Human Rights Day: Human rights start with children’s rights

New York, 10 December 2017 - It is essential that human rights standards guide action, especially when children are at risk and when situations of violence can undermine their wellbeing and development. By investing in children’s rights, social progress and peace are within reach for all, stresses SRSG Santos Pais marking Human Rights Day. 

International human rights law provides a firm foundation to guide States in preventing and addressing all forms of violence against children. With the Convention on the Rights of the Child in force across regions, nations have a solid framework to address current and emerging manifestations of the neglect, abuse and exploitation of children.

This is perhaps most clearly seen in relation to information and communications technologies. ICTs have evolved at phenomenal speed allowing children to gain knowledge and skills, engage in play and socialisation, and experience a wide range of cultural and educational activities as never before. At the same time, ICTs present risks that can compromise children’s safety and protection, such as exposure to harmful information, cyberbullying, or sexual abuse and exploitation.

I have consistently urged States to adopt legal and policy responses to keep pace with rapid developments in ICTs and prevent risks so that children explore the online world safely.

Speaking at the World Internet Conference held last week in China, I reiterated my firm belief that more needs to be done to fill this child protection gap. By drawing on international human rights standards and good practice from different regions, States can put in place a safe, inclusive and empowering digital agenda for all children. To achieve this goal, all actors are needed: governments, civil society, religious and local leaders, the private sector, as well as families. And children need to be at the heart of these efforts.

I have also strongly advocated for the critical contribution ICTs can make in safeguarding the rights of particularly vulnerable groups of children. Children on the move are one such group, whose dire situation continues to be a priority concern for my mandate. ICTs can provide significant support to children on the move at all stages of their often perilous journeys. While in the country of origin, access to updated child-friendly information is vital for raising awareness among children of their rights, highlighting the risks they can face, and helping to plan a safe route. For migrant and asylum-seeking children, access to ICTs are important in reaching out to child protection authorities and education and health care services, obtaining legal documentation and maintaining contact with family members. During their journey, ICTs can facilitate family tracing and allow children to connect with young people in similar situations. And upon arrival, ICTs can play a crucial role in promoting children’s social inclusion, and meeting their educational, care and language needs.

Children on the move can also face serious risks associated with the misuse of ICTs, including xenophobic harassment, trafficking by organized criminal networks, or being lured into online sexual exploitation. But these risks can be avoided when children are empowered with the needed  knowledge and skills to use ICTs safely, to access child helplines, hotlines and other child protection institutions, and to report violence, seek counselling and obtain support.

ICTs connect the world across borders and can help ensure the realization of human rights for all children everywhere and at all times.