Twenty candles for the Protocols protecting children from sexual abuse and armed conflicts

Statement by Minister of Foreign Affairs Philippe Goffin on the 20th anniversary of two Protocols to the UN Children's Rights Convention, May 25, 2020:

Today marks the 20th anniversary of two Optional Protocols to the United Nations Children's Rights Convention. These international texts significantly extend protection for children. The first is the Optional Protocol on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography. It calls on the contracting parties to protect the rights and interests of children who have been victims of child trafficking, child prostitution and child pornography, as well as the worst forms of child labor. The second concerns the Optional Protocol on the involvement of Children and Armed Conflict. This protocol prohibits States parties from imposing conscription on children under 18 years of age, and imposes significant restrictions on voluntary recruitment by forces under the age of 18 years.

In their 20 years of existence, both protocols have prompted countries around the world to take protective measures, improve prevention, build legal capacity for prosecution and implement reforms for the benefit of children. Belgium, itself a contracting party to the two protocols, continues to strive not only for universal ratification of these protocols, but also for their implementation on the ground. Our country thus contributes to better protection of children worldwide. Also in the context of its mandate to the Security Council, our country makes children's rights in conflicts a priority.

But there is still a lot of work ahead. In addition, the Covid-19 pandemic poses new challenges for the children's rights highlighted by the Protocols. In addition to the right to education and the right to food which are under pressure, the safety of many children is also jeopardized by the virus. The risk of child abuse and exploitation is increasing due to the introduction of measures to stem the pandemic. This certainly applies to the most vulnerable children, such as the estimated 42 to 66 million children who are in a precarious socio-economic situation. The need for rapid and responsive child protection measures, such as extension of helplines, shelters / places, non-discriminatory child protection systems, remains high in these exceptional circumstances. Children who are in a conflict situation also suffer disproportionately.

I therefore support the UN Secretary-General in his recent statement on children's rights and in his call for a global truce in these exceptional times. With children out of school, their communities in lockdown and a global recession cutting deeper, family stress levels are on the rise. Children are victims and witnesses of domestic violence and abuse. Now that many schools are closed, an important mechanism for detection and early warning of abuse is lacking. Furthermore, we should not ignore the growing risks that children run through online violence, abuse and exploitation. Social media companies have a special responsibility to protect children.

The 20th anniversary of the Optional Protocols recalls that children's rights violations are the result of adult decisions, often with devastating consequences for the life, development and health of the child. Therefore, instruments to protect their rights, such as the Protocols, remain important and essential. Belgium will continue to work to promote and protect children's rights, both in bilateral relations, through the EU and in multilateral forums.