20 Years - The Convention on the Rights of the Child

Awa Ndèye Ouedraogo

Ending child trafficking: Collaboration is key
The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child was the first international human rights agreement to explicitly protect children. The need for a legal acknowledgement of children’s rights is so well agreed by States that, despite its relatively young age, the Convention is the most widely ratified international document in existence. Over the 20 years since its adoption by the UN General Assembly, the Convention itself has ‘grown up’ and, as the concept of child rights has solidified, the need to protect youth and adolescents has been increasingly recognized by governments and local and international organizations.

Greater recognition of the critical importance of child protection has resulted in the addition of two Optional Protocols to the Convention, enhanced monitoring of child rights, and the integration of the Convention into national legal systems. As we celebrate the 20th anniversary of the Convention, it is time to reflect on the changes it has engendered in the day-t0-day lives of children throughout the world.

Monitoring the Convention: reaching sustainable positive change
Implementation of the Convention is monitored by the Committee on the Rights of the Child. All States parties to the Convention are obliged to present reports to the Committee every five years, allowing it to analyse the treatment of children in their countries. Since the establishment of the Committee, which I chaired from 2000 to 2001, reports submitted by governments have shown that the Convention has generated positive and sustainable changes in the lives of many children in the world.

The Committee has found that, since the Convention’s entry into force, large numbers of children now know that they have rights. This has allowed them to raise awareness about children’s issues among their peers, parents and communities. Many of these children also understand how to claim their rights, and how to use this knowledge to combat maltreatment, exploitation and gender discrimination.

It is my experience that the Convention is the most important tool in protecting vulnerable children from a broad spectrum of political, social and economic injustices. In addition to increasing youth involvement in claiming their own rights, the Convention has also enabled States parties to provide funding and programmes that focus on youth and adolescents. These efforts have resulted in the successful development of initiatives ranging from immunization programmes to providing specialized treatment for children living with HIV, education and health services and improving access to water and sanitation supplies. Through these efforts, the physical well-being of children is enhanced, allowing for an increased focus on their mental, spiritual and emotional growth.

Steps towards banning child-trafficking
The Convention has resulted in measurable improvement in the treatment of the world’s children, but there are several areas of child rights where much remains to be done. One critical issue is child trafficking – a gross violation of human rights that affects an estimated 1.2 million children every year. Traffickers take disadvantaged children from their families, often with the consent of parents, who unknowingly agree to uncertain promises in attempts to secure better futures for their children. Once children are caught in traffickers’ nets, they are exposed to severe abuses, exploitation and violations of their fundamental human rights. They lack legal protection, and the separation from their families makes them extremely vulnerable to being forced into child marriage, prostitution, labour or armed conflict.

Conscious of the existence of these abuses, concerned governments are adopting measures to prevent and combat child trafficking. Unfortunately, these laws and policies have been unsuccessful in eliminating the practice. Traffickers are often aware of governments’ anti-trafficking efforts, and, in countries where they are enforced, the traffickers are able to circumvent them. A further tragedy of trafficking is that rescued children do not receive care and treatment that is sufficient or appropriate. They are normally sent back to their families without having been rehabilitated from their traumatic experiences, and may face stigma, discrimination, rejection and ostracism when they return home.

While many States parties have signed bilateral and regional agreements to combat child trafficking, these instruments lack proper monitoring and evaluation systems. Furthermore, without addressing poverty and unemployment, programmes to end trafficking will only provide short-term solutions to the exploitation of these children. To better combat child trafficking, governments should build on the legal and social mandates of the Convention, and review legislation with a comprehensive view to banning the practice.

Additionally, information and sensitization programmes on the existence of child trafficking need to be directed towards the general public, with a special emphasis on educating vulnerable children. Perpetrators of trafficking must be swiftly punished, signalling to those who may abuse children that the world’s governments take the issue of child protection seriously. By creating a holistic strategy to reduce and eliminate poverty, countries can also address the social determinants of trafficking and other forms of violence against children.

On the 20th anniversary of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, I launch an urgent appeal to all governments facing child trafficking to undertake bold and coordinated actions at national and international levels to put an end to the exploitation of the world’s children. The continued practice of child trafficking is compromising the promotion of child rights, and is undermining the achievements made since the Convention was ratified. It is my hope that through the combined efforts of governments, international organizations and individual citizens, genuine and effective promotion of child rights will be realized and child trafficking will be ended.

Awa Ndèye Ouedraogo is a former member and Chair of the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child. She has served extensively as an adviser for both the United Nations and the Government of Burkina Faso. Ms. Ouedraogo holds an advanced degree in linguistic studies form the Sorbonne.

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