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New international protections pledged in 2000 held out hope for the many children who were exploited as laborers or abused as soldiers around the world. A new optional protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child prohibiting the use of children in armed conflict was adopted in May, and quickly garnered signatures from seventy countries. The protocol, achieved after six years of negotiations, raised the minimum age for compulsory recruitment and participation in armed conflict from fifteen to eighteen. A new Worst Forms of Child Labor Convention (International Labour Organization (ILO) Convention 182) went into force and achieved the fastest rate of ratification in ILO history. The convention, adopted by the 1999 International Labor Conference, targeted such practices as child slavery, sexual exploitation, debt bondage, and trafficking.

Despite these new promises and the nearly universal ratification of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, children's rights were widely disregarded and many countries failed to muster the political will to fulfill their legal obligations towards children.

Violence against children-frequently carried out at the hands of the state-remained an issue that governments were loath to address. Countless children continued to suffer violence resulting in physical injury, psychological trauma, and even death. Street children were subject to arbitrary detention and abuse by police; children in correctional or other institutions were beaten or tortured by staff; children in schools were subjected to severe beatings by their teachers; others were victims of summary and arbitrary executions. In many cases, the failure of law enforcement bodies to promptly and effectively investigate and prosecute cases of abuses allowed the abuse to continue.

As in past years, street children continued to suffer serious abuses at the hands of authorities. An egregious example was Honduras, where Casa Alianza reported that over 165 street children under the age of eighteen were killed between January 1998 and September 2000; a total of 320 street youth between the ages of nine and twenty-four were killed during this period. Police and security forces were found to be responsible for the deaths in thirty-six of the 320 cases. Nearly three-quarters of the cases remained unsolved.

In a welcome development, the Committee on the Rights of the Child agreed to focus on state violence against children for its annual day of discussion in September 2000. The committee invited written submissions and participation in two areas: state violence suffered by children in conflict with the law and by children living in the care of the state, including orphanages and other institutions. Based on the discussion in two working groups, the committee recommended that the U.N. General Assembly request the U.N. secretary-general to conduct an in-depth international study on the issue of violence against children. The committee recommended that such a study be as thorough and influential as the landmark 1996 Graça Machel study on the Impact of Armed Conflict on Children and include recommendations of effective actions to address violence against children.

During the year, governments began to prepare for the U.N. General Assembly's Special Session on Children in 2001, scheduled to follow up the 1990 World Summit on Children. At the 1990 Summit, an unprecedented number of world leaders adopted a declaration and plan of action devoted primarily to improving the health and education of children. The 2001 Special Session will review progress towards the goals set in 1990 and identify new commitments that must be made to address current threats and challenges facing children.

From May 30 to June 2, governments met for the first preparatory committee meeting in advance of the Special Session. Representatives admitted that many of the 1990 goals had not been met, that insufficient resources had been allocated to children, and that the continued prevalence of poverty, armed conflict, and the HIV/AIDS pandemic in particular posed continuing and even increased threats to the well-being and rights of children. However, it was unclear whether governments would be willing to make new commitments to implementing the full range of children's rights and move beyond the survival and development agenda that dominated the 1990 Summit.

Nongovernmental organizations struggled in particular to place exploitation and pervasive violence against children on governments' agendas and to insist that governments use the Special Session to commit to full implementation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child. A broad Child Rights Caucus formed to demand that issues such as violence, child labor and contemporary forms of slavery, sexual exploitation, trafficking, juvenile justice, and protection during armed conflicts be addressed in any new commitments resulting from the 2001 Special Session.

The United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), charged with producing a draft "outcome" document for the Special Session, was reluctant to address adequately the protection needs for children at risk of violence and exploitation. Despite a stated commitment to uphold the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the full range of children's rights, early drafts reflected a traditional agenda, focused on health, nutrition, basic education, and opportunities for adolescents to participate in and contribute to their societies, but largely ignoring the right of children to protection from exploitation, violence, and abuse.

Human Rights Watch World Report 2000

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