance to families are some of the key features of our legislation.

Likewise, the legislation on protecting children from sexual abuse and sexual exploitation applies to all children in the EU, no matter their status or origin. Member States should therefore ensure the effective application of that legislation to all children, including unaccompanied children who are the most vulnerable.

Our EU agencies EASO, Frontex, and Europol are supporting Italy and Greece in the identification of migrants and the provision of information to them in hotspots. They also work with police forces to help identify and prosecute smugglers and traffickers.

Moreover, it is not just about saving or protecting children; it is also about empowering them. And this is why we cannot forget about integration, both now but also in the long term.

One key policy area is education. All children, regardless of their family, religious, ethnic or cultural background or gender, have the right to access education.

Refugee children may have attended school only for short periods of time, or never, and therefore need tailored support including catch-up classes. Teachers need the necessary skills to assist them and should be supported in their work in increasingly diverse classrooms.

Early Childhood Education and Care is fundamental for the integration of migrant families and children, and to make sure that all children are given the chance to realise their potential.

Different EU funds – such as the Asylum, Migration Integration Fund, the European Social Fund and the Fund for Humanitarian Aid – are being mobilised to support Member States in improving access to education for the vulnerable, and in particular refugee children.

Outside the EU, €120m of EU funding has been allocated for 2015-2016 to regional education and protection programmes for vulnerable Syrian refugee and host community children and adolescents working through partners such as UNICEF in Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan and Iraq.

The Facility for Refugees in Turkey, meanwhile, will support the schooling of young Syrian refugees in Turkey.

Finally, I wish to touch upon a sensitive question: the issue of return and reintegration in the country of origin. Let me say that return can only happen when it is in full respect of the primary consideration of the child’s best interests.

We need to ensure better family tracing, and where return is determined to be in the child’s best interest, appropriate assistance must be provided. The returning child must be received in the country of origin by a family member, a designated guardian or an appropriate reception facility.

The principle of non-refoulement shall be fully respected at all times. I wish to underline that children should never be left in limbo.

We need to avoid situations where children are not considered to have a right to stay in the EU, but they cannot be returned to their country of origin.

Ladies and gentlemen,

While we have many challenges ahead, we have also come a long way in recent years. We have the right foundations and the right tools to address these challenges together.

We are in a room of like-minded people: we all want to make sure children in whichever situation – and particularly those in a vulnerable situation such as the refugee crisis – get the protection they need.

The challenge is not to agree or discuss here today – the challenge is to make it happen. Many of you are involved at various political and operational levels: you can influence and you can make a change. This Forum brings an excellent opportunity to provide an effective response to these children by joining all our efforts.

Children are our future. They are the next generation.

Protecting and investing in them is not just about saving lives or about respecting fundamental rights, it is about shaping the future.

General Government

Child Migrants, Refugees Especially Vulnerable to Violence during Humanitarian Crises, Speakers Tell Third Committee, as Debate on Children Concludes

The Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural) concluded its general discussion on the rights of children today, with delegates describing progress and challenges on a range of issues pertaining to child health, education and protection.

While several delegates shared progress their Governments had made in improving legislative and social mechanisms to prevent violence against children, many were concerned by the growing threat posed by humanitarian emergencies, and in particular, the migrant and refugee crisis.

The representative of Bulgaria, which was both a transit and host country for thousands of refugees and migrants, reminded Member States that “a child is first a child, and after that, a refugee or migrant”.  As such, they had rights that must be protected by all.  Guatemala’s delegate was particularly concerned by the vulnerability of unaccompanied children migrating across the Americas.  Her Government had established consular services in Mexico and the United States to help protect those youth, but she also urged States to stop detaining minors.  Similarly, El Salvador’s speaker called for a human rights-based approach to dealing with the situation of child migrants.  Echoing those concerns, the representative of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) reminded authorities of their obligations under international law to prevent family separation and to avoid detaining children.

A number of delegates addressed the situation of children living under occupation, with Ukraine’s delegate stressing that despite his country’s efforts to improve opportunities for children, many Ukrainian children living under Russian occupation had been denied their rights.  Similarly in Georgia, the Russian occupation was denying children the right to education in their native language and freedom of movement, said that country’s delegate.

In the Middle East, Palestinian children had been deliberately targeted by the Israeli army, said the State of Palestine’s observer.  She asked when the international community would react to those rights violations.  Iran’s delegate expressed dismay that political pressure had compromised the independence of the Secretary-General’s 2016 report on children and armed conflict.  He proposed the United Nations at least impose an arms embargo on Governments engaged in mass killing of children.

The Russian Federation’s delegate, exercising his right of reply, called on Georgian authorities to discuss issues including children’s rights in a dialogue directly with the powers of the sovereign nations of Abkhazia and Ossetia.  To his Ukrainian counterpart, he said the politicized statement was an attempt to deflect attention from human rights violations in Ukraine itself.

In other business today, the Committee approved a decision to invite the Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in Eritrea, Sheila B. Keetharuth, to present an oral update.  She would be orally introduced as a member of the former Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in Eritrea.

Also speaking were representatives of Algeria, Angola, Bahrain, Kuwait, Bangladesh, Botswana, Cameroon, Monaco, Central African Republic, China, Eritrea, Burkina Faso, Dominican Republic, Fiji, Guinea, Congo, Iceland, India, Indonesia, Iran, Jamaica, Japan, Lebanon, Panama, Madagascar, Morocco, Haiti, Mozambique, Armenia, Myanmar, Palau, Malaysia, Philippines, Republic of Korea, Rwanda, Samoa, Saudi Arabia, Senegal, Sudan, Kyrgyzstan, Timor-Leste, Togo, Azerbaijan, Tonga, Ukraine, United Republic of Tanzania, Zimbabwe, and the observer of the Sovereign Order of Malta.

Officials of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) and the International Labour Organization (ILO) also addressed the Committee.

Also speaking in exercise of the right of reply were representatives of Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Israel, the State of Palestine and Ukraine.

The Committee will reconvene at 10 a.m. Monday, 17 October, to begin consideration of the rights of indigenous peoples.

Background

The Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural) met this morning to conclude its debate on the promotion and protection of the rights of children.  For information, see Press Release GA/SHC/4169.

Statements

CÉCILE MBALLA EYENGA (Cameroon) expressed concern about the conditions for children around the world, especially in Africa, due to armed conflicts and humanitarian crises.  Cameroon had made education a pillar of its social policies.  Protection of children’s rights was as essential.  Children recruited by terrorist groups, such as Boko Haram, were of great concern.  She welcomed collaboration with the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the World Health Organization (WHO) and other United Nations agencies, stressing that with such assistance, Cameroon had implemented programmes to combat child mortality, focusing on systematic vaccination programmes. 

VALÉRIE S BRUELL-MELCHIOR (Monaco) said that while UNICEF aimed to help all children, after 70 years of action, numerous obstacles had yet to be overcome.  Two conditions were essential to ensure children had a good start to life:  health and education.  She observed that 250 million children lacked good nutrition, adding that children’s access to health care must include nutrition goals.  Quality education without distinction was the way to break the vicious cycle of poverty.  Children should be taught to reflect in a manner that would allow them to reject extremism.

MARÍA JOSÉ DEL ÁGUILA CASTILLO (Guatemala), endorsing the statement of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC), said investing in childhood was crucial to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals.  Her country had been affected by El Niño and El Niña, and appreciated the United Nations’ support in responding to their devastating effects.  The situation of migrant children was of great concern and her Government had established consular services in Mexico and the United States to support unaccompanied migrant children.  States must stop detaining minors.  Finally, she welcomed the Secretary-General’s report on the protection of children from bullying.

TAMTA KUPRADZE (Georgia), addressing the vulnerability of children in armed conflict and the need for more efforts to protect their rights, said the Russian Federation’s occupation of Georgian territory had deprived Georgian children of their rights to education in their native language and freedom of movement.  Those violations were particularly concerning given the absence of international monitoring mechanisms inside those territories.  Committed to increasing opportunities for its children, Georgia had improved its education system, health and social services and ensuring children’s protection from violence.  Its Parliament had adopted a new amendment to the Civil Code requiring parental consent for marriage under age 16 and other measures to prevent human trafficking.

MAJDA MOUTCHOU (Morocco) said her country had ratified all children’s rights instruments, demonstrating the country’s commitment to combating rights violations.  Various measures had strengthened Morocco’s legal framework, such as a law ensuring that the best interests of all children were considered.  A ministerial unit responsible for family, childhood, and disabled persons had set out a public policy to protect children against abuse over the Internet and from trafficking.  As new forms of crime required that reliable data systems be created for monitoring, and Morocco had partnerships with internet service providers to protect children against sexual exploitation, as well as an awareness-raising campaign for parents for their children’s safe use of the internet.

NICOLE ROMULUS (Haiti), associating herself with CELAC and the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), said the States had major work to do to promote and protect children’s rights.  The number of children not in school had increased since 2011, while 250 million children lived in countries affected by armed conflict.  Governments were obliged to ensure that all children could live up to their potential.  She spoke about Haiti’s policies towards schools, noting that the President had urged all to work for a full, successful school year, and to join together to bring about a more unified Haitian society through quality education.  Haiti had ensured that children’s rights were a priority and had taken various measures to protect children’s rights. 

MANSOUR T J ALMUTAIRI (Saudi Arabia) said children’s rights were a priority for the Government, which recognized the right to life for children even during pregnancy.  The Government’s concern for children ran so deep that it required parents to choose proper names for them.  Saudi Arabia also ensured children’s protection from difficult or forced labour, while child abuse was punished in accordance with Sharia law.  Reiterating the Government’s commitment to the Convention and other international instruments, he said it would strengthen cooperation with international organizations.  Finally, he expressed concern about the plight of Syrian children and the need to end the war in that country.

MAYANK JOSHI (India) noted that, despite progress made, more than 47 per cent of the world’s children still lived in poverty and they were particularly vulnerable during times of conflict and natural disasters.  Political will, resource mobilization and investments were needed to protect and promote children’s rights.  For its part, India had adopted a rights-based approach through its National Policy for Children, which promoted children’s literacy, education and health care.  The Integrated Child Development Scheme, a universal programme, provided health care, food, immunization and pre-school education, he said, stressing that India would continue its efforts to protect children against violence and exploitation, in particular, the girl child.

RWAYDA IZZELDIN HAMID ELHASSAN (Sudan) associated herself with the “Group of 77” developing countries and China, and with the African Group, stressing that the protection of children’s rights was a top priority.  Sudan had ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child and its optional protocols, among other international instruments.  Expressing support for the “Children, Not Soldiers” campaign, she said that the recruitment of children under the age of 18 was prohibited.  Special units in the ministry of the interior protected children, and a special investigator had been set up to investigate crimes against children in Darfur.  Further, Sudan had signed an action plan with the United Nations regarding children in conflict zones.  The root causes of children’s recruitment – including unilateral economic sanctions against countries – must be addressed.

MADINA KARABAEVA (Kyrgyzstan) said her country stood firmly on the path to becoming a State where children’s protection was a key value.  A programme to develop justice for children aimed to create a legal system which would protect children in conflict with the law, as well as children who were witnesses.  The Government was protecting children’s rights and reacting to each individual child’s needs, she said, adding that about 60 centres offered help for families in difficult living situations.  Policies for children included the protection of childhood and motherhood.  Extreme poverty had decreased in the country, as had infant mortality.

STEPHANIE GEBREMEDHIN (Eritrea) said the country’s culture and laws guaranteed children’s rights, noting that new penal and civil codes referenced corporal punishment and other forms of abuse.  The justice system did not allow children under 12 to be treated as criminals, while those between the ages of 12 and 18 were treated as juvenile offenders.  There were also efforts with civil society to raise awareness about violence against children and child trafficking.  The country’s efforts to provide more equitable health care had allowed it to achieve Millennium Development Goal 5 on child mortality.  The number of births attended to by a skilled health worker had also increased, she said, adding that girls’ elementary school enrolment had reached 99 per cent, with pre-primary enrolment also increasing.

MYRIAM AMAN SOULAMA (Burkina Faso), associating with the African Group, described measures taken at the legislative, education, and social levels to improve children’s rights.  Education policies had led to an increase in girls’ school enrolment.  To address child abuse, the Government had set up a support hotline for victims.  Maternal and neonatal mortality had declined, thanks to the provision of free health care for children under age five and pregnant women.  The incidence of female genital mutilation also had steadily decreased.

MILDRED GUZMÁN MADERA (Dominican Republic), stressing that countering violence against children was a priority, said the Government had enhanced its social policies and systems for the protection of children, families and communities.  It also had established a comprehensive care centre for children with disabilities and a new centre for early childhood care.  A national council for children and adolescents provided temporary protection for children under threat.  In addition, a national roadmap for the prevention of violence against children had been developed with guidance from the Special Representative of the Secretary-General.  The Dominican Republic was striving to improve parenting through awareness-raising and training for parents, teachers and community leaders.

ELLEN AZARIA MADUHU (United Republic of Tanzania) associated herself with the Group of 77 and China, the African Group and the Southern African Development Community (SADC). The Government issued a new National Action Plan on addressing violence against women and children for the period 2016 – 2021. Additional measures were undertaken to protect children, including the translation and dissemination of the 2009 National Child Act and the establishment of a Child Helpline for reporting acts of violence and abuse. The Government also attached great importance to the child’s right to education and ending child marriage. Public schools were directed to ensure that all primary and secondary education is free for all children. Furthermore, a campaign against early marriages was launched in 2014. The “Kigali Declaration” provided the framework for action to end early and forced marriages.

MASNI ERIZA (Indonesia) said efforts to promote children’s rights had been underpinned by the national action plan to eliminate violence.  The President had convened the education commission, which financed education.  Indonesia was a “pathfinder country” in the newly-launched partnership to end violence against children.  The most basic unit of society was the family, which had the responsibility for nurturing children, he said, pressing Governments to enact family-friendly policies.  Indonesia had allocated a sizable share of its budget for children, providing them with free education and health care, which had led to lower illiteracy rates.  Stressing the imperative to end violence against children, he expressed Indonesia’s commitment to engage internationally to protect and promote their rights.

HELGA VALBORG STEINARSDÓTTIR (Iceland) said her country was committed to the protection and promotion of children’s rights at home and abroad and had recently codified a new framework agreement with UNICEF.  Iceland had incorporated the Convention into national law, she said, and urging States seek the treaty’s integration into policymaking.  Protecting the rights of girls would require eliminating all forms of discrimination, violence and harmful practices.  It was a stain on the global community that every day, almost 40,000 girls were subjected to early and forced marriage.  Girls must be provided with the sexual and reproductive health care they needed, including comprehensive sexual education.

YASUE NUNOSHIBA (Japan) said her country’s “Learning Strategy for Peace and Growth” focused particularly on providing education for girls.  For instance, Japan had assisted in building girls’ middle schools in the United Republic of Tanzania, where early marriage and pregnancy prevented them from completing their education.  Japan also had funded a programme through UNICEF that supported the release and reintegration of children from armed groups in African countries.  It had contributed $6 million for the reintegration of child soldiers and the protection and empowerment of children in armed conflict.  Locally, the Government provided administrative services to every family in need, in particular for families in difficult situations, such as single-parent households.

MAYA DAGHER (Lebanon) said between the seventieth and seventy-first sessions of the General Assembly, millions of children had become victims of armed violence and terrorism, noting that many had been “swallowed” by the Mediterranean Sea.  Lebanon had supported many initiatives last year, including resolutions in the Assembly and the Security Council which all aimed to create a world fit for children.  Lebanon paid attention to education, particularly as a means through which to combat extremism.  Education for all was at the heart of its policies, she said, noting that the country was hosting over one million refugees.

DAYANARA EDITH SALAZAR MEDINA (Panama), associating herself with CELAC, said her country had faced waves of child migrants, underscoring that, through an interdisciplinary team, the Government was present in communities where shelters for migrants had been established.  The goal was to respect migrants’ rights, she said, adding that boys and girls should not be criminalized for being migrants.  All should have the same opportunities.  Investing in quality education and reducing neonatal mortality were crucial towards ensuring each boy and girl’s future.  She noted that the region continued to face challenges, adding that Panama sought to address the challenges of indigenous children and children with disabilities. 

YIN PO MYAT (Myanmar), noting that peace and reconciliation were prerequisites for the success of development policies, said the Government had strengthened its education programs to better protect children from exploitation and violence.  She welcomed the “Children, Not Soldiers” initiative, stressing that Myanmar had signed a Joint Action Plan with the United Nations Country Task Force on Monitoring and Reporting on the use of children in the military in 2012. As a result, the recruitment process was centralized and children had been released from the military, if found.  She said 810 children had been released from the military since signature of the related Action Plan, noting that support had been provided to assist with their reintegration and education.  Also, 81 military officers and 321 officers of other ranks had been penalized by military and civil laws. Given such progress, it was time that Myanmar was delisted from the Secretary-General’s report on children and armed conflict.

HAMIDEH HASSANI NEJAD PIRKOUHI (Iran), noting that the 2030 Agenda included numerous references to children, said millions of children still lived in poverty without adequate nutrition, sanitation, or vaccinations against disease.  He expressed dismay that children’s interests had been compromised under unjustified political pressure in the Secretary-General’s report on Children and Armed Conflict.  “An arms embargo on Governments that engage in mass killing of children is the least that the United Nations can advocate for,” he said, stressing the importance of the family as the fundamental group of society.  In Iran, 460,000 children attended school free of charge, an enormous burden on the education system, and donors had failed to meet their commitments.

MARIA HELENA LOPES DE JESUS PIRES (Timor-Leste) encouraging support for the office on violence against children, expressed particular concern about cyberbullying and bullying in schools.  There was a collective responsibility to protect children in conflict and attacks on schools and hospitals could not be tolerated.  She urged parties to conflict to respect children’s rights and refrain from recruiting child soldiers, calling for adequate assistance for reintegrating those who had been recruited.  Timor-Leste was committed to ensuring access to education to all its children, with special attention given to those with disabilities.  To improve retention of girls in schools, legislation had been passed to support integration of teenage mothers in the educational system.  Health campaigns had resulted in a sharp decline in child mortality, while immunization campaigns had been greatly expanded, she added.

PARK JEE WON (Republic of Korea) underlined the importance of a comprehensive and coordinated approach in promoting children’s rights, welcoming the Organization’s efforts to expand partnerships with civil societies.  Education should be further expanded to include the most vulnerable and marginalized, she said, noting the some 58 million children lacked access to education.  Education was a building block of a sustainable, inclusive society based on human rights, equality, rule of law and respect for diversity.  Girls were more susceptible to violence and discrimination.  Last year, the Republic of Korea had launched a “Better Life for Girls” initiative to support girls’ health, education and vocational development in developing countries, to which it would provide $200 million over five years.

MS. AL JAWDAR (Bahrain) said Government programmes had improved children’s lives in recent years.  The country had adhered to its commitments under international conventions and had ratified the Convention in 1992.  In June, Bahrain’s representative had been re-elected to the Committee on the Rights of the Child. Its human development indicators were high, thanks to its focus on children and youth.  Further, health care reforms had led to lower child and maternal mortality, she said, citing the provision of health care for newborns, vaccines for children under five and social and psychological service for children.

FAHAD M E H A MOHAMMAD (Kuwait) shared the concerns about threats children faced on the internet, including exposure to violent ideologies and sexual abuse.  Recalling that more than one billion children had been exposed to some form of violence over the past year, he urged all countries to implement the provision concerning violence against children under the 2030 Agenda.  Kuwait’s constitution recognized the family as the basis of society.  Based on that principle and its international commitments, Kuwait had enacted national laws to protect the family and the child, including a family court and several articles dealing with the family and children.  The State recognized the child’s right to live in a family environment.  It was impossible to address the issue of children without referring to the suffering of Palestinian children who lived under Israeli occupation.

IRENE SUSAN BARREIRO NATIVIDAD (Philippines), associating herself with ASEAN, said the Government recognized its duty to provide a safe and enabling environment for children.  A child’s right to education was of paramount importance and 20.9 per cent of the country’s 2017 national budget would go to education.  Further, the Government had passed an Anti-Bullying Act, as well as adopted a comprehensive approach to protecting children from sale, prostitution and child pornography and developed mechanisms to respond to child abuse.  Ending conflict was essential to creating the proper environment for children, she said, stressing the Government’s commitment to dialogue, and ultimately, forging peace with various armed groups.

EMMANUEL NIBISHAKA (Rwanda), while noting the progress in the reports, observed that child neglect, trafficking, abuse, exploitation, genital mutilation and child marriage persisted.  Rwanda believed in the primary role of Governments, supported by partners, including the United Nations, in promoting and providing protection to children.  The 1994 genocide in Rwanda had left many negative repercussions, along with post-conflict issues, that had affected Rwanda’s children, who represented a high percentage of the population.  The Government had made primary and secondary education free and compulsory, prohibited corporal punishment and opened rehabilitation centres for street children.  Further, Rwandan law condemned child prostitution, slavery and abduction, he said, urging the international community to continue establishing frameworks to protect children in armed conflicts.

NORA IMANE BELLOUT (Algeria) said her country had achieved all objectives on education of the Millennium Development Goals before the deadline.  Moreover, the education budget had increased tenfold over 15 years and provided free education to more than eight million students in nearly 23,000 schools, including refugee children in the Tindouf camps.  Significant results had been achieved in the quality of education and the fundamental rights of children.  The new law on child protection focused on protecting at-risk children; rules relating to child offenders; and specialized child protection centres, among other things.

COURTENAY RATTRAY (Jamaica), associating himself with CELAC and CARICOM, said his country had taken a comprehensive approach to realizing children’s rights.  For instance, the Government had guaranteed tuition-free education as a way to improve access.  It also had signed on to the Global Partnership to End Violence against Children and been designated a “pathfinder country”.  Moreover, the Ministry of Education had created and provided a safety and security manual to schools as a way to address bullying.

MAHE’ULI’ULI SANDHURST TUPOUNIUA (Tonga) said that, in recognition that children were his country’s most important assets, Tonga had acceded to the Convention on their rights and was amending its laws appropriately, ensuring protection against violence, as well as access to education, free health care and other necessities.  National consultations were underway under Tonga’s strategic development framework, and awareness events were being held in conjunction with UNICEF, focusing on children’s growth, the implications of digital media on children and other areas of social protection.  There was no social welfare scheme for children as yet.

HANTASOA FIDA CYRILLE KLEIN (Madagascar), associating herself with the Group of 77 and China, and with SADC, noted that the population of her country was young.  The Government was pursuing numerous policies to ensure respect for children’s rights, and the goals had been laid out in a regional and communal framework plan.  Public establishments and teaching personnel had received training on protecting children in school environments, she said, stressing that combating sexual tourism was extremely important.  Climate change impacted Malagasy children, and the effects of El Niño and drought had been severe.

GENE BAI (Fiji) said his country was strongly committed to the Convention on the Rights of the Child.  The Constitution protected a child’s right to nutrition, clothing, shelter and health care, and provided protection against abuse, neglect, violence, inhumane treatment, punishment and exploitative labour.  It also prohibited all forms of corporal punishment.  Access to quality education was paramount, and in 2015, for the first time, primary and secondary school education had become free.  Fiji was also committed to supporting gender equality and sought to limit the marginalization and exclusion of children with disabilities.

GEORGI VELIKOV PANAYOTOV (Bulgaria), associating himself with the European Union, said that the Government had established a set of measures for promoting the rights and well-being of all children, especially the most vulnerable and marginalized.  Ending violence against children was a top priority.  The current humanitarian crisis was of an unprecedented scale, requiring immediate action.  Calling it a “children’s crisis”, he advocated a child-based approach to address it.  “We should remember that a child is first a child, and after that, a refugee or migrant,” he said.  As a transit and host country for thousands of migrants and refugees, Bulgaria was doing its utmost, in cooperation with the European Union, UNICEF and other partners, to protect the human rights of those fleeing war, in particular migrant and refugee children.

MASUD BIN MOMEN (Bangladesh) reaffirmed his commitment to advance children’s rights, including in the areas of education and child labour.  Further, a new Child Marriage Restraint Act had been drafted which contained pragmatic guidelines to prevent child marriage.  A national, toll-free helpline had been set up to support efforts to report and prevent child marriage, and to report sexual harassment.  Bangladesh also had adopted a five-year action plan to reduce child labour.

IBRAHIMA KOMARA (Guinea) associated himself with the African Group and with the Group of 77 and China, adding that it would be a success for the United Nations to see the Convention reach universal ratification.  Guinea was among the countries that had unreservedly ratified the Convention almost 30 years ago, as well as its relevant optional protocols.  But results for children around the world remained discouraging, and many remained marginalized, such as disabled children.  Awareness that children were the future was manifested in legal codes, he said, noting that Guinea’s free education system and its improved vaccine programme were other actions that underscored the Government’s commitment to realizing children’s rights.

LAURIA NGUELE MAKOUELET (Congo) said various challenges hindered children’s full enjoyment of their rights.  Congo had a new Constitution which had strengthened a strategic framework for children, and the country also had set up a children’s parliament with offices in Congo’s 12 administrative departments.  The Government had invested resources to respond to children’s needs, providing hundreds of technical aids to disabled children.  It also had cooperated with the World Food Programme (WFP) to ensure that all children received quality nutrition.  No effort would be spared to ensure the full implementation of the Convention of the Rights of the Child.

NKOLOI NKOLOI (Botswana) associated himself with the Group of 77 and China, the African Group and the Southern African Development Community (SADC). He expressed concern about ongoing armed conflicts, particularly in Syria, Afghanistan, Yemen, Somalia and South Sudan, drawing attention to their severe effects on children.  Urging Governments and parties to armed conflict to respect international human rights law and international humanitarian law, he welcomed new initiatives, including the Charter on Inclusion of Persons with Disabilities in Humanitarian Action, the “Children, Not Soldiers” campaign and related action plans.

The Committee Chair said she and the Bureau had held consultations since 4 October on the pending organizational issue.  She proposed that the Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in Eritrea, Sheila B. Keetharuth, be invited to present an oral update to the Third Committee.  Ms. Keetharuth would be orally introduced as a member of the former Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in Eritrea.  If needed, additional time would be allocated for her to make her presentation.

The Committee then approved that decision without a vote.

The representative of Eritrea said the proposal had been accepted in the interests of moving forward.  Eritrea maintained its readiness to engage with any delegation, and the matter had been resolved within the African Group.  But Eritrea’s goodwill had been faced with a “flip-flop” position of the other side. Discussion over the past two weeks had shown the politicization of the human rights situation.  Countries with contempt for international law had presented themselves as champions of Third Committee Rules of Procedures; countries which had massacred people and were using light ammunition against peaceful protesters had spoken on the matter.  Eritrea’s position was that human rights could only be promoted through dialogue.

IGOR YAREMENKO (Ukraine), aligning himself with the European Union, reiterated Ukraine’s commitment to children’s rights, as evidenced by its adherence to numerous international conventions and protocols.  Priorities covered health, recreation, disabilities, HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, drug abuse, child abandonment, support to families and protection for orphans.  Despite its efforts, the country faced great challenges as a result of Russian aggression.  Since the start of the conflict, 68 children had been killed and 186 had been wounded in eastern Ukraine.  The number of internally displaced people had reached 1.8 million, including more the 200,000 children.  The situation of children in the Donbas region had not received enough attention in the Secretary-General’s reports, he said, urging that that omission be rectified.  Greater international assistance was also needed to overcome the negative effects of the Chernobyl disaster, which had affected children most of all.

SAHAR ABUSHAWESH, observer for the State of Palestine, said that Palestinian children had been deprived all their rights, as killing and maiming continued with impunity.  Those actions had evolved into a deliberate Israeli strategy and she asked when the international community would react to those human rights violations.  The Israeli blockade had stifled any life or development in the occupied territory, with devastating impacts on children.

RUBEN IGNACIO ZAMORA RIVAS (El Salvador), associating himself with CELAC, shared achievements in his country, pointing out that the normative framework had advanced, and the comprehensive protection of children had improved.  Councils had been established to protect children at the local level.  Children’s health care had improved, and efforts had been made to ensure health care access for all children.  The growing numbers of unaccompanied child migrants must be addressed from a human-rights perspective, bearing in mind the best interests of children and their families.  Family reunification must remain a priority.

CALEB OTTO (Palau) quoted extensively from the 2030 Agenda’s paragraphs concerning children, before quoting from the Convention on the Rights of the Child’s articles concerning the child’s social, spiritual and moral well-being.  Those provisions, he said, highlighted two issues of great importance.  The first was the right of children to be reared by their parents.  Children in focus group discussions in Palau had said they would like their parents to spend more time with them, rather than try to appease them with gifts and food.  The second, he said, was that children should be provided an environment that addressed mental health and well-being and was free from bullying, shaming and demeaning treatment, at home and in school.

NEOW CHOO SEONG (Malaysia), associating himself with ASEAN and with the Group of 77 and China, said his country had made significant progress since acceding to the Convention in 1995, including by creating the Child Act of 2001.  That Act formed part of the protective legal architecture for children in Malaysia.  Efforts must be made to put in place accountability mechanisms, in order to break the cycle of impunity for violations of children’s rights.  Malaysia, as Chair of the Working Group on Children and Armed Conflict, reaffirmed its strong commitment to the promotion and protection of the rights of children. 

ADDO MAMAN TCHALARE (Togo) shared his country’s experience in advancing the protection of children, noting that a decree had been drafted for the national Commission of the Child to prepare guidelines for those working in the area of children’s protection.  Health care, education and training initiatives all had improved children’s situations.  At the regional level, a program had been launched to protect child migrants and trafficking victims, while education for children with disabilities had improved.

YASHAR ALIYEV (Azerbaijan) said child protection efforts must be stepped up. While progress had been made in the protection of children affected by armed conflict, including with the release of children from armed forces, the issue of children and armed conflict must receive adequate attention in the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals.

ANTÓNIO GUMENDE (Mozambique), associating himself with the African Group and with SADC, said Government efforts to address children’s needs at the legislative, institutional and community levels aimed to ensure that all Mozambicans could help resolve the issues hampering children’s ability to realize their potential.  Mozambique’s national action programme on children, among other results, had increased access to water and sanitation.  Challenges remained, however, notably caused by climate change and communicable diseases.  Creating a world fit for children demanded that States redouble their commitments and implement existing international instruments.

LILIT GRIGORYAN (Armenia) said that through the national strategic programme on child protection, and cooperation with development partners such as UNICEF, her country had reached vulnerable children and made reforms.  As a nation which suffered from aggression by Azerbaijan, Armenia condemned attacks on civilians including children.  From the beginning of Azerbaijani aggression, she said, attacks on children and the elderly had been indiscriminate.  Such barbaric acts constituted violations of core international instruments including the Convention against Torture and Convention on the Rights of the Child. 

MÉLANIE CORINE NINA GOLIATHA (Central African Republic) reiterated her commitment to the relevant Conventions, expressing her strong disapproval that an increasing number of children had been victims of armed violence, natural disasters and human rights violations.  She noted with concern the increasing number of killed and maimed children, as well as children displaced by conflicts and attacks by armed groups.  A concerted effort must be made to reunite children with their families, she said, emphasizing that a comprehensive response required governance and security sector reforms.

CHU GUANG (China) said his country had the world’s largest population of children – 280 million – and the Government worked to implement the Convention and its relevant Protocols.  Great progress had been made in pre-school education, with some provinces having established a 15-year free education system by including pre-school and high school in public funding.  Countries must implement the 2030 Agenda, which required developed countries to honour their commitments by increasing financial and technological assistance to developing countries in order to protect children’s rights and interests.  Developing countries, meanwhile, must share their experiences with one another.

FREDERICK MUSIIWA MAKAMURE SHAVA (Zimbabwe), associating himself with the African Group and SADC, said the promotion of children’s rights could not be viewed in isolation from broader development goals.  Children thrived when raised in a strong and secure family environment, and his country continued to implement interventions designed to assist families in coping with harsh economic conditions.  All international conventions to which Zimbabwe was party had been incorporated into domestic law under the new Constitution.  Zimbabwe had several laws to protect children, and had established a victim-friendly system to support survivors of sexual violence and abuse.  The Government was committed to ending child marriages and had set the legal marriage age at 18 years.

NDEYE OUMY GUEYE (Senegal), associating herself with the African Group, supported the “Children, Not Soldiers” campaign and the work of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict.  The campaign had led to the release of children from armed groups in Senegal. The Government had redoubled efforts to eliminate female genital mutilation, she said, noting that children’s rights had been taken into account in the development of health care and education policies.  Senegal also had seen increases in school enrolment and drafted a national declaration to advance children’s rights.

Mr. VON HAFT (Angola) recalled that at the General Assembly Special Session on children in 2002, Member States had committed to time-bound goals for children and young people.  Those goals had been followed by the 2030 Agenda and it was essential to maintain focus on children when budgeting for sustainable development.  He listed several international instruments to which Angola was party, noting that his country had also adopted child protection legislation consistent with international standards.  Successful programmes included one that had established free birth registration, and an SOS call centre for children facing violence.  He urged States to review ways in which the new Agenda could reduce inequality among children.

MIRIAMA HERENUI BETHAM-MALIELEGAOI (Samoa) said children’s rights were the utmost priority for her country, as reflected in national policies.  Underscoring the importance of children’s nutrition and education, as well as safety from violence, exploitation, and abuse, she said Samoa had ratified the Convention’s three Optional Protocols and called on other States to do likewise.  The family and community were at the forefront of child rearing practices.  Children were a priority focus of Samoa’s health sector plan 2008-2018, and children under five years of age received free primary health care, including immunizations.  The 2009 Education Act stipulated compulsory education, and the Government had taken initial steps towards implementing free education.  Further, Samoa had passed legislation outlawing corporal punishment, and proposed amendments to prohibit the sale of children and restrict the use of children to sell goods on the street.

ANN DEER, International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), said daily events in the Mediterranean, Southeast Asia, the Americas, the Gulf of Aden and elsewhere had shown the ongoing suffering of migrants and their families, and too often their needs had gone unmet by the international community.  Migrant children were particularly vulnerable, and for those whose age was uncertain, the individual must be presumed to be, and treated as, a child.  She reminded authorities of their obligations under international law to prevent family separation, underscoring that States’ assessment of the protection and assistance to be offered should be based on vulnerabilities and needs, rather than the location of family members.  ICRC engaged in confidential dialogue with States to ensure they fulfilled their obligations to protect migrant children, and reminded States that detention of any children should be avoided.

MICHAEL ESPIRITU, Permanent Observer of the Sovereign Order of Malta, affirmed the Order’s commitment to mothers and babies, as evidenced by its maternity centres in the West Bank, Madagascar, Togo, Uganda and United Republic of Tanzania, and its efforts to fight malnutrition around the globe.  With the number of displaced persons on the rise, the Order had greatly bolstered its humanitarian aid and medical assistance.  In joint operations with the Italian Coast Guard, its doctors had delivered three babies at sea last week.  It had provided care to 170,000 Syrian refugees in the Middle East and 44,000 in Europe, among its medical services to refugees worldwide.  He pledged the Order’s continued commitment to work with the United Nations and Member States to ensure that children everywhere were cared for, educated, nurtured and protected.

FLORENCIA GIORDANO, International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, expressed concern about the mass migration of children, stressing that it had led to increased numbers of unaccompanied children who were at much higher risk of violence and child marriage.  Describing gaps in the implementation of child protection programmes, she cited a lack of age- and gender-disaggregated data for children and said a more comprehensive analysis of needs and vulnerabilities was necessary.  Further, support for the family, family tracing and alternative care arrangements must be stepped up, with children’s best interests always the primary consideration in actions affecting them.

VINICIUS PINHEIRO, Special Representative and Director of the International Labour Office (ILO) for the United Nations, said that his Office was committed to the protection of children through the eradication of child labour.  ILO provided expertise and contributed to the growing knowledge base that helped inform policy formulation.  Several ILO conventions provided essential protections for children worldwide, including conventions on minimum age of entry into employment and prohibition of forced labour.  Additionally, ILO’s new recommendation on the transition from the informal to the formal economy tackled an area where not only child labour but also most violations of labour, human and child rights occurred.

Right of Reply

The representative of Israel, speaking in exercise of the right of reply, said that instead of advancing the Committee’s agenda, the Palestinian representative had made baseless accusations against Israel, sending a message of hate and incitement.  Those accusations would not bring the international community closer to resolving the core challenges facing the region.

The representative of Russian Federation, responding to statements by the delegations of Georgia and Ukraine, called on Georgian authorities to discuss issues including children’s rights in a dialogue directly with the powers of the sovereign nations of Abkhazia and Ossetia.  To his Ukrainian counterpart, he recalled that the annexation of Ukraine to the Russian Federation had been in accordance with international law.  Those events were of a historical nature and adhered to the will of the people of Crimea.  The Russian Federation had done quite a bit to improve the lives of those living in Crimea.  The politicized statement by the Ukrainian representative was an attempt to deflect attention from human rights violations in Ukraine itself.

The representative of Azerbaijan rejected the false allegations of his Armenian counterpart, noting that Azerbaijan’s statement had focused on children, while that of Armenia had focused on Azerbaijan.  The Armenian delegation could have chosen another agenda item to speak about killing of elderly people.  The reality was that Azerbaijani territories were under occupation, and both Assembly and Council resolutions had been ignored by Armenia.  That Government had resettled Armenians from Syria in the occupied territories.  He asked Armenia about recent military exercises, and what Armenian officers were doing in a certain region.  If Armenia was interested in peace, withdrawing forces from occupied areas of Azerbaijan would suffice.  Armenia should end its provocations, as the conflict could only be solved through the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Azerbaijan.

The representative of Armenia, exercising her right of reply, rejected the accusations made by her Azerbaijani counterpart, noting that Azerbaijan’s goal was the extermination of the people of Nagorno-Karabakh. Azerbaijan’s aggression had shown the unsustainability of a military solution.  A peaceful solution must be found, she said, in line with existing agreements.

The observer of the State of Palestine noted the “distorted” reality presented by Israel’s representative, stressing that ignoring war crimes committed by Israel constituted a complete denial of human rights and self-determination.  There was a long list of human rights violations committed by Israel.  The views expressed by that Government were dehumanizing and had shown the true nature of the occupying power.  She condemned human rights violations against all children, stressing that all attacks must stop.

The representative of the Ukraine provided an overview of the history and situation of Crimea, drawing attention to early plans by the Russian President to attack Crimea, which had been documented.  The Russian representative had made contradictory statements regarding the status of Crimea.

The representative of Georgia said children in the occupied territories of Georgia were deprived of their right to receive their education in their native Georgian language, and that there was discrimination and harassment of the Georgian population living in the occupied territories.  The absence of international monitoring meant the Russian Federation had no credibility whatsoever.  The conflict had two parties, Georgia defending itself and Russian Federation’s aggression.

The representative of Azerbaijan said barbarism had been committed by Armenian forces in occupied territories of Azerbaijan, and high-ranking officials of Armenia had admitted their responsibility for that carnage.  The President of Armenia had said he had no regrets for Azerbaijani civilian casualties. 

The representative of Armenia said that as far as the right to self-determination was concerned, Azerbaijan had recognized that self-determination should be part of the solution for the Nagorno-Karabakh region.  Armenia was not surprised Azerbaijan put forward false allegations on cease-fires related to the Nagorno-Karabakh region.

General Market

The giant refugee holding cells in the Aegean

Everyone knows everyone else in the village of Vavyloi on the Greek island of Chios. Such intimacy had long meant an absence of crime and a feeling of security. That all changed about a month ago when farmers noticed onions and potatoes being gouged out of their fields overnight. When the house break-ins started, the villagers began forming four-man night patrols.

“We take a piece of wood or plastic piping. We’re not trying to hurt them; we’re trying to deter them,” said Yannis Siderakis, the village mechanic. He was referring to the hundreds of refugees and migrants camped a mile away at a bankrupt aluminium moulding plant known by its acronym, VIAL.

Purchased by the municipality last year to serve as a refugee shelter, VIAL’s cavernous concrete nave and an adjoining fenced-in area of mobile housing units were meant to become a locked-down facility for processing asylum claims – a so-called ‘hotspot’ – when the EU’s agreement with Turkey came into force in late March.

Six months later, there are 3,800 migrants and refugees on Chios, three times the number VIAL was designed for. All are free to move around the island.

“On our first night out [on patrol], I bumped into a thief,” said Siderakis. “I saw a black man running with plastic bags. I shouted at him; he dropped the bags and ran. I didn’t chase him. He had broken into a house and taken spirits, women’s cosmetics, an iron, slippers, socks – not valuable things, but he turned the place inside out. The owner was in shock.”

There are similar stories in Chios town, where the spillover from VIAL has spawned two tent cities. “We were robbed once. They took a bottle of whisky and a bottle of cognac. Next door, they took beers,” said Adamantios Frangakis, the owner of a café around the corner from the town hall.

A destructive deal

The EU-Turkey agreement has changed views on migration here. While refugees were transiting through the islands on their way to the Balkans throughout the summer of 2015, islanders offered them food, clothing and assistance. But now that they are a stationary and growing population, the strains on local resources are showing.

Under the deal, in exchange for six billion euros from the EU over two years and a pledge from Brussels to relax visa rules for Turkish nationals, Turkey was to prevent as many refugees from setting out from its shores as possible, and readily readmit those caught on its territorial waters. Turkey also agreed to accept refugees and asylum seekers returned from Greece, on the basis (disputed by rights activists) that Turkey is a safe, third country. The deal appears to have had the desired effect. Arrivals to Greece so far this year have reached 166,000, compared to 385,000 by the end of September 2015.

But the deal has also turned Greece’s eastern Aegean islands into holding centres. Those rescued by the Hellenic Coast Guard are shipped to the islands of Lesvos, Samos, Chios, Leros, and Kos, and confined there until their first asylum interview has been conducted. Depending on the outcome, they are either given permission to complete the asylum process on the mainland or deported back to Turkey. But so far, just 509 people have been returned to Turkey under the deal and there are now some 14,000 refugees on the islands, overwhelming facilities built for half that number. More arrive nearly every day.

“The EU-Turkey deal has limited flows [of refugees], but it is destroying the economy, destroying the sense of security, and as a result destroying social cohesion,” Chios Mayor Manolis Vournous told IRIN.

Turning to crime

Overcrowding and increasing frustration among the refugees was one factor that sparked last week’s riot and fire at the Moria hotspot on Lesvos. Tensions are also building on Chios, where Vournos described islanders and refugees as fellow inmates. “[Refugees’] confinement is not really administered,” he told IRIN. “It’s simply the island’s natural boundaries. Water is the barrier. But that also includes [the] 50,000 people of Chios.”

Marios and several other Syrian refugees have been sleeping on the floor of the island’s small municipal theatre. A makeshift curtain of blankets hangs on a rope, separating the men from an area for women and children.

“Conditions here are awful,” he told IRIN, readily admitting that people are so desperate that they are learning how to steal. “I’m a person who knows how to do a dozen different things… I would go to work in the fields for as little as 15-20 euros a day just to be able to buy cigarettes.”

“We know the people of Chios aren’t to blame, but neither are we,” said Marios. “Do they want us to leave? Give us our papers and we’ll go today. Do they want to deport us? Deport us and let’s have done.”

Asylum applicants are allowed to work, but small island economies don’t provide enough opportunity for thousands of outside labourers; and Greek unemployment now stands at 23 percent – the highest in Europe.

The economy of Chios has suffered setbacks unrelated to the migrants. Tourism has been falling, as measured by airport arrivals, from more than 16,000 eight years ago to just over 7,000 in 2015. Also this year, a fire devastated its mastic tree plantations. Mastic sap and its byproducts have been Chios’s signature export since Ottoman times.

Fears about security and economic pressures have contributed to heated discussions about where to house the refugees. After a stormy municipal council meeting last week, Vournous was forced to evacuate the municipal theatre. Eventually, he also plans to evacuate the second tent city in town and create a large camp at a former landfill, which has been re-landscaped but still lacks water and electricity.

Solving the problem

Moving the refugees out of sight might give some island residents a little peace of mind, but it won’t solve all the problems their presence creates. Vournous is furious that the Greek Asylum Service isn’t processing people off the island faster. “The EU and Greek authorities aren’t doing their job,” he said. “Who is measuring their effectiveness?”

The European Asylum Support Office declared its intention to send 700 caseworkers to Greece after the March deal. So far 200 have arrived: only 126 are on the islands, and just 20 are conducting interviews.

Part of the problem is that EASO can’t oblige EU countries to contribute caseworkers. “We have asked for more staff from the member states,” said EASO spokesman Jean-Pierre Schembri. “[But] they are under pressure in their own country if you look at the backlog in the EU member states, which is over 1.1 million cases.” Eighteen mobile interview units stacked up inside the VIAL hotspot amply illustrate EASO’s frustrated ambition. Only a few of them are in use. 

“Every day the islands receive an average of 120 fresh arrivals and no more than 50 asylum applications are adjudicated, while another 9,000 languish in the queue,” said Christiana Kalogirou, prefect of the North Aegean region. “That is why the critical issue is the staffing of the asylum services.”

Pressure on the islands could have been relieved. A year ago, EU members agreed to relocate 160,000 asylum applicants from Greece and Italy. But only 4,776 relocations have so far taken place from Greece, a performance the UN’s refugee agency, UNHCR, called an “unnecessarily slow” implementation of a “woefully inadequate” pledge.

Vournous believes the EU should make amends by offering the islands of the eastern Aegean some form of development assistance. “That’s the least it can do because I am carrying out its policy to prevent Germany, Italy, Austria, Hungary, and Spain from flooding with people,” he said. “I would expect it to help me develop the economy, to show that we won’t always be a frontier post; but it has no wish to do this.”

(TOP PHOTO: A Syrian girl looks out of the doorway of her family’s tent at the Souda camp in Chios town. John Psaropoulos/IRIN)

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