Dr. Atsuko Heshiki
Alternate Representative of Japan
Agenda Item 101: Promotion and Protection of the Rights of the Child
18 OCTOBER 2004
The proposition that we adults share responsibility for promotion and protection of the rights of the child is one with which no one would disagree. The reason is simple: children are our hope for the future, the future of the world. Their rights must be protected so that their environment will foster sound growth and development. In March this year, the Government of Japan held a Symposium on the Convention on the Rights of the Child in commemoration of the tenth anniversary of its ratification. About four hundred participants from different backgrounds actively contributed to the discussion on issues relating to children, such as child abuse, violence in school, and juvenile crime, that are of serious concern to our society. We believe that the symposium contributed to strengthening public awareness of the Convention and, in particular, the fact that children have their own rights that need to be protected in order to correctly address these important problems.
For most Japanese children, since their country is at peace, war is something virtual, something that can be experienced only in a computer game. For them, it is almost surreal that there exist children of the same age elsewhere in the world, carrying guns and actually engaging in combat. There is an urgent need to ensure that no more children have such experiences, and we can do so more effectively once the current conflicts are brought to an end. Let me cite the case of Liberia, where a comprehensive peace agreement was concluded in August 2003. There are said to be about 50,000 ex-combatants in the country, of which about 15,000 children, including girls, are estimated to have been associated with the fighting forces. In March 2004, the Government of Japan therefore extended emergency grant aid totaling approximately 3.64 million dollars to the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) for its disarmament, demobilization, rehabilitation and reintegration (DDRR) program focusing on those children who were forced to engage in the fighting or mobilized to work for combatants. The UNICEF program helps them to return and be reintegrated into their families and communities. Furthermore, in August, Japan ratified the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the involvement of children in armed conflict. We urge all governments that have not yet done so to do the same, and in an expeditious manner.
Owing to the instrumental role played by the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict as well as UNICEF, the issue of children and armed conflict has gained a much higher profile that has led to the establishment of the international normative framework. The time has come for us to shift our attention from advocacy to implementation of those norms. As the issue of children and armed conflict is becoming more and more complex, a speedy, more coordinated and comprehensive approach by the UN system is necessary. In this regard, we appreciate the release of the Secretary-General’s report containing a comprehensive assessment of this matter, and we have taken good note of its deliberations. After careful study of the report, Japan stands ready to engage in a discussion on this important issue.
According to the UNICEF report, an estimated 1.2 million children are being trafficked each year, violating their right to grow up in a family environment. In addition, trafficked children face a range of dangers, including violence and sexual abuse. The Government of Japan is determined to enhance its policy to combat this illegal activity, focusing on protection of victims and strengthening of law enforcement. As part of its comprehensive efforts in this area, the Coordination Mechanism on Trafficking in Persons, an inter-agency task force, was set up within the Prime Minister’s Office in April this year.
The Government of Japan believes that countries of origin, transit and destination must collectively devise and implement serious and concrete measures to eradicate human trafficking and save the victims. It was to this end that Japan dispatched a mission to neighboring countries and has been working closely with concerned governments and international and civil society organizations. It hosted the second World Congress against Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children in Yokohama in December 2001. And, as a member of the steering committee, it is looking forward to contributing to the Post-Yokohama Mid-Term Review of the East Asia and the Pacific Regional Commitment and Action Plan against Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children, which will be conducted in Bangkok in November this year, with a view to further enhancing regional cooperation against human trafficking. In this regard, Japan welcomes the appointment of the Special Rapporteur on trafficking in persons, especially in women and children, and hopes that through his work, international cooperation between countries of origin, transit and destination can be effectively pursued to combat this inhumane activity.
The Committee on the Rights of the Child examined Japan’s second periodic report at its thirty-fifth session in January. In its concluding observations, the Committee noted with appreciation a series of legislative measures and policies Japan has adopted in protection of children and their rights. The Committee also recognized the significance of our official development assistance (ODA), a large part of which is allocated to social development, including health and education. Japan will carefully consider its recommendations and taking any appropriate measures necessary.
The concept of human security of which Japan is the leading proponent underlies our entire program of ODA. It seeks to protect every individual and promotes his/her empowerment, which will eventually lead to the empowerment of communities. Our commitment to promotion and protection of the rights of the child goes along with this idea. Children are among the most vulnerable of those affected by recent global trends such as globalization and the growing complexity of conflicts. Children have their right to live in an environment free from threats, and their right must be protected so that their sound growth and development will be fostered. The Government of Japan is committed to addressing every problem that children are facing.
To conclude, Mr. Chairperson,
Although the economic prospects of our country are not the best at the moment, contributions to UNICEF, a truly essential organization, from both government and the private sector of Japan increased in 2003, with the latter surpassing one hundred million dollars. This shows the awareness of the Japanese people of the responsibility they have in assuring the well-being of every child and youth in the world. And from our own experience as a one-time recipient of UNICEF assistance, we know that enhancing the well-being of every child enhances the well-being of society as a whole.
Thank you, Mr. Chairperson.