Statement by H.E. Archbishop Bernardito Auza
Apostolic Nuncio, Permanent Observer of the Holy See
Seventy-First Session of the United Nations General Assembly
Third Committee Agenda Item 64: Promotion and Protection of the Rights of Children
The most recent reports on the situation of children in the world present a global picture that is, at first sight, rather encouraging. Serious surveys and solid analyses on health and vital records of children show that since the 1990s, the global mortality rate of children under the age of five has been reduced by more than half. In the last 15 years, all regions in the world registered major progress in child survival rates. These improvements were particularly significant in sub-Saharan Africa.
Maternal mortality rates have also been significantly reduced. In the same period that saw such dramatic reduction in child mortality, maternal deaths also decreased by 43 percent. School enrollment, access to safe water and a number of other vital and social indicators also showed steady progress. While these advances happened in a variety of contexts, indicating that progress can be achieved in highly differentiated economic, social and political environments, they were even more impressive in some of the world’s poorest countries.
These noteworthy achievements have been accompanied, however, by very negative data: 16,000 children are still dying every day, mostly from preventable or treatable causes; nearly half of all deaths in children under the age of five are due to malnutrition and under-nutrition; about a third of nearly 230 million children worldwide under the age of five have not been officially recorded, depriving them of their right to a name and nationality; millions of children are HIV infected; about one third of women worldwide between 20 and 24 years old were child brides; every 10 minutes, somewhere in the world a girl dies as a result of violence.
The grave humanitarian crises in many regions of the world have exacerbated this already disheartening picture. Fifty million children around the world are on the move. They are running from conflict, extreme poverty and various forms of abuse and exploitation. Their numbers have dramatically increased in recent years. For instance, according to Catholic Charities, the number of unaccompanied children apprehended at the U.S./Mexico border between 2004 and 2011 averaged 6,800 per year. In 2012, that total jumped to over 13,000 children, then to 24,000 in 2013, and then up to 90,000 in 2014. A couple of weeks ago, 10,000 refugees and migrants, in just two days, were rescued from sinking boats in the Mediterranean Sea. Between 20 and 40 percent of them were unaccompanied children.
Refugee and migrant children, in particular unaccompanied ones, face multiple dangers. They are prime targets for traffickers and exploiters. When a boat sinks, they are the most likely to drown. They are the first ones to suffer hunger and thirst. They are the most vulnerable to extreme weather as they move through deserts and forests. These children in extremely vulnerable situations need protection and are entitled to the rights guaranteed under the Convention on the Rights of the Child. It is therefore urgent to ensure that measures and policies are in place wherever these children are to be found, like refugee routes and passageways of clandestine migrants.
Millions more children are caught in situations of conflict, trapped in situations of extreme poverty or live in areas of extreme environmental vulnerability. These harrowing situations of children remind us to commit ourselves to fighting the root causes of their sufferings. The Holy See notes with particular sadness that the primary cause of today’s mass displacements of populations is man-made: namely, wars and conflicts. Indeed, twenty-eight million of the fifty million children on the move were driven away from their homes by conflict. The Secretary-General’s reports on Children and Armed Conflict contain horrible lists of violations against the rights of children, which have been increasing both in number and in intensity. In certain conflicts, up to 40 percent of the victims are children. Never in recent memory have so many children been subjected to such violent brutality: children used as soldiers, suicide bombers, sex slaves, and disposable intelligence-gatherers in the most dangerous military operations. The deliberate destruction of their schools and hospitals in total disregard of international humanitarian law has become a strategy of war. As the Secretary-General stated in his 2015 report, “The impact on children of our collective failure to prevent and end conflict is severe.”
Since human choices provoke conflicts and wars, it is well within our power and responsibility to address the conflicts and wars that drive millions to become refugees, forced migrants and internally displaced persons, including millions of children. The Holy See thus pleads for a common commitment on the part of individual governments and the International Community to bring to an end every situation of violence, fighting, and hatred, and to pursue peace and reconciliation. While we wait for an end to these conflicts, it is nevertheless urgent to collaborate to alleviate the sufferings of children caught in the snares.
Other serious violations of the rights of children exist, among them child labour. Pope Francis has appealed to the International Community to “unite and renew [its] efforts to remove this cause of modern slavery, which deprives millions of children of some fundamental rights and exposes them to serious dangers.”
The dramatic progress made in the reductions in child mortality and increased access to schooling and safe drinking water must strengthen our resolve to bring similar progress to areas in which millions of children still suffer extraordinary indignities each day.
Thank you, Madame Chair.