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United Nations Moves to Strengthen Children’s Rights

A new measure that allows children or their representatives to bring problems before an international panel of child welfare experts is now open for member states to sign, according to The United Nations. The measure, the third Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child, is a last resort for children when their country’s legal system has failed to remedy a violation of their rights. It is similar to other committees available to women, disabled people and migrants, and will go into effect once 10 countries sign and ratify it.

This third protocol joins the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) and two existing protocols that include free primary education, adequate nutrition and freedom from violence as some of the rights of children. The United States has ratified the first and second Optional Protocols, which address children in military conflicts and commercial and sexual exploitation of children. However, the United States and Somalia are the only two UN member nations that have not ratified the CRC.

Anita Goh is advocacy officer for the NGO Group for the Convention on the Rights of the Child, and she coordinated the international campaign for the third protocol. Goh said the third protocol could function like this: A country has ratified the protocol, but a national law forbids the use of certain minority languages in public places. According to the Convention on the Rights of the Child, an indigenous child cannot be denied the right to use his or her own language, and can bring a complaint to the country’s courts. If the courts decide to apply the national law prohibiting use of the language over the CRC, the child can now bring his case to the UN committee.

So what can the committee do? Goh said the Committee’s decision is not legally binding, but it can pressure governments to remedy a situation and to change national laws that violate children’s rights.

According to information released by the UN, there was much debate between countries over children’s capacity to make complaints to an international group. Jean Zermatten, chair of the Committee on the Rights of the Child, said that while in theory children can complain directly to the Committee, “In practice, the vast majority of the complaints are likely to be submitted by representatives of the child, by lawyers, parents and others.”

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“We see every day examples of a wide range of human rights violations against children – from discrimination to child trafficking to all forms of physical or mental violence,” said UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, according to the UN. “I encourage States to sign this Optional Protocol to give child victims of such violations direct access to an international human rights complaints mechanism.”

A signing ceremony for the third optional protocol could take place this month (FEBRUARY), and it will go into effect as soon as 10 countries ratify it. “The protocol could have tremendous impact on the situation of Native American and indigenous children,” Goh said, adding that “signals are quite positive” it will be ratified by many Latin American countries, including those with large indigenous populations.

To learn more about the Convention on the Rights of the Child:

UNICEF’s resources

The Committee on the Rights of the Child General Comment on Indigenous Children and Their Rights Under the Convention