The Order of Malta’s Permanent Observer to the United Nations, Ambassador Robert L. Shafer, delivered an address on childrens’ rights to the Third Committee of the United Nations General Assembly on October 18, concluding what was a productive and exciting three days of debate on the Protection and Promotion of the Rights of the Child. The debate covered numerous issues relating to childrens’ rights, including children in armed conflict, violence against children, child soldiers, HIV/AIDS, child labour, child trafficking, children’s health and education, children’s vulnerability to natural disasters, and special concerns for the female child.
Ambassador Shafer noted that the Order of Malta regards the promotion and protection of children’s human rights as a paramount consideration. He expressed his support of the Secretary-General’s view, which places children at the heart of the Millennium Development Goals, in recognising that they are the most vulnerable group in society and that their needs are often the greatest. He congratulated the international community on their unprecedented almost universal ratification of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, but observed that they still have far to go to fully implement this convention.
Recognising the most fundamental right of the child to be the right to life, Ambassador Shafer described as unconscionable the number of children lost to preventable causes. He assured the Assembly that the Order of Malta , together with its 80,000 humanitarian volunteers, is doing its part to lower this figure, and will continue to pursue its child vaccination programmes around the globe most actively.
After defining the family as the fundamental unit of society and the natural environment for the growth and well-being of its members, Shafer highlighted how the scourge of HIV/AIDS has created serious problems for children because of its destruction of the family unit. Throughout its 900-year history, the Order of Malta has seen no epidemic more calamitous to the family unit than HIV/AIDS, which has taken one or both parents from over 16 million children under the age of 15. Indeed, this situation exacerbates children’s vulnerability to violence and he emphasised the Order’s support for the recent recommendations of the Committee on the Right of the Child’s on this issue. The Order has a special commitment to ensuring the rights of children living without parental care and Ambassador Shafer described the ongoing expansion and improvement of its many orphanages and schools, which are skilled in the special needs of this most defenceless group.
An estimated 300 million children worldwide are subjected to violence, abuse and exploitation, and the Permanent Observer pointed out that sexual abuse and exploitation and trafficking of children have a disproportionate effect on female children. He expressed the Order’s strong condemnation of these deplorable violations of the rights of the child and reaffirmed its commitment to the eradication of these crimes.
In conclusion, Ambassador Shafer called for a higher level of commitment and effort by United Nations agencies to redirect the energies of the international community from elaborating norms to enforcing their application. He cited in this context the Holy Family Hospital of Bethlehem, Palestine, operated by the Order of Malta, which recently celebrated its 30,000th natal delivery in 15 years, despite having been besieged and damaged as a consequence of the violence in the area.