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The promotion and protection of children's rights is a priority for both Belgium and the EU, which has developed guidelines for the promotion and protection of children's rights. Belgium contributes to the implementation of these guidelines. The main aim of the guidelines, in line with the crucial theme of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), is to leave no child behind. The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child is the guiding principle in achieving this goal and implementing the guidelines.
Within the UN, the Convention on the Rights of the Child came into being in 1989. This Convention is based on four basic principles:
- the best interests of the child;
- the right to survival and development;
- the view of the child.
The Convention contains several ideas that have brought about a real change in how we look at children. Children are not seen as merely placed under the authority of their parents but are explicitly recognised as rightsholders. According to the Convention, childhood is distinct from adulthood and lasts until the age of eighteen. This time is a protected time, in which children must be able to grow, learn, play, develop and blossom with dignity. This basic convention on the rights of the child was later supplemented by 3 Optional Protocols:
- an Optional Protocol on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict (OPAC);
- an Optional Protocol on the Sale of Children, Child Prostitution and Child Pornography (OPSC);
- an Optional Protocol on a Communication Procedure (OPIC).
Belgium has ratified both the Convention and the three Optional Protocols.
Within the framework of the Human Rights Council and the Third Committee of the General Assembly, Belgium supports initiatives at EU level to promote and protect children's rights. Belgium also supports the mandate of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Violence against Children.
UNICEF, the United Nations Children's Fund, is a partner organisation of Belgian development cooperation.
Also, in the context of the Council of Europe, Belgium is committed to the promotion and protection of children’s rights.
Children and armed conflict
Children are the first victims of war and armed conflict and suffer disproportionately from violence. Children are killed or maimed, left behind as orphans, abducted, additionally vulnerable to abuse and sexual violence, deprived of their right to education and healthcare. Boys and girls are still recruited and used as child soldiers, but the issue of children in armed conflicts is not limited to this. Girls are often exposed to additional risks, in particular sexual violence, and exploitation.
The protection of children in armed conflicts has long been a Belgian priority. Belgium contributes to the implementation of the EU guidelines on children and armed conflict.
At international level, there is a wide range of instruments concerning the issue of children and armed conflict. Within the United Nations, the Convention on the Rights of the Child contains various provisions on this issue. The accompanying Optional Protocol on Children in Armed Conflict goes into more detail and offers additional protection. In addition, there is a range of soft law instruments aimed at increasing the protection of children's rights in conflicts, such as the Paris Principles, the Vancouver Principles, and the Safe Schools Declaration. These have a complementary role and focus on preventing recruitment, reintegrating child soldiers into society and safeguarding schools from conflict and militarisation.
Since 2005, the Security Council has recognised violations of children's rights as a matter of international peace and security: with the adoption of Resolution 1612, the issue has been placed firmly on the Security Council's agenda. The resolution provided for the establishment of a Security Council working group. This working group deals with reports on situations of children in conflict, which contain concrete information from on the ground through a monitoring and reporting mechanism (MRM). Specifically, the Security Council addresses the most serious violations of children's rights: the killing and maiming of children, sexual violence, abduction, attacks on schools or hospitals, denial of access to humanitarian aid and finally, recruitment and use as child soldiers. The Belgian development cooperation supports the monitoring and reporting mechanism. During its mandate as a non-permanent member of the Security Council (2019-2020), Belgium is chairing the Working Group on Children and Armed Conflict and works closely with the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict. A concrete result of this cooperation is the development of a practical guide for mediators to better protect children in situations of armed conflict. Under the Belgian Presidency of the Security Council in February 2020, the Council welcomed this practical guide.
Within the framework of the Human Rights Council and the Third Committee of the General Assembly, Belgium supports initiatives at EU level to promote and protect children's rights. Belgium is a member of the Group of Friends Children and Armed Conflict, an informal group of States working for the protection of children in armed conflict.
Belgium also supports the mandate of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Violence against Children.