CANBERRA — An outreach session held by the U.N. Committee on the Rights of the Child in Samoa, on March 2-6, enabled United Nations agencies to engage with Pacific governments, civil society, and children on their priorities for children’s rights in the region — the first session of its kind.
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“For many years, we spoke and dreamed of holding a session outside Geneva,” committee Chair Luis Pedernera said following the session. “By holding a session in the Pacific, we wanted to draw the world’s attention to the pressing issues affecting the enjoyment of children’s rights in the region.”
Pedernera explained that the children the committee met with highlighted the importance of their rights to participation, education, health, climate change, and freedom from violence.
“By holding a session in the Pacific, we wanted to draw the world’s attention to the pressing issues affecting the enjoyment of children’s rights in the region.”— Luis Pedernera, chair, U.N. Committee on the Rights of the Child
But it was more than just a session to engage stakeholders. The committee delivered findings on progress and barriers to child rights in the Cook Islands, Federated States of Micronesia, and Tuvalu which highlighted continuing barriers in the implementation of the Convention of the Rights of the Child — including the violence facing children in the region.
Child rights in the Cook Islands
Last reviewed in 2012, the committee noted a number of achievements that the Cook Islands has made in progressing child rights — including the ratification of the International Labour Organization’s Worst Forms of Child Labour Convention. The country has since introduced legislative and policy measures to support its implementation nationally, the enactment of a Family Protection and Support Act, and the adoption of policies for children and youths.
Yet a number of previous recommendations had not been acted upon satisfactorily by the country, including the delivery of a comprehensive policy and strategy, allocation of resources, data collection procedures, and awareness-raising and training supporting progress and monitoring of child rights. Resourcing of programs to support the implementation and policies was also a concern, as well as budgets and independent evaluations.
Violence facing children remained a concern for the committee, leading to recommendations for “comprehensive” policies and strategies targeting domestic violence as well as the repeal of laws that permit corporal punishment of children. Health care was also a concern, with the committee noting inconsistency in health programs offered in remote locations.
Bringing children into the conversation and implementation of the sustainable development goals was the area of greatest concern to the committee.
“The Committee recommends that the State party ensure the realization of children’s rights in accordance with the Convention throughout the process of implementing the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development,” their observations read. “It also urges the State party to ensure the meaningful participation of children in the design and implementation of policies and programmes aimed at achieving all 17 Sustainable Development Goals as far as they concern children.”
Child rights in Micronesia
Among the legislation and policy measures that have been introduced by Micronesia to support the convention were acts targeting family protection, family safety, and human trafficking, as well as policies on gender, youth, and disability. The country also ratified the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography, the Optional Protocol to the Convention on children involved in armed conflict in 2015, the Convention on All Forms of Discrimination Against Women in 2004 and the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in 2016.
“[The committee] also notes with appreciation the progress achieved in reducing infant and under-five mortality rates, achieving gender parity in primary education, and improving access of children to sanitation facilities,” their observations read.
But despite this progress, there were serious concerns expressed by the committee on the rights of children in Micronesia.
The observations of the committee noted a “high level of abuse of children, including domestic violence, emotional abuse and sexual abuse, and the significant underreporting of such cases due to stigma and other reasons.” Domestic legislation that protects children only from physical abuse, the legal age of sexual consent on the island of Yap being 13 years, and the absence of child-friendly mechanisms to report abuse were among the challenges in the country putting children at risk.
The committee also addressed concerns about reports of customary marriages of girls as young as 13, urging action to eliminate this practice.
Suicide among children, including children living with disabilities, was also highlighted as a concern, with lack of psychological counseling services available to children in schools and communities to support their emotional development and prevent deaths.
Between the islands of Micronesia, the rights for and protection of children also differed, including outer islands not registering all births and diversity in health care options.
Child rights in Tuvalu
The accession of Tuvalu to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and the ratification of ILO’s Worst Forms of Child Labour Convention were noted by the committee as important steps on progressing the rights of children in Tuvalu.
New legislation supporting the implementation of the Convention of the Rights of the Child in the country included a family protection and domestic violence act and an amendment to the marriage act raising the minimum age for marriage to 18 years.
But there were still major challenges in turning legislation into action with lack of community awareness on the Convention, data to monitor progress, and inconsistent legislation among the concerns of the committee.
“The Committee is concerned about the insufficient awareness of children’s rights and the Convention among the general public as well as professionals working for and with children in all sectors,” their observations read.
Among the legislative recommendations, the committee urged Tuvalu to introduce measures that would “explicitly prohibit corporal punishment in all settings” and encourage nonviolent discipline of children. Legislation to penalize sexual exploitation and abuse of boys and set mandatory prosecution and minimum sentences for sexual exploitation and abuse of children were also required.
Budget and resourcing was also a concern for Tuvalu. The committee urging the nation to increase the budget for the implementation of “all legislation, policies, plans and programmes in favour of children in all relevant sectors, with priority given to the areas of health care, education and social protection.”
Creating change in the Pacific
Pedernera said that in bringing this session to the Pacific, the committee hopes to inspire the region to strengthen its cooperation for the advancement of children’s rights and to allow the voice of children into the conversation.
“For children, we hope that they now understand how much the committee appreciates their contributions, and that their views are a valuable and necessary part of our work,” he said. “I hope this is just the beginning of strong and meaningful participation of children from the region in our work.”
How this has impacted the Cook Islands, Micronesia, and Tuvalu will be known in 2025, when they will be reviewed next.