Home » A better tomorrow for the world’s youth? Evidence to take children’s rights, welfare and well-being forward

A better tomorrow for the world’s youth? Evidence to take children’s rights, welfare and well-being forward

Organized by UNICEF and Open Society Foundations.

Damon Barrett

I’ve been working on drug control and the rights of the child for 8 year, with a particular focus on the UN convention concerning the latter.

The convention on the rights of the child comes up a lot in discussions, but I don’t think it’s done in a very nuanced way. One of the problem with the political declaration is that it’s very vague with regard to children and minors. This is the same with the drug conventions.

The convention on the rights of the child is a valuable tool leading up to the UNGASS.

Dainius Puras, Special Rapporteur on the Right to Health

This theme is very relevant to my mandate and I plan on incorporated it more into my work.

Childhood policies are well known for paradox – everyone has good intentions, but very often something goes wrong. I see the common denominator of these failures is that policy makers forget to engage meaningfully with people in terms of what they require for services.

What does appropriate measures mean on this issue? When we speak about children, as some members of the human rights council said recently, there are always tensions arising. Therefore, we should not forget the convention on the rights of the child. It’s a good convention, obviously open to interpretation. If we really accept this idea of the convention then the child is a human being, a subject and not an object.

There are many avenues and opportunities to balance our approach on this issue in ways that have not been done before. There have been tendencies to divert from a balanced approach in the past, for example, a lack of attention to public health.

When we come to adolescence, there is an overuse of punitive measures, particularly with regards to youth who use drugs. We should focus on a more human rights-based approach.

I believe that intentions are always good, but they do not always lead to appropriate measures. The tendency to go to the simplest approach is based on irrational fears.

In the lead up to the UNGASS we can use other national and international documents so that we take a holistic approach in addressing how youth are impacted by drugs, and drug policy in general.

Nina Ferencic, UNICEF

When I started working in Eastern Europe and Central Asia I went out with an outreach team working in harm reduction for women. I was struck by one young woman (24 years old). She started using drugs at the age of 15 and had a difficult upbringing. She wanted to talk about the violence she faced as a drug user, but also the feeling of shame she had as she was a mother. She went out of her way to hide her drug use from the child under the impression she was protecting the child. However, from the child’s perspective it probably felt rejected and not loved, rather than protected.

In light of this, we know the impact and we should realise what we can do to help the mother and ensure she is aided in a way that doesn’t impact on her ability to mother her child. She blamed herself for her situation, and this isn’t right.

In the same visit we met a number of other young people who had similar adverse experiences in their childhood and similarly felt shame because of their drug use.

Drug use is directly linked to adverse experiences during childhood, and services are disjointed in addressing this.

One of the things we decided to look at is what we can do for pregnant women who use drugs. They are treated as addicts, not people with a health problem. We decided anti-natal care and maternal health workers need to be better informed, not just from a health standpoint but also from a rights standpoint that takes into account both the mother and the child. We should do our best to make sure the child has the best start possible in life.

In Ukraine, we set up a service to connect better drug treatment , NGO and anti-natal care services to tackle this issue, and since there has not been a case of HIV transmission from mother to child, nor a case of abandonment of the child. Many of these women were not mothered themselves, and so need help.

We know some of the solutions, and need to develop programs that are guided by an understanding of the complex realities of people who use drugs. Understanding their needs properly will aid in designing programs that provide services for them.

Sandy Mteirek, SKOUN

I am representing young people, and am here carrying the voice of people in my countries and others. Drug control efforts have failed to find an adequate response to the world drug issue. There’s clear evidence that existing policies have been counterproductive.

Thousands of young people continue to be arrested for drug use. Hundreds of youth are being profiled and abused because of drug laws, and submitted to arbitrary urine testing and monitoring.

I’m speaking on behalf of students subjected to fear-based stories about drugs rather than evidence-based education. I’m speaking on behalf of friends who have lost their lives to overdoses which were preventable.

I’m speaking on behalf of young drug users who are forced to pay unreasonable prices for drug treatment , if indeed it is provided. Also, young women who are subjected to sexual abuse because of suspicion of drug use.

I come from a country directly affected by the Syrian unrest, where Syrians detained for drug use are subsequently deported from Lebanon and sent back to a war zone.

I came here to share stories of friends whose voices aren’t heard in Lebanon. They were arrested and tortured for their drug use.

Do we want a better tomorrow for our youth? Count the costs; end the failures, and end this war!

Damon Barrett

Arrests and forced treatment are common indicators of success in some countries, and these countries need to be held accountable for these actions.

Sandeep Shahi, Youth Lead Nepal

I’m a former drug user and work to represent this population now. I lost my parents when I was using drugs. It was a difficult time for me as I had loans and bills to pay and so could not afford treatment. I ended up having to pay 15,000 [unsure of currency] for treatment.

Issues we’re discussing here today around criminalisation, death penalty and forced treatment have been discussed to a great extent in recent years. We have reports on all of these issues, yet on the ground the reality remains very different to recommendations provided.

There are so many diverse groups who use groups, many of whom are young. We need to plan accordingly in providing services for these people. We are lacking in many areas, and young people are still not addressed. Recommendations remain just in written documents, not put into practice.

Damon Barrett

When we talk about drug policy, drugs are not the real issue here. Why do so many of our policies focus on a response to behaviour of drug use rather than the underlying issues?

From my experience of 8 years at CND, we never get past the top line. There’s not connection between country statements and any meaningful outcome for young people. There’s a lot of ignorance about these issues here. We’re talking about issues we don’t full understand.

So, what do we suggest? One example of things done was the global study of violence against children. What if that was the decision at the UNGASS? Don’t claim we know what to do, but put children’s rights first and dedicate 3 years to study this issue properly and come back in 2019 with solid policy recommendations.

L.E.A.P Comment

I’ve heard much about the death penalty for drug traffickers, but very little about the death penalty for children; those who have no option but to engage in the drug trade and die as a result of its violence.

At the CND we’re seemingly trying to mitigate the harms of the current approach, rather than reconsider it properly.


Is there any formal agreement between UNICEF and the UNODC like the latter organisation has with WHO?


We work with the UNODC, though there is no formal agreement. We work together on issues such as HIV, though. On the ground there is a lot more going on, also, and we try to collaborate as much as possible.

Margaret Hamilton, CSTF

My interest is in the document that Damon drew attention to. It seems one of the complexities for UNGASS is how to bring various UN instruments and conventions into the debate at the UNGASS. Are there any efforts to try and have on the UNGASS agenda a mechanism or a session that focuses on these issues?


There are two things. First, there are efforts to coordinate the work of UN agencies as we’re concerned about the contradictions that there currently are. We’ve been concerned with the ways in which the drug conventions intersect with the development work we do, and we hope this will be brought into UNGASS discussions.

Second, we think there needs to be more attention paid to the issue on UN agency collaboration and hope that there will be something official on the agenda.


There is a UN task force on drugs and crime which among its mandate does have an input for the UNGASS. But, there are limits to coordination as each agency has a different mandate. We participate regularly with WHO and UNAIDS, UNODC etc. so coordination is important. The mechanisms for dialogue are much better than three years ago and are in the process of further development.

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