Children have human rights and child rights advocates, Maria, Serena and Zcyrel joined the Committee on the Rights of the Child to confirm their alignment with the timeless vision set thirty years ago by the drafters of the Convention on the Rights of the Child: empowering children to claim those rights.
"I chose to become a human rights defender because I can see the effects on people whose human rights are violated. I can see how it affects their growth, their development as a person and I could see how my participation could be of great help to making them have a better life," says Zcyrel.
She was 13 years old when she started advocating for children's rights. At now 17, she is the former president of the Children's Federation in her hometown in the Philippines, and a child-representative in that country's process of developing a National Plan of Action for Children. Zcyrel hopes to be successful "not for personal gain but to help others become successful as well." Her dream for her community is to be safe and live in a developed rural town that preserves its own culture.
Thirty years ago, the Convention recognised children – all human beings below the age of 18, everywhere – as their own beings entitled to non-negotiable rights. It states that children have the right to be treated with dignity and respect; they should be cared for, develop and be part of their communities; they have a right to an education, to express their own ideas and opinions, to access information and to participate in making decisions in issues that concern them; they have the right to be protected against all forms of violence; and they should not be discriminated against, wherever they are, regardless of their ethnic or social origin, property, disability, birth or other status.
Adults must hear children's voices
"Children are human and if their rights are not considered properly then it almost like saying children are not human. Children deserve and should be listened to always, they are relevant," says Serena who, for the last 12 months, has been a member of Amnesty International UK Children's Human Rights Network.
At 17, she is an active climate striker and advocate working with the UK Student Climate Network who believes that climate inaction is a violation of children's rights, including to life, health and a healthy environment, as well as to an adequate standard of living and the best interests of the child.
"Children's voices are always important, whether they are listened to or not. Nowadays adults are being forced to listen to them more," Serena adds.
"World leaders need to take action upon what children are asking because they are messing up the world. Children will have to deal with the consequences of climate change so we need to listen to their voices. A key mechanism that can make that possible is the third option protocol of the Convention on the Rights of the Child - the communications procedure," she points out. "If States haven't ratified that protocol already it's vital that they do so that children can complain to an international court and get justice for their human rights violations."
Nearly all Governments, to the exclusion of the US, have ratified the Convention and pledged to respect, protect and promote the rights therein. With 196 ratifications, the Convention is the most universally accepted human rights agreement in history.
Thirty years after its adoption, the Convention remains the universal principal framework to uphold children's rights of all. Based on the principles in the Convention, States have adopted laws and policies to reduce child poverty and enhance child survival. Under-five mortality, extreme poverty, and the number of child marriages have declined, while more children are enrolled in schools.
However, significant gaps remain; children continue to disproportionately suffer from the effects of poverty and social isolation, and are deprived of equal opportunities and access to essential services, in particular girls, children with disabilities, and children in disadvantaged or vulnerable situations.
Committing to children's future
"Children are the most neglected and vulnerable sector of our society and they need special treatment and protection from the people around them so they may achieve their full potential," Zcyrel adds. "Give children a chance to speak up for themselves. Children can help with building a nation; they could be the next Presidents, the next Senators, the next lawmakers. They should be trained on how they can participate in society."
The 30th anniversary of the Convention creates a momentum for the world to step up its efforts to protect children's rights. The Committee on the Rights of the Child, the UN body that monitors States compliance with the Convention, and UN Human Rights Chief, Michelle Bachelet, have called on States and all stakeholders to renew their commitment to promote and protect the rights of the child. A number of States have
pledged specific measurable actions to realize the rights of children.
"I firmly believe that we children are the future, we are the present and the now, and creating change is in our hands," says Maria, a 17 year-old student from Metepec, México. She works with young children in a movement called CONFETI, and is part of the national Network against Children and Teenager Violence with UNICEF and MUKIRA, an organization in her country that works to improve the quality of life of young people and women, and their access to justice. She also teaches a course on the Optional Protocol of the Convention regarding the involvement of children in armed conflict. She hopes to become a doctor to help as many children as she can.
"I invite all leaders of the world, all children, and all parents to join us. Maybe your children are not in a situation where their rights are being violated, but take care of those whose rights are," Maria urges.
The anniversary reminds us that children should be given meaningful opportunities for participation. As the Convention stated 30 years ago, children's voices matter and should be heard, in their family settings, in school, in their communities, and even during judicial and administrative procedures concerning them.
3 October 2019