Header image for news printout

Committee on the Rights of the Child commemorates the thirtieth anniversary of the Convention on the Rights of Child

Committee on the Rights of the Child

16 September 2019

The Committee on the Rights of the Child commemorated the thirtieth anniversary of the Convention on the Rights of the Child this afternoon by organizing an event called: “30 Years of Children’s Rights: Where We Are and Where We Want to Be”.  Two panel discussions were held as part of the event.

Luis Ernesto Pedernera Reyna, Chairperson of the Committee on the Rights of the Child, in his opening remarks, said the Convention was the treaty with the most ratifications in the history of the United Nations.  This testified to the existence of a universal moral conscience regarding the rights of children.  All should continue to move forward for the rights of children, he said.  Selena, a child activist from the United Kingdom, also made opening remarks.

 The first panel discussion, titled “30 Years of the Convention”, analysed the last three decades with regards to the history of the Convention.  Speaking were Ann Kelton, Committee Member; Jean Zermatten, Former Committee Chairperson and Founder of the International Institute for the Rights of the Child; Philippe Cori, Deputy Director of the United Nations Children’s Fund’s Regional Office for Europe and Central Asia; Paulo David, Chief, Indigenous Peoples and Minorities Section, Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, and former Secretary of the Committee on the Rights of the Child; and Alex Conte, Executive Director of Child's Rights Connect.  Asking questions were two child reporters, Sophia and Keren, both from Switzerland.

The panellists explored various issues in the second panel discussion titled “Current State of Play and Vision for the Rights of the Child”.  Four Committee Experts were paired with four child advisors, and each duo discussed one of the following issues: child participation and children as human rights defenders; children’s rights in relation to the digital environment; child justice; and climate crisis and the environment. 

Speaking were Zcyrel, child advisor from the Philippines; Mikiko Otani,

Committee Expert; Maria, child adviser from Mexico; Olga Khazova,

Committee Expert; Sophia, child advisor from Switzerland; Hynd Ayoubi Idrissi,

Committee Expert; Renate Winter, Committee Vice-Chairperson; Clarence Nelson,

Committee Expert; and Hannah, child advisor from Scotland. 

During the event, the Committee launched a child-friendly version of the Convention.  Pledges made by States and individuals were also made public.
Amy Spearman, a young human rights defender from Canada, and Amal Salman Aldoseri, Committee Expert, made concluding remarks.

Documents relating to the Committee’s work, including reports submitted by States parties, can be found on thesession’s webpage.  The webcast of the Committee’s public meetings can be accessed at http://webtv.un.org/.
At 10 a.m.  on Tuesday, 17 September, the Committee will consider the initial report of Georgia under the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography (CRC/C/OPSC/GEO/1); and its initial report under the Optional Protocol to the Convention on children in armed conflict (CRC/C/OPAC/GEO/1).

Opening Statements

LUIS ERNESTO PEDERNERA REYNA, Chairperson of the Committee on the Rights of the Child, said the Convention on the Rights of the Child was the treaty with the most ratifications in the history of the United Nations.  It testified to the existence of a universal moral conscience regarding the rights of children.  There were two utopias related to the rights of children.  The first was a negative utopia: Walter Benjamin said that utopia involved deleting parts of reality that had be to eliminated, and there were a lot of things regarding the rights of the child, such as violations, that had to be eradicated.  But there was also a positive utopia that was like the sun on the horizon and the desire to get ever closer to that sun.  All should continue to walk towards that sun and continue to move forward for the rights of children. 
SERENA, a child activist from the United Kingdom, said she was incredibly proud to be attending this celebration.  The Convention, the most ratified human rights treaty ever, enshrined the rights of all children, regardless of their nationality, origin, religion or lack thereof.  Adults dismissed and ignored children, and found it easy to step on them.  The Convention was a rare example of how the older generation was protecting the rights of children.  The world was a frantic and chaotic place.  Adults could fix it, but chose to prioritize other things, ignoring the best interest of the child.  The language with which adults talked about children was the language of dismissal.  She said she wanted to make her voice heard and ensure that the rights enshrined in the Convention were made real.

Panel Discussion on “30 Years of the Convention”

ANN KELTON, Committee Member, said this panel discussion would take the format of a talk show where two child reporters from Switzerland, Keren and Sophia, would ask the questions to look at the first 30 years of the Convention, from 1989 to today.  The aim of this session was to analyse the history of the Convention, the changes that they had brought about on children’s rights, as well as challenges faced.

JEAN ZERMATTEN, Former Committee Chairperson and Founder of the International Institute for the Rights of the Child, explained that the Convention had multiple sources, including the League of Nations’ 1924 Geneva Declaration of the Rights of the Child.  The Convention had been adopted in 1989 and had entered into force very shortly after.  The Convention had been completed by three Protocols that had been designed to fill gaps.  The first 10 members of the Committee had been elected in 1991.  There were now 18 members comprising the Committee.  A total of 196 countries had ratified the Convention, but only 45 of them had signed the Optional Protocol on the communications procedure.  On the participation of children in the work of the Committee, he recalled that the first child participation during a pre-sessional working group meeting occurred in 1999 and that, in 2018, the Committee had held a day of general discussion on child human rights defenders, which had been organized in cooperation with a children's advisory group.

JEAN ZERMATTEN, Former Committee Chairperson and Founder of the International Institute for the Rights of the Child, said that when he was a juvenile judge 40 years ago, children who had committed crimes had been perceived as dangerous and were put behind bars.  Switzerland at the time was not big on putting children in prisons, but it was a champion when it came to putting children in closed institutions.  The effect was not to educate children but to neutralize them.  The situation of the family was not taken into account and a number of inappropriate things had happened.  Since then, there had been changes, but the situation had not entirely improved.

PHILIPPE CORI, Deputy Director of the United Nations Children’s Fund’s Regional Office for Europe and Central Asia, said immunization was one of the best practices and close to 3 million children’s lives had been saved thanks to immunization.  Now, the anti-vaccine movement could jeopardize this success.  Some 103 million children who could have dropped out were now going back to school.  There were now less child marriages.  Around 1.8 million lives had been saved thanks to progress that had been made on mother-to-child HIV transmission.  These facts and figures testified that the Convention had led to plans of action and very concrete results.

PAULO DAVID, Chief, Indigenous Peoples and Minorities Section, Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, and former Secretary of the Committee on the Rights of the Child, said when he worked on child rights in the early 1990’s and looking at sports then, there had been two assumptions: one was that sports could only be good for children, and the second was that sports were above the law, in other words that the Convention did not apply to sports.  Today, the sports world and State authorities still took into account far too loosely the rights of children.  Today, 70 per cent of children benefitted from sports, 20 per cent were at risk, and 10 per cent were victims of violations.  There were still a lot of violations that were not addressed, as well as challenges, such as physical abuse, sexual abuse, the “concussion epidemic,” adults doping children, illegal transfers of children from a country from another, and discrimination based, inter alia, on gender, race and disabilities.

ALEX CONTE, Executive Director of Child's Rights Connect, said the approach and experience of his non-governmental organization emphasized two things.  First, the implementation of the Convention had to include child participation.  It was the process of empowering children to participate across all levels and contexts that led to the implementation of children’s rights across all articles of the Convention.

JEAN ZERMATTEN, Former Committee Chairperson and Founder of the International Institute for the Rights of the Child, said that a certain number of countries had set up juvenile justice systems for children who were in conflict with the law.  The staff of such systems were properly trained.  There were clear rules that were different from those that applied to adults in conflict with the law.  These countries were leading the way.  Other countries had hybrid systeMs.  There were also countries that did not have specialized systems, nor specialized judges or particular measures applicable to children.  There were about 25 countries that still applied capital punishment to children, which amounted to a grave violation of children’s rights and the Convention.

PHILIPPE CORI, Deputy Director of the United Nations Children’s Fund’s Regional Office for Europe and Central Asia, said it was a lie to say that violence through corporal punishment could be an educative method.  Violence could hamper the development of children’s brains.  It was important to enhance social inclusion, to address inequalities felt by parents so that they did not have a bad impact on children.  Nutrition and promoting breastfeeding were also important for the health of children.  Very often, breastfeeding did not take place.  In some countries, where there was no access to social security, families decided to send boys to school whereas girls stayed at home do help around the house.  Efforts were being made to encourage families to let girls access education.

PAULO DAVID, Chief, Indigenous Peoples and Minorities Section, Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, and former Secretary of the Committee on the Rights of the Child, said when the Convention entered into force, around the corridors people talked about the “mini-rights” and too often approached children’s rights in a paternalistic manner.  The Office faced massive challenges with regards to its presence in the field.  The High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, was paediatrician by profession, so children’s rights were an issue she felt strongly about.

ALEX CONTE, Executive Director of Child's Rights Connect, said that new technologies could connect children from all over the world, across borders, languages, cultures and time zones.  Further, online tools could increase awareness and promote more effective participation by civil society.  Today, Child’s Rights Connect had launched a website dedicated to the third Optional Protocol to the Convention on individual communications.  Online participation and other technologies remained a challenge, including for children living in rural areas, and for children living in poverty.

Launch of the Child-Friendly Version of the Convention on the Rights of the Child

Maria, child advisor from Mexico, and Zcyrel, child advisor from the Philippines, launched the child-friendly version of the Convention on the Rights of the Child.  Maria said that today was not so much the celebration of the Convention but the celebration of 30 years of battle for children’s rights.  Zcyrel explained that, in the attempt to make the Convention as child-friendly as possible, the United Nations Children’s Fund had put together a team of nine children from all over the world – the Child Advisory Board - to contribute their ideas and suggestions on how to produce a Convention that would be more comprehensible for children.

Panel Discussion on the Current State of Play and Vision for the Rights of the Child

Child Participation and Children and Human Rights Defenders

Zcyrel, child advisor from the Philippines, said that half of the person she was today was her experience as a child leader and half of her values were a result of the possibility to participate.  Children must have the support of all those who valued the right of children to participate and all those who recognized in today’s children tomorrow’s leaders.

MIKIKO OTANI, Committee Expert, said that child participation had a broad impact on all children’s rights and stressed that there was an emerging movement of children rights defenders.  At the same time, there was a greater tendency to involve children, to ensure their participation, and to hear their voices.  This was particularly important because all global problems today - violence, the right to education, climate change – had a direct impact on the realization of children’s rights.

Children’s Rights in Relation to the Digital Environment

Maria, child adviser from Mexico, stressed the benefits of the new information and communication tools and technologies for the realization of children’s rights, in education, in the participation of children, and in their involvement.  But these tools and technologies also carried great risks which must be addressed.

OLGA KHAZOVA, Committee Expert, said that the Convention, at its thirtieth anniversary, fully covered all the issues and new developments such as new media and information and communication technology that had not existed 30 years ago.  It enshrined the right of the child to access information, the right to privacy, the right to education, the right to leisure and play, and others.  At the same time, the Convention laid out the protection of children from violence and abuse.  The digital environment raised a whole range of new challenges for the rights of the child that States, societies, industry, parents and children must address.

Child Justice

Sophia, child advisor from Switzerland, said that together with her friends she had made a documentary about juvenile justice in Geneva.  Throughout the process, they had witnessed that a primary goal was to assist a child who was in conflict with the law.  The criminal system in Switzerland considered a child as someone in need of help and assistance. 

HYND AYOUBI IDRISSI, Committee Expert, said that justice was a very sensitive area and the Committee always aimed to ensure that a child remained outside of the justice system.  The terminology and language had developed from juvenile justice to children and justice, which removed the idea that it was only about children who committed a crime, which was not correct because children could be victims or witnesses.  Children and justice must be seen together with all other rights enshrined in the Convention and the first principle that must prevail was that of the best interest of the child.  Ms. Idrissi expressed concern about the backslide in the area of children and justice in a number of countries: the lowering of the age of criminal responsibility and discrimination against girls in this matter as girls were often deemed criminally responsible at a younger age than boys, while in a number of countries, capital punishment was still meted out against children. 

RENATE WINTER, Committee Vice-Chairperson, remarked on the slow pace of change in the juvenile justice system in many countries, which she said was not due to lack of financial resources to implement the Convention in this domain, but because the justice system was the last bastion of the power of a State which it did not want to give away.  It was always important to think about the best interest of the child and to remember that children – because they did not have the right to vote – were not always the first priority for the elected politicians.  Restorative justice, therefore, was essential; it repaired the wrong done and provided a form of restitution to the victim.  In conclusion, the Vice-Chairperson stressed that the state of a country’s prison showed that country’s human rights status.  

Climate Crisis and the Environment

CLARENCE NELSON, Committee Expert, challenged all climate deniers and non-believers to come to his home country in the Pacific and see the villages that were sinking, and witness the Pacific garbage patch of plastic and waste which covered a surface of 1.6 million square kilometres.  Children talked regularly to the Committee about climate change and the Committee listened; a section in its concluding observations was reserved for the issue of climate change.  The environment affected all the rights enshrined in the Convention – including the rights to life, to adequate living standards, and to health. 

HANNAH, child advisor from Scotland, spoke about the children in her home town who took action for more eco-friendly spaces in which they would also have more space to play.  The children also regularly met with Scottish politicians.  Because of the activism of this and other child reference groups, Scotland would soon adopt a comprehensive child’s rights act.  

Discussion

In the discussion that followed, panellists said that since climate change impacted the rights of children, it was only right that this matter be brought before the Committee. 

One child representative, urging more meaningful participation of children, remarked that “You don’t need to be the voice for the voiceless when you can just pass the mic”.  What children had to say was just as important and just as relevant as what adults were saying, she added.

A Committee member pointed out that, while in May 1968 university students generated a lot of change, now high school children were spurring action. 

Another child representative urged everyone to “care more” and not be afraid to “think critically and question”. 

A Committee member said it was important for the Committee to meet and interact with children from a given country prior to reviewing its report. 

Children’s rights to participation faced significant obstacles, another Committee Expert noted.  Some participatory bodies amounted to nothing more than a simulacrum, because adults were reluctant to cede power, notably for cultural reasons.  In that regard, 30 years was a very short time for meaningful change to come about; more work still needed to be done.

Concluding Remarks

AMY SPEARMAN, a young human rights defender from Canada, said the discussions were particularly insightful and inspiring.  Children’s rights mattered deeply to all the persons present here today.  It was important to recognize the power of child voices and adult allies.  Realizing a world where every child realized their full potential required more work, she said, urging States and stakeholders to stay true to their commitments and pledges.

AMAL SALMAN ALDOSERI, Committee Vice-Chairperson, said the pledges were made as a mean to recommit to the Convention.  The pledges made public today were on various topics, such as child participation, birth registration and indigenous children.  The Committee would continue to receive pledges from States parties throughout the week.  She expressed her appreciation for the children who had contributed to this event.  Their voices may be small, but they definitely had a big impact.

________

For use of the information media; not an official record
Follow UNIS Geneva on:Website | Facebook | Twitter | YouTube |Flickr