20 November 2014
Mr. President, Your Majesty, Excellencies, distinguished delegates, colleagues and friends from the United Nations system and non-governmental organizations,
It is an honour to be with you today in my capacity as Chairperson of the Committee on the Rights of the Child, to mark the 25th anniversary of the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
November 1989 was historical in many ways, not least because it was the first time that children were recognised as rights holders in an international treaty. It marked a critical turning point in addressing serious human rights abuses against children not simply with acts of charity but with advocacy for systemic change because children had rights which were to be respected.
The Convention was the culmination of several decades of work to promote the rights of the child and the creation of a child-specific convention. Today, the Convention is the most widely ratified UN human rights instrument, with 194 States parties, and its three Optional Protocols continue to draw support from States around the world, ever improving legal standards for the respect, protection and fulfilment of children’s rights. Between these four treaties there are over 530 ratifications – a clear sign of commitment to ensuring that all children have their rights respected. I would particularly like to congratulate States that have ratified all four instruments, and I call upon all States to ratify the third OP on a communications procedure.
Today is certainly cause for celebration. The Convention has improved the lives of children, to one degree or another, in all States parties and beyond. Most States’ have been reviewed by the Committee at least twice and measures are taken by States in line with the country-specific recommendations from the Committee. However, there is still a lot to be done. In order to reinforce their commitment to children’s rights I would like to encourage States to implement the Committee’s recommendations to an even greater extent. Creating the future we want is dependent on how we act now. Right now, the Convention and its OPs must continue to bring about real improvements in the lives of children. For this, the participation of all actors in society, including children, is crucial.
The Committee has continually highlighted the importance of child participation, and has given it particular attention this year as we mark the Convention’s 25th anniversary. On the 24th of September, the Committee hosted a direct online dialogue with 28 children from 14 countries around the world, as its main event to celebrate of the 25th anniversary of the Convention.
The right of children to participate is wider than their right to be heard in matters affecting them. I am speaking about the right of all children to be active agents in the lives of communities at every level, whether it be in the family, in schools or in the broader community. Their views may differ at times from those of adults, simply because each generation experiences a world different from that lived by those previous and so children will inevitably voice unique perspectives. We cannot afford to ignore their voices.
From infancy, children learn to communicate by being communicated with, and will learn to interact with others based on how they are interacted with. Making children feel that their ideas are immature or unrealistic leaves them feeling unwelcome and more likely to disengage. Children are valuable members of our societies as children and must be engaged with, according to their evolving capacities, throughout their childhood and adolescence, if they are to later contribute positively to their communities when they are adults.
When children take part in discussions about programs and policies relevant to child rights, and their ideas are listened to and developed, those programs and policies are more likely to address the issues at hand. For example, at a past children’s meeting, the Committee heard that the State under review had implemented a transportation service to ensure that children with a disability could get to school; however, the buses provided were bright yellow, which were a stark contrast to all the other school buses. The ‘banana bus’, as it came to be known. The children explained that while the transportation service was an excellent initiative, it would have been better if all the buses were the same colour. While the intention had been to ensure inclusion, this seemingly small issue of choosing a different colour of bus had in fact reinforced the misconception that children with a disability are somehow different. I reiterate that children have a unique perspective that must be sought and cannot be ignored.
25 years since the adoption of the Convention, we still talk about ‘allowing’ children to participate. However, in the same way that we are shocked when an adult is silenced for expressing his or her views, we need to be concerned when children are silenced, or kept out. They see the challenges that their communities face and they are perfectly able to suggest ideas; ideas that with the support of adults, can be developed into effective solutions.
During the online discussion sessions that the Committee hosted on the 24th of September, the child participants, aged between 11 and 17 years old, demonstrated that when children receive appropriate information and are supported to form their ideas and opinions, they can participate meaningfully. The Interaction with members of the Committee showed that when adults and children communicate in a spirit of mutual respect, they can produce innovative solutions to the challenges that face our societies. The Committee was thrilled to see and hear children speaking openly about the challenges their communities face and, most importantly, how they thought they could be addressed.
In conclusion, it seems clear to me that as we go forward, we must ensure that the Convention on the Rights of the Child keeps pace with the young people it was designed for. It must evolve with them and with the generations to come in order to create both a present and future that honor the standards we agreed on and the goals we set out to achieve 25 years ago. In the design and implementation of the post-2015 development agenda the voices of children must not only be heard, but their views and their rights must be reflected in the outcome. Children’s real participation will only be possible if information is made available, if barriers are dismantled and if we commit to adapting our ways of working, to ensure accessibility. We need to create a culture of participation across all age brackets and ensure that our work here matches the the human rights situation on the ground worldwide both now and in the future.
I would like to end with a quote from Nelson Mandela – “There can be no keener revelation of a society's soul than the way in which it treats its children."