Child participation in monitoring the implementation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child
To celebrate the 20th anniversary of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, UNICEF features 'perspectives' from advocates around the world about this landmark international agreement on the basic human rights of all children. Former chairperson of the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child JAAP E. DOEK explains why we need to foster meaningful engagement by children in the process of reporting on and monitoring the Convention's implementation.
The value of the Convention on the Rights of the Child lies in its effective implementation. Nearly all of the world’s States – 193 as of 2009 – have committed themselves to this important endeavour, and in the Convention’s first two decades as a United Nations treaty, this commitment has yielded many important improvements in the lives of countless children. But millions more still do not benefit from the rights enshrined in the document. Governments, international organisations and local communities must redouble their efforts to fully realise children’s rights.
My experience as a member of the Committee on the Rights of the Child – the body that oversees countries’ implementation of the Convention – has led me to believe that successful implementation requires a robust monitoring mechanism to review Governments’ efforts and help them to become more effective.
The Committee monitors the performance of the States parties that have ratified the Convention and generates a set of recommendations, known as Concluding Observations. This is accomplished by reviewing the reports submitted by States parties – as required by Article 44 of the Convention – as well as supplementary reports by non-governmental organisations, UNICEF and other United Nations agencies. Regrettably, children rarely have the opportunity to submit reports, even though they are the most important stakeholders under the Convention.
Maximising child participation
In my many years as an advocate for children’s rights, I have seen only a few comprehensive examples of child participation. Indeed, in the Convention’s first 20 years, child participation initiatives – including direct communications between children and the Committee – have been extremely limited. One of the primary challenges over the next 20 years is fostering meaningful engagement by children in the process of reporting on and monitoring the Convention’s implementation.
Children’s involvement is crucial because they are the best authorities on how their rights should be implemented. By including children in monitoring implementation, Governments not only meet their obligations under Article 12, they also empower children to own their rights. Additionally, children’s participation will provide the Committee with first-hand – and first rate – information about how children are doing. This information then becomes an important tool in presenting well-targeted recommendations to Governments.
Collective efforts to facilitate children’s participation are critical to changing existing norms that often exclude children from participating, as equals, in decision-making processes that affect their lives. Even in cases where children have submitted their own reports, very few have had the opportunity to communicate directly with the Committee. This is unacceptable. A number of changes must be made in order to expand children’s participation in both monitoring and evaluation, as well as in following up on the Committee’s recommendations.
A model for effective monitoring
As soon as the Committee receives a report by a State party, it should invite a representative group of children and young persons from that country to meet with the country Rapporteur – the member of the Committee who leads the discussion with the Government delegation and directs the drafting of the Concluding Observations. The purpose of this meeting would be to obtain direct information from the children about their concerns and problems, and to hear their suggestions for possible solutions.
This initial meeting should be followed by an in-country visit; in particular, the Rapporteur should observe schools and institutions in both rural and urban areas. These visits would not serve as official fact-finding missions; rather, they would give children first-hand information about the process of reporting and monitoring and would also clarify their role in that process, in addition to exposing them more directly to the Convention and its implementation. The information the Rapporteur gathers from the visit can subsequently be used by the Committee in its recommendations to the Government.
Experience has shown that a follow-up meeting with the Government delegation to review the Committee’s recommendations after 6 to 12 months can help to raise awareness of the recommendations and to support actions undertaken to put them into practice. Ensuring that the Rapporteur meets with the same group of children that participated in the initial meeting would make these follow-up meetings more effective. By involving these children in the follow-up process, both Governments and the Committee would be meeting their responsibilities to increase children’s exposure to the Convention. This, in turn, might increase the likelihood that Governments will honour their commitments.
While a number of practical considerations – including time, money and political will – certainly hamper the Convention’s implementation and the establishment of new monitoring mechanisms, the world community cannot shirk its responsibility to protect children.
Governments have repeatedly agreed to safeguard children’s rights, first by signing and ratifying the Convention and, more recently, in a series of complementary meetings and agreements. Key meetings have included the 2002 United Nations General Assembly Special Session on Children and the 2008 Third World Congress on Sexual Exploitation of Children; most recently, the countries on the Human Rights Council have established a working group to determine the feasibility of a third optional protocol that would create a formal mechanism for individuals and groups to submit complaints directly to the Committee.
These proposals may sound like optimistic dreams, but sometimes dreams are needed to inspire the achievement of miracles. And children love miracles.
Jaap E. Doek is Professor Emeritus of Family and Juvenile Law at the Vrije Universiteit in Amsterdam. Currently, he is a deputy justice on the Amsterdam Court of Appeals. He is the recipient of numerous awards for his work on children’s issues and has published several books and articles relating to children’s rights and family law. He has visited Malaysia on numerous occassions between 2005 and 2008 to work with the Government, civil society and young people themselves to champion and advocate for the realisation of all rights, for all children.