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© UNICEFECO/2009/Patrick Knight
Ashley Simmons (centre) with fellow students

Students put case for Child Rights at start of Commonwealth summit

TURKS AND CAICOS. 1 October, 2009. Fifteen-year-old Ashley Simmons stood before her audience and firmly declared that ensuring children’s rights globally is not an option or a matter for negotiation.

As she addressed senior legal officers from all 54 Commonwealth nations gathered in the Turks and Caicos Island for a UNICEF and Commonwealth Magistrates and Judges Association-sponsored Colloquium on the Child and the Law, the high school student said children’s rights must be guaranteed in countries across the globe. The conference opened Thursday in Providenciales, one of the Turks and Caicos Islands.

“Children have rights. We all know of those rights but yet everyday around the world we are denied those rights ... children need justice,” she told the judicial officers, urging them to keep children at the centre of their deliberations during the two-day forum under the theme “Justice for the Next Generation”.

Just before the Clement Howard High School student took to the podium, the over 250 delegates listened as Turks and Caicos Chief Justice Gordon Ward said children were still being subjected to untold suffering, even on the eve of the 20th anniversary of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC).

“We are clearly dealing with problems as we see the most dreadful exploitation of children. Since the ratification of the CRC many countries have moved to harmonise their national laws with the Convention, but there is still a gap between the aspirations of the CRC and the realities of children’s lives,” Chief Justice Ward added.

The island’s top judge told fellow jurists that they must use their influence to help drive changes to make their states’ laws more responsive to the protection of child rights.

Speaking on UNICEF’s behalf Richard Morgan, Director Policy and Practice, reminded the judicial officers that they play an important role in ensuring that children were able to access the rights articulated under the CRC.

“In addition to the establishment of jurisprudence, judges and magistrates also play a unique role in ensuring that children in contact with the justice system, whether as victims, witnesses or perpetrators of crime, are treated in a child-sensitive and gender-appropriate manner in line with international standards and norms.

“I would simply like to note now that the duties inherent in this role are extensive and to be taken seriously. Child sensitive justice requires of all of us to make significant efforts in doing things differently and I am sure that at our meeting we will be able to make a contribution towards achieving that change,” Morgan added.

The main aim of the October 1-2 forum is to sensitise magistrates and judges on international treaties and laws relating to children. Other objectives are to develop a partnership between UNICEF and the CMJA on children’s rights and to enhance networking within the CMJA on the rights of the child.

UNICEF Representative for Barbados and the Eastern Caribbean Tom Olsen described the forum as timely and crucial. He said his Office is extremely happy to partner with the CMJA to host the important deliberations.





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