26 May, 2015 - Yesterday the world celebrated the 15th anniversary of the adoption of the Optional Protocols to the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography (OPSC) and on the involvement of children in armed conflict (OPAC). 

UN children’s rights experts* welcome the steady progress made since May 2010 when the UN Secretary-General launched the Global Campaign for the universal ratification and implementation of the Optional Protocols to the CRC. Thanks to significant efforts made across regions over the past five years, the OPSC is now in force in 169 countries, while the OPAC has been ratified by 159 States. 

“As we near the goal of universal ratification and as discussions on the post-2015 global development agenda are intensifying, the protection of children from all forms of violence in all contexts, can truly become a priority for all!” said the Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General on Violence against Children, Marta Santos Pais. 

“Ratification is a crucial step to promote the adoption and effective implementation of laws and policies to realize all children’s rights. But the implementation of the Optional Protocols requires much more than that - continuous efforts and commitments of governments are needed”, Benyam Dawit Mezmur, Chairperson of the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, highlighted. 

The Protocol on the sale children, child prostitution and child pornography provides detailed guidance to support States in the implementation of their obligations to prohibit, criminalize, prevent, and ensure accountability for offences of sexual violence and exploitation. Furthermore, States must provide access to child-sensitive justice, as well as recovery, reintegration and compensation for child victims of sexual exploitation and sale for the purposes of forced labour or illegal adoption, among others. 

“These abhorrent crimes of the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography call for a strong legal framework in all Member States criminalising these offences and putting in place a robust child protection system in order to eradicate them ", stressed Maud de Boer-Buquicchio, UN Special Rapporteur on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography. 

The Optional Protocol on the involvement of children in armed conflict prohibits children from taking part in hostilities, encourages all States to set their minimum age of conscription at eighteen years, and raises awareness of States’ obligation to criminalize the recruitment and use of girls and boys. It also prohibits the recruitment under the age of eighteen by armed groups, who are the main recruiters of children.               

“Fifteen years ago, with the adoption of the OPAC, governments agreed that children do not belong in national security forces. However, recruitment and use of children remains of concern and much more remains to be done to protect children growing up in countries affected by conflict”, emphasized Leila Zerrougui, the Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict. In line with the campaign “Children Not Soldiers” that aims to end the recruitment and use of children by government armed forces by 2016, the Special Representative calls on all Member States to fulfil the promise made to children by making sure that national legal frameworks are aligned with international standards and by ensuring accountability for those who violate children’s rights. 

With the solid normative foundation provided by the Convention on the Rights of the Child and its Optional Protocols, the guidance by the Committee on the Rights of the Child, and the lessons learned from the past years of implementation, the occasion of the anniversary of the Optional Protocols offers real momentum to safeguard all children’s rights the world over. 

Protecting children from violence, including sexual exploitation and abuse, in all settings and contexts, including in situations of armed conflict, is a strong moral and legal imperative Member States are required to respect and uphold. Furthermore, sustainable development and durable peace will only be achieved in a world in which children can grow up and develop to their fullest potential in an environment free from violence, fear and discrimination. For this reason, we call upon all countries who have not done so to ratify and effectively implement the two first Optional Protocols to the Convention on the Rights of the Child as a matter of urgent priority, and to consider ratifying the third Optional Protocol on a communications procedure to ensure access to justice for children whose rights have been violated. 

Here in the UK, Unicef is calling on the UK Government to look at ratifying thethird optional protocol to ensure access to justice for children whose rights have been violated.

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Notes for editors:

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Unicef UK raises funds to protect children in danger, transform their lives and build a safer world for tomorrow’s children.  As a registered charity we raise funds through donations from individuals, organisations and companies and we lobby and campaign to keep children safe. Unicef UK also runs programmes in schools, hospitals and with local authorities in the UK. For more information please visit unicef.org.uk