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Refugee Children and Adolescents
No. 84 (XLVIII) - 1997

EXCOM Conclusions, 17 October 1997

The Executive Committee,

Recognizing that children and adolescents constitute the majority of refugees and other persons of concern to UNHCR,

Conscious of the human rights and dignity of all refugee children and adolescents, and that, due to their specific needs and vulnerability within the broader refugee population, they need to be among the first to receive protection and assistance in any refugee situation,

Gravely concerned that refugee children and adolescents continue to be exposed to family separation, physical violence and other violations of their human rights, including through sexual abuse and exploitation, and military or armed attacks,

Recalling the fundamental importance of the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) to the legal framework for the protection of child and adolescent refugees and for promoting their best interests,

Recalling that the Convention on the Rights of the Child, in its preamble, states that the child, for the full and harmonious development of his or her personality, should grow up in a family environment, in an atmosphere of happiness, love and understanding,

Welcoming the United Nations Study on the Impact of Armed Conflict on Children ("the Machel Study"), and the appointment of a Special Representative of the Secretary-General on the Impact of Armed Conflict on Children,

Taking note, with interest, of UNHCR's strategy for follow-up to the Machel Study, and commending the establishment of operational performance objectives in respect of refugee children and adolescents,

Reaffirming its Conclusions No. 47 (XXXVIII) and No. 59 (XL) concerning refugee children and adolescents, and, stressing their continued validity,

(a) Calls upon States and relevant parties to respect and observe rights and principles that are in accordance with international human rights and humanitarian law and that are of particular relevance to international refugee protection, especially to safeguarding child and adolescent refugees, including:

(i) the principle of the best interests of the child and the role of the family as the fundamental group of society concerned with the protection and well-being of children and adolescents;

(ii) the fundamental right of children and adolescents to life, liberty, security of person, and freedom from torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment;

(iii) the right of children and adolescents to education, adequate food, and the highest attainable standard of health;

(iv) the right of children affected by armed conflict to special protection and treatment, taking into account the particular vulnerability of refugee children to being forcibly exposed to the risks of injury, exploitation, and death in connection with armed conflict;

(v) the right of children to protection from harmful traditional practices and from all other forms of exploitation;

(b) Urges States and concerned parties to take all possible measures to protect child and adolescent refugees, inter alia, by:

(i) preventing separation of children and adolescent refugees from their families and promoting care, protection, tracing and family reunification for unaccompanied minors;

(ii) safeguarding the physical security of refugee children and adolescents, securing the location of camps and settlements at a reasonable distance from the frontiers of countries of origin, and taking steps to preserve the civilian character and humanitarian nature of refugee camps and settlements;

(iii) preventing sexual violence, exploitation, trafficking and abuse; addressing the needs and rights of child and adolescent victims through provision of appropriate legal and rehabilitative remedies; and by following up on the Plan of Action of the 1996 Stockholm World Congress on the Sexual Exploitation of Children;

(iv) providing appropriate training to military personnel and peacekeepers on human rights and humanitarian protections to which children and adolescents are entitled, and holding all parties accountable for violations of such rights and protections in refugee situations;

(v) ensuring access to education, and the right of the child to freedom of thought, conscience and religion;

(vi) providing medical or other special care, including rehabilitation assistance, to assist the social reintegration of refugee children and adolescents, especially those who are unaccompanied or orphaned;

(c) Calls upon UNHCR to continue to integrate fully the rights of the child into its policies and programmes; improve its operational methods for assessing the needs of child and adolescent refugees; train its staff and implementing partners accordingly; formulate preventive strategies; and strengthen collaboration with States, UNICEF, WFP, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, ICRC, non-governmental organizations, and other concerned actors;

(d) Calls upon UNHCR to include on the work programme of the Standing Committee in 1998 a report on the implementation of its strategy for follow-up to the Machel Study, with special reference to the establishment of operational performance objectives in respect of refugee children and adolescents and the identification of improvements in staffing, training and budgeting to meet these objectives; and also to report on follow-up of its evaluation of UNHCR programming and protection efforts on behalf of refugee children and adolescents.

(e) Calls upon all States to participate constructively in the negotiations on an optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the involvement of children in armed conflicts with the aim of an early agreement on the text.

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