Statement of H.E. Archbishop Bernardito Auza
Apostolic Nuncio and Permanent Observer of the Holy See to the United Nations
Third Committee of the 70th Session of the General Assembly
Agenda Item 68 (a, b): Promotion and protection of the rights of children
New York, 15 October 2015
As the lifespan of the Millennium Development Goals draws to a close, achievements and improvements in areas directly or indirectly regarding children have been significant: birth registrations have increased by more than 30% in the least-developed countries; parity between girls and boys in primary education has increased in every region and has been attained in some countries; least developed countries are making rapid progress in improving hygiene facilities; HIV infection rates are dropping faster among children than among the general population; maternal mortality gap between high-income and low-income countries fell by half between 1990 and 2013; infant mortality has significantly declined.
However, the number of unachieved and neglected areas is as worrisome as the achievements are impressive: we need to strengthen further national health and other service delivery systems for children; we need to find creative solutions to financial barriers preventing families from sending children to school and from affording healthcare; we need to form communities to end the practices, habits and prejudices that perpetuate inequalities between boys and girls; we need to bring greater strategic focus to our many initiatives to harness technology to reach the children left behind and help them to develop their potentials.
Information technology is doing wonders to children everywhere and across economic levels, even those most disadvantaged and most difficult to reach. Today, mobile phones and rapid messaging technology are reuniting families through Rapid Family Tracing and Reunification in South Sudan. Technology speeds up HIV test results in Zambia and Malawi and facilitates registering births in Nigeria and in many other countries. Mobile phones deliver education in Uganda and inform families in remote areas in Haiti about impending hurricanes. In brief, technology is helping us realize what seemed to be a few years ago a distant promise to reach the most disadvantaged and bring those farthest ever closer. We must continue to harness the use of technology to achieve greater and better results for the wellbeing of children.
The number, intensity and savagery of present conflicts challenge the determination of the international community to save children caught up in conflicts. According to the 2014 Annual Report of the Secretary-General on children and armed conflict, in 2013 children were recruited and used, killed and maimed, victims of sexual violence and other grave violations in 23 conflict situations around the world. Terrorists and violent extremists, like ISIS and Boko Haram, commit unspeakable violence against children. In some cases, the recruitment of children was systematic and child rights were violated by all parties to the conflict in total impunity. My delegation commends the “Children, Not Soldiers” campaign, which seeks to ensure that no national security forces will be recruiting and using children in armed conflict by 2016.
My delegation is particularly appalled by acts of sexual violence committed against children as a war strategy designed to dehumanize and demoralize them and their families. These attacks have long-term, even lifetime, traumatic effects on them, both physically and psychologically.
In most of the areas of conflict where violence against children is rampant, the Catholic Church runs networks of institutions actively engaged in providing specialized support to child victims, including many forms of trauma healing services, spiritual accompaniment, and reconciliation with families. Numerous initiatives are fostered to raise public awareness in the wider community on the sufferings of children. In areas of armed conflict, faith communities have demonstrated that they are essential in the recovery and reintegration of child victims into normal life.
Moreover, my delegation joins others in strongly recommending the protection of children in line with international law, especially when combating extremist groups, the specific attention to child protection in ceasefire and peace negotiations, and a special focus on the needs of girls when reintegrating children who have faced recruitment and abuse.
Horrendous as they are, the crimes committed against children in armed conflict are just one manifestation of a world hostile to children. For instance, the scourge of sexual exploitation of children remains a grave concern in all regions of the world. Children worldwide are sold and trafficked, within countries and across borders, for the purposes of sexual exploitation, including prostitution and pornography, and organ harvesting. Most of the victims are not identified due to a variety of barriers, including the lack of specific legislation and the fear of stigma and reprisals, thus leaving the crimes against them ignored or unreported, thus unpunished. The paucity of evidence hampers the capacity to address effectively the phenomenon, as do the limited resources allocated for eradicating it.
The realities of violence against children are harrowing. Pope Francis exhorts us that they, like the other great tragedies in the world, “should serve as a grave summons to an examination of conscience on the part of those charged with the conduct of international affairs,” with a view to finding the best solutions possible to protect children and foster their wellbeing.
Let us allow that examination of conscience begin with each and everyone of us.
Thank you, Mr. Chair
 Pope Francis, Address to the Members of the General Assembly of the United Nations Organization, New York, 25 September 2015.