On November 22, the Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian, Cultural) of the UN General Assembly 71st session adopted its annual resolution on the promotion and protection of the rights of children, commonly known as the “Rights of the Child.” The Resolution (A/C.3/71/L.20/Rev.1) expressed the Assembly’s profound concern that the situation of children remains critical in many parts of the world, particularly expressing deep concern regarding the large and growing number of migrant children, especially those unaccompanied or separated from their parents on primary caregivers.

The Resolution, introduced by Uruguay on behalf of the Group of Latin American and Caribbean States and the European Union, praised the New York Declaration for Refugees and Migrants for sending a message of political commitment towards ensuring a more human and compassionate response to mass migration. It was drafted in consultation with UNICEF and the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Children and Armed Conflict (SRSG-CAAC), and calls for the prevention and elimination of all forms of discrimination against children and incorporated resolutions of the GA and Human Rights Council.

The Resolution calls upon all States to ensure for children in vulnerable groups, including migrant children and children in detention, among other vulnerable situations, the full enjoyment of all human rights regardless of migration status, and to ensure access to health care, social services and education without discrimination. In particular, it calls upon States to ensure unaccompanied migrant children and those who are victims of violence or exploitation, receive appropriate protection and assistance, and that the primary consideration be in the best interests of the child at all times.

Recognizing the 20th anniversary of Resolution 51/77 establishing the mandate of the SRSG-CAAC, the Resolution also welcomes the significant developments and achievements in the area of protection of children affected by armed conflict in the implementation of the mandate, including through the “Children, Not Soldiers” campaign, but expressed deep concern over attacks on schools and hospitals and protected persons in relation to them.

Accountability through the international justice mechanism of the International Criminal Court (ICC) was one area of contention during adoption. The Government of Sudan introduced an oral amendment to paragraph 36, under Children affected by armed conflict, seeking to eliminate reference to the ICC and rather call upon the international community to hold perpetrators of violations accountable and promptly bring them to justice under national laws and obligations under international law. Uruguay, Slovakia (on behalf of the EU), and Liechtenstein (on behalf of Australia, Canada, Iceland, Norway, and Switzerland) defended the reference to the ICC, which has been included in the resolution for more than ten years, with Liechtenstein noting that the Court played an important role in addressing children in armed conflict. The amendment was ultimately rejected by a vote of 100 against, with 23 in favor and 33 abstentions.

The Resolution makes several strong points on the fundamental rights of migrant children. First, it reaffirms education as a fundamental right, and calls upon all States to give full effect to the right of education for migrant children, by eliminating barriers to access and complete education on their territory. Second, the Resolution encourages States to put in place, if they have not yet done so, appropriate systems and procedures to ensure that the best interests of the child are a primary consideration in all actions and decisions concerning migrant children, regardless of their migration status; and most importantly, to use alternatives to detention of migrant children, underlining that children should not be subject to detention or arrest solely on the basis of their migration status, and that deprivation of liberty of migrant children and adolescents should be a measure of last resort. Finally, the Resolution reaffirmed the importance of the principle of access to justice, including for migrant children, with the conviction that without it, basic human rights cannot be realized.

Watchlist looks forward to seeing the full implementation of the Rights of the Child Resolution, with particular regard to assurance of access to health care, education, shelter, and social services to children who have fled war and violence.