EU-Japan join hands to deal with issue of "Children in Turmoil"
John de Boer (University of Tokyo & GLOCOM Platform)
On 16 January 2003, the European Union in collaboration with the United Nations University will open the Tokyo Global Forum on "Children in Turmoil". This conference, sponsored by the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Delegation of the European Commission in Japan and UNICEF, seeks to further the discussion on how to implement the rights of the child in a world of increasing human insecurity. This initiative is a follow-up to a process that started in 1989 when the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child was drafted, which specifically highlighted the obligation of states to provide full economic, social, cultural and political rights to boys and girls under 18 years of age. This convention is significant in that it represents the human rights treaty ratified by the highest number of countries in history, the only exceptions being the United States and Somalia.
However, despite this achievement, the 1990's witnessed some of the most brutal violations against children. Over the past decade, an estimated 2 million children have been killed in conflict, 20 million have fled their homes, 1 million have been orphaned and 6 million seriously injured (Statement by Ms. Maj-Inger Kingvall, Swedish Minister for Development Cooperation, Migration and Asylum, http://www.europaworld.org/issue25/childrenconflictasylum9301.htm). Although, an Optional Protocol on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict, which considers the conscription of children younger than 15 years of age in combat duty a war crime, has been signed and ratified by most countries, there remain an estimated 300,000 child soldiers today (See Statement by Ms. Maj-Inger Kingvall).
While of considerable concern, child's rights violations are not limited to conflict but are also prevalent in situations of poverty and disease. Currently, 11 million children die annually before they reach five years of age, 150 million are malnourished, 800,000 die of malaria, 120 million are out of school and 250 million between the age of 5 - 14 are working. This is without mentioning the devastating impact that the spread of HIV/AIDS is having on children. These numbers not only describe the wretched state of our world but they also demonstrate the blatant neglect of our responsibilities as individuals and nation-states to protect children's rights.
It is also important to remember that violations are not confined to the developing world. The sexual exploitation of children has proliferated over the past decade with perpetrators and victims in both industrial and developing countries. In fact, Japan and Britain represent two of the most prolific violators. Furthermore, according to EU and UN sources, the Internet has become a "magnet for child sex abusers" who display, distribute and trade child pornography and promote child prostitution (announcement for EU-UNU Tokyo Global Forum). This flies in the face of the second Optional Protocol on the Sale of Children, Child Prostitution and Child Pornography attached to the Convention.
In 2003, despite widespread awareness of such violations and on the need to pursue justice, children remain the most vulnerable to human rights abuses and deprivation. As the EU-UNU point out, the reason for this is that children are "cheap, impressionable, easy to control and often as able to inflict terrible crimes against fellow humans as are adults" (Announcement for EU-UNU Tokyo Global Forum). Furthermore, as Save the Children UK has demonstrated in its report entitled "Children, Torture, Power", the people who commit atrocities against children are rarely brought to justice.
It is in this horrific state that the European Union together with the United Nations and the Japanese government have decided to take action to: (1) put the child at the center of the human rights agenda; (2) consider how globalization and socio-economic change have had a positive and negative impact on children's rights; and (3) explore ways of improving the implementation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child and its Optional Protocols.
In the aftermath of the 1989 Convention and the Special Session of the United Nations General Assembly on Children (2002), the EU and Japan have found it relatively easy to implement programs that emphasize a "positive linkage" between child's rights promotion and overseas development assistance. Both Japan and the EU have used aid as an incentive for change. An example of this exists in the Education For All Fast Track Initiative (EFA-FTI), which has pledged $400 million between 2003-2005 with the goal of providing all boys and girls with complete primary education by 2015. However, in order to be eligible for these funds recipient countries have to undergo a review process which involve legislative and educational reforms. To date seven countries have met the requirements and India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, DR Congo, and Nigeria (which account for 50 million of the 120 million out of school), are reportedly on their way to meeting the criteria.
However, Japan and the EU have found it difficult to implement punitive measures ("negative linkage") against violators of children's rights. Such measures ultimately need to have an economic dimension to them. Currently, Japanese and EU companies operate in the Sudan and Angola extracting oil and diamonds. Yet the governments of these two African countries are some of the main culprits in terms of child soldiers. Japanese and European legislatures, producers and consumers need to discourage such companies from doing business with these violators in order to persuade them to respect international standards on the rights of the child. Also, as has been documented in Europe Report Series #12, Japan and the EU may have fallen short on their small arms pledges by producing a large number of these arms and failing to effectively restrict their export. It is a well known fact that the proliferation of small arms has been a tool leading to an escalation in human rights abuses and conflict.
The EU-UNU-MOFA initiative of 16 January is an important step towards the goal of "making a world fit for children" (Motto of the Special Session of the UNGA 2002 on Children). However, emphasis needs to be placed on implementation of the Convention on Children. As all parties admit, the world has experienced 'Summit Fatigue' and the need for action is abundantly clear. Nevertheless, the key question is whether or not Japan and the EU will take the lead in applying punitive measures that have an economic impact on violators of children's rights?
- EU-UNU Tokyo Global Forum, "Children in Turmoil: Rights of the Child in the Midst of Human Insecurity", 16 January 2003, UN House, U Thant International Conference Hall (3F), 5-53-70, Jingumae, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo, Japan
- Statement by Ms. Maj-Inger Kingvall, Swedish Minister for Development Cooperation, Migration and Asylum, "Children, Conflict And Asylum",
- European Commission, "Education for all the world's children", 29 November 2002, http://europa-eu-un.org/article.asp?id=1830
- John de Boer, “Japan and EU Fall Short of Small Arms Pledge”, GLOCOM Platform, EU Report Series #12, 6/24/'02
- Save the Children UK, "Children, Torture, Power", 2000.
- For more information on EU - Japan collaboration on matters of Human Security see EU Report Series: #7 and # 8.