and Human Rights
Remarks by Hon. David Kilgour, M.P.
Edmonton Southeast, Secretary of State (Latin
America & Africa)
Youth and the 50th Anniversary of the Universal
Declaration of Human Rights
Holy Trinity Catholic High School, December
It is a pleasure to join you in celebrating
the 50th anniversary of the United Nations
Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
As UN Secretary General Kofi Annan has
said: "Human rights are what makes
us human. They are principles by which we
create the sacred home for human dignity."
You are privileged to have grown up in
a world where there has been widespread
acceptance of the concept of human rights.
In the past fifty years many countries have
become committed to human rights, but there
are still abuses that go on in many parts
of the world.
Youth are among those often most affected
by human rights abuses, but they also represent
our greatest hope that the progress made
in the past 50 years will continue. Young
people are often those most victimized by
war, whether as passive victims, or as child
soldiers coerced into fighting.
Despite great advances, child labour remains
common in many parts of the world. Eradicating
it is not as simple as passing laws or declarations
many families depend on child breadwinners,
but children forced to leave school early
to support families do not achieve their
full educational potential.
Child prostitution and sexual exploitation
is rampant in many parts of the world and
is often fed by a sex tourism industry rooted
in the so-called "developed world."
Its victims may not be victims of classic
human rights abuse by governments
against individuals but they are
victims nonetheless, robbed of their youth.
It is now up to your generation to continue
to promote the values set out in the UN
Universal Declaration on Human Rights in
hopes these rights will become more than
merely words on paper, but a global standard.
As Secretary of State for Latin America
and Africa I have visited many countries
that have made enormous strides in recent
years. I have seen firsthand evidence of
the return of human rights in countries
where equality and justice were all but
In September, I was in Nigeria and saw
recent changes that give us hope that human
rights are returning even to that tragic
country. I was amazed at the turnaround
compared to just a few years ago when writer
Ken Saro Wiwa and eight of his young colleagues
were murdered by the military dictatorship.
Nigerias generals, in recent years,
thumbed their noses at world opinion and
the government stole millions from their
countrys people. Now, Head of State
Abubakar seems to be genuinely committed
to returning Nigeria to democracy.
At the end of a brutal civil war in Sierra
Leone, the elected government is back in
control. But its problems are far from over,
especially for the children.
During the war as many as 5,000 children
were involved in the fighting. Children
as young as seven patrolled the streets
of the capital clutching AK-47 assault rifles
and rocket-propelled grenades. Often they
were kidnapped from their homes and marched
to isolated areas where they were physically
and psychologically terrorized. Innocent
children were turned into desensitized killing
Now the country faces the challenge of
reintegrating these child soldiers into
society. Many of them are permanently scarred
by violence, disowned by their families
and communities or orphaned.
The children of Sierra Leone are not alone.
It is estimated that 250,000 children under
the age of 18 were involved in 32 global
conflicts last year.
Around the world, thousands of children
are mistreated and exploited each year.
Children are beaten or sexually abused by
parents, turned into killers by war, forced
to survive on the streets, and are exploited
as child labourers and prostitutes. Often
they are denied an education, food and adequate
The UN Convention for the rights of the
child aims to address these problems by
protecting a childs civil, political,
social, economic and cultural rights.
It intends to ensure that every child grows
in the spirit of peace,
dignity, tolerance, freedom, equality and
Many children worldwide are still seen
as cheap labour. They are subject to poor
conditions, meagre pay and are exploited.
In Canada we recognize that this is not
the way a childhood should be spent.
Eliminating hazardous and exploitative
child labour is one of Canadas immediate
priorities. It is hoped that through preventative
measures such as poverty alleviation, access
to basic education, policy advocacy and
increasing awareness of the Convention Rights
of the Child, child labour will end.
Childrens charities estimate that
nearly a million children enter the global
sex market each year and in Asia alone more
than 650,000 children under the age of 16
work as prostitutes.
Some of these children are lured away from
their homes by promises of money and jobs
in the city and then are forced into prostitution.
Others are forced into it by their parents
who are desperate for ways to earn extra
Whatever the case, vulnerable, innocent
children are stripped of their self respect
and safety. Their lives are often cut short
by HIV or other diseases. The average rate
for HIV infected children rescued from brothels
is 50 per cent and some rates are as high
as 90 per cent.
Child-sex tourism, where tourists travel
to foreign countries for the sole purpose
of obtaining sex from children, is a growing
concern in Asian countries facing an economic
In Bogotá, Colombia, I met an amazing former
British Journalist, Timothy Ross, who has
established Fundación Renacer, a project
to help get child prostitutes off the streets.
Timothy has scars on his neck from enduring
knife attacks, but he is very committed
to finding new vocations for the young women
and men he has helped off the street. He
tells me the only really effective way to
combat child prostitution in countries such
as Colombia is to stop the demand for sex
Last year Canada brought in Bill C-27,
that allows Canadians who engage in child
sex tourism abroad to be prosecuted in Canada.
Over the years I have tried to bring in
legislation as a private member to allow
criminal prosecution of Canadians engaging
in sex with juveniles abroad.
These examples of human rights abuse, often
directly affecting young people, remind
us that we cant rest merely because
we have a Universal Declaration that is
fifty years old and a Convention on the
Rights of the Child. Instead, they remind
us of how far is left to go to see human
rights universally adopted and valued.
As young people there are many ways to
make a difference. CREDO, the Department
of Canadian Heritages initiative encourages
young Canadians to share their views on
human rights. And there are organizations
such as Amnesty International, the United
Nations Association or Coalition on Childrens
Rights where youth can be directly involved.
Human rights issues are many around the
world, and often young people are among
the most affected. If the progress made
in the first half century of the UN Universal
Declaration of Human Rights is to continue
to flourish for another fifty years, the
future is in your hands.