Marta Santos Pais provided the Dean’s Distinguished Lecture, hosted by the UBC Faculty of Education and the Janusz Korczak Association of Canada on September 13, 2018, in the Robert H. Lee Alumni Centre, Jack Poole Hall. Her lecture is available below.


Marta was appointed as the United Nations Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Violence against Children in 2009. As a high-level global independent advocate, Marta promotes the prevention and elimination of all forms of violence against children in Justice setting, in the home, in institutional care, in schools in the workplace and in the community. She acts as a bridge builder in all regions and across all sectors and settings where violence against children may occur.

Since her appointment, she has been strongly committed to mobilizing action and political support to maintain momentum around this agenda to achieve steady progress across the world. Marta has more than 30 years of experience on human rights issues, engagement in United Nations and intergovernmental processes.

She is the author of a large number of publications on human rights and children’s rights. She has served the UNICEF as Director of Evaluation, Policy and Planning. She was a member of the UN drafting group of the 1989 Convention on the Rights of the Child.


“The concept of children first and above legal, political, social and economic differences was forever captured in the ground-breaking provisions of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child adopted almost 30 years ago. Since then, children’s rights have moved from the periphery of the debate to the hearts of the international and national agenda.

In line with the vision of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, Ms. Pais highlighted how the achievement of sustainable development for all must start by placing children first, starting with an investment in early years and ensuring all children grow up in a safe, loving environment. By investing in children, we create the conditions for every child to grow up free from want, from fear and from violence. In turn, by safeguarding children’s safety and protection, we enhance the chances to reach all the sustainable goals and targets.”

Ms. Pais went on to speak about the progress achieved in terms of data, legislation, and policy and programme development but told us that available figures remain astounding and the voices of children continue to remind us of the need to act now, across all sectors of society. We must not spare any effort to translate the provisions of the Conventions into reality for all children everywhere and at all times.

Next year is a significant opportunity to stand up for the world’s one billion children who are affected by violence each year. 2019 marks the 30th anniversary of the Convention on the Rights of the Child. Also in 2019, the High-Level Political Forum in July will review Goal 16 and the UN General Assembly will host its first overall review of the implementation of the entire 2030 agenda for Sustainable Development, including 16.3 on ending all forms of violence against children. This is a unique milestone that the international community cannot afford to miss.

Patsy George, a Past President and current Honorary Director of the Vancouver Branch of the United Nations Association in Canada who attended the lecture, encourages everyone to contact their members of parliament to eliminate section 43 of the Criminal Code of Canada which allows corporal punishment of children.

Her hope is that when Canada reports back to the United Nations at the 30th anniversary of adopting the Convention of the Rights of the Child, the best interests of the children in Canada will be seen as a priority for the government of Canada.