Human Rights and Children under the Spotlight at the 17th Informal ASEM Seminar

The 17th Informal Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM) Human Rights Seminar brought together over 70 experts, professionals, academics, civil society and government officials from Europe and Asia to discuss the status of rights of children on 7-9 November 2017 in Sofia, Bulgaria.

In his opening speech on 7 November, the Minister of Labour and Social Policy of Bulgaria, Mr. Biser PETROV, has called for reducing poverty and social exclusion of children, “The multifaceted dimension of child poverty needs an integrated approach to tackle it, including a synergy of the respective sectoral policies“. Mr. Georg GEORGIEV, Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of Bulgaria, highlighted the need “for a good level of communication among relevant stakeholders – the government on one hand, and the civil society and the international partners on the other hand“.

Mr. Henri PLAGNOL, Counseiller d’Etat of France, called for “States to systematically promote child-friendly practices specifically nowdays as countries are facing major international challenges”. Ms. Mikiko OTANI, Member of the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, said in her keynote address: “the ultimate goal of the whole system of international protection of human rights is to realize human rights of each and every individual at the national level.” She further elaborated that “all regional legally binding instruments and cooperation frameworks relevant for children…will lead to realization of human rights of all children in their daily lives in family, school, community and society“.

ASEM is an intergovernmental forum for dialogue and cooperation established in 1996 to deepen relations between Asia and Europe, which addresses political, economic and socio-cultural issues of common concern. The 17th Seminar was hosted by the Bulgarian Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Bulgaria, the Ministry of Labour and Social Policy and the State Agency for Child Protection, Bulgaria.

Speaking on behalf of the Asia-Europe Foundation (ASEF), Ambassador Karsten WARNECKE acknowledged “the exploitation of children as a major challenge for ASEM countries” and highlighted the need “for Asia and Europe to seek viable and appropriate solutions through bilateral and regional dialogue to tackle the persistent problem of child rights’ abuses“.

The closed-door working groups discussed 3 themes: International Partnership and State Provision for Survival and Development of ChildrenProtection of Vulnerable Children, and Participation and Involvement of Children in Decision-Making, with the contributions of Prof. Ton LIEFAARD, Leiden University, Dr. Bina D’COSTA, UNICEF Office of Research – Innocenti, and Ms Amihan ABUEVA, Child Rights Coalition in Asia.

The Informal ASEM Seminar on Human Rights series is co-organised by ASEF, the Raoul Wallenberg Institute (nominated by the Swedish Ministry of Foreign Affairs), the French Ministry for Europe and Foreign Affairs, the Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs and the Federal Department of Foreign Affairs of Switzerland (FDFA). ASEF’s contribution is with the financial support of the European Union and the Section for Development Cooperation at the Embassy of Sweden, Bangkok, Thailand.

On the occasion of the first meeting of the ASEM Foreign Ministers in 1997, Sweden and France had suggested that informal seminars on human rights be held within the ASEM framework. The Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs joined the Seminar series as an organiser in 2011; the Swiss Federal Department of Foreign Affairs joined in 2016. The aim of this initiative is to promote mutual understanding and co-operation between Europe and Asia in the area of political dialogue, particularly on human rights issues.