16 September 2021
The Committee on the Rights of the Child today held the first of two segments of a Day of General Discussion on children’s rights and alternative care.
Committee Chair Mikiko Otani, in her opening remarks, said the Day of General Discussion was an important working tool for the Committee, as it allowed the Committee to go deeper into the topics and to hear the opinions of the stakeholders and in particular of the children and young people themselves.
Cornelius Williams, Director of the Child Protection Programme Team and Global Chief of Child Protection at the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) said solutions must focus on child- and family-centered actions to help them withstand challenges, adding that there was also a need for appropriate care, which meant building effective systems with well-trained and well-equipped caregivers.
Najat Maalla M’jid, Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Violence against Children, said that in order to meet the objectives of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, it was necessary to ensure that children were placed in institutions only as a last resort and only if necessary and appropriate.
Amilyn, a member of the Committee’s Children Advisory Team, said that as the sister of a child with special needs, she was well-aware that many children did not have access to care. Expressing eagerness to learn about the perspective of other speakers, she said she hoped the Day of General Discussion would foster understanding.
Following opening plenary presentations featuring a video and the presentation of a children and young people’s survey, regional representatives on consultations for the Day of General Discussion presented their findings. The representatives spoke about Africa, Asia-Pacific, Europe, and Latin America and the Caribbean.
Discussions on thematic issues in three parallel working groups then took place, on the following topics: (1) Ensuring children grow up in safe and nurturing families: Strengthening families and communities to prevent separation (2) Addressing the care needs and rights of children who are separated, unaccompanied or without care (3) Access to justice and accountability for children and young people in alternative care, their families, and adults who grew up in care.
At the end of the meeting, conclusions of the working groups were presented.
Documentation is available on the Child Rights Committee’s webpage on its Day of General Discussion, notably a concept note as well as a Programme of Work.
The Committee will next meet at 9:00 a.m. on Friday, September 17 to continue and conclude its Day of General Discussion.
MIKIKO OTANI, Chair of the Committee, said the debate was the first in the Committee's history to be held virtually, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The theme of the debate, which focused on children's rights and alternative care systems, had become indispensable, especially during the present times of the pandemic. The Day of General Discussion was an important working tool for the Committee, as it allowed the Committee to go deeper into the topics and to hear the opinions of the stakeholders and in particular of the children and young people themselves. It was a way to deepen knowledge and find solutions to a topic that was known to be complex, she said. She thanked all the participants for their presence, especially the children, whose voices were of particular importance.
CORNELIUS WILLIAMS, Director of the Child Protection Programme Team and Global Chief of Child Protection at the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) said the pandemic had brought new challenges in the protection of children's rights, particularly in relation to education and health. The children most affected were those from the most disadvantaged or poorest families. Since the beginning of the pandemic, the United Nations Children’s Fund had worked with its partners to avoid negative consequences for children. The fund had been active in 87 countries to help them provide appropriate care for more than 700 million children. In Rwanda, for example, the Fund had advocated for alternative care professionals to be considered a priority workforce. In Bangladesh, efforts to prevent family separation were encouraged, while 200 families in Tanzania received care assistance, including psychological support.
Solutions must focus on child- and family-centered actions to help them withstand challenges, he said, adding that there was also a need for appropriate care, which meant building effective systems with well-trained and well-equipped caregivers.
NAJAT MAALLA M’JID, Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Violence against Children, said that children without parental care were the ones who were likely to be left behind. In the area of alternative care, institutionalization was sometimes an easy answer for governments, in the absence of quality alternative care. However, in order to meet the objectives of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, it was necessary to ensure that children were placed in institutions only as a last resort and only if necessary and appropriate. Services that existed in the child’s community could prevent placement in care. Other options must be available, she said, that needed to take into account the child's own desire and expressed will, and his or her best interests.
AMILYN, member of the Committee’s Children Advisory Team explained that the Team was a group of 30 children from around the world who had helped form the agenda of the Day of General Discussion meeting. As the sister of a child with special needs, she said she and her mother cared for him, while noting that many children did not have access to care. Expressing eagerness to learn about the perspective of other speakers, she said she hoped the Day of General Discussion would foster understanding.
During the plenary presentations, chaired by Ann Skelton, Committee Member and coordinator of the Child Rights Committee Working Group on the Day of General Discussion, a video was presented on why children’s rights and alternative care were important. Grace from Canada and Pabitra from Nepal, members of the Committee’s Child Advisory Team, presented their findings from a survey. Over 1100 children and young people were surveyed on alternative care, asked for their opinions on good care, and how the COVID-19 pandemic affected the situation. The importance of feeling love was mentioned over 600 times in the surveys, they said.
Regional representatives on consultations for the Day of General Discussion also made presentations. In Africa, the provision of alterative care was not well coordinated and regulated, and some systems and structures were undermining progress. Important principles included focusing on prevention, providing holistic care services, and reintegrating children into their families and societies. Legislative, social, and education measures were also needed to improve the situation in Africa. In Asia-Pacific, one of the primary concerns was the mental health of children in institutions. There was a worrying trend in orphan trafficking. Still, civil society groups were creating promising practices.
In Europe, priorities included putting an end to abusive alternative care and looking into measures put into place by States. The Council of Europe was working on a new draft recommendation for professionals to report cases of violence in alternative care. In some countries, children were sent to alternative care as a measure of correcting behaviour, which was a negative practice. Careful consideration was needed when separating a child from his or her family, said the representative for Latin America and the Caribbean. Poverty also had a huge impact on children in the region. Governments were not devoting enough resources, and “old-school methods” were still used. Young people's views were important, but too often they were not heard. De-institutionalisation was a priority, but proper funding was needed to achieve that. Training was also needed for social workers.
ANN SKELTON, Coordinator of the Child Rights Committee Working Group on the Day of General Discussion, summing up, noted that although there were a few positive aspects to foster care, the practice also had many challenges, such as the lack of scrutiny and oversight. There were good examples, however. Several participants opposed institutionalisation and called for that practice to end, while others pointed out that in some cases, residential care was a better way for giving a child access to a setting as close as possible to a family. There was a need to determine what constituted good-quality care. Children's submissions were very important for the Committee and the Day of General Discussion, she said, noting that while love was mentioned in their speeches, unfortunately so too was violence. The importance of monitoring residential care, and the importance of access to justice also came across as crucial topics in the submissions.