Child rights takes a step forward at the UN

Early years pupils at a Rights Respecting Schools nursery. © UNICEF UK/UNICEF 2008/Diane Male.Early years pupils at a Rights Respecting Schools nursery. © UNICEF UK/UNICEF 2008/Diane Male.

Yesterday, 20 countries showed their commitment to and political support for children’s rights by signing the new Optional Protocol to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC).

Why is this important? 

The new Optional Protocol will allow children to bring complaints about violations of their rights directly to the UN when they have been unable to find justice in their own countries. This is an important new chapter in our global children’s rights journey – it offers children much stronger protection of their rights where countries are failing to fulfil the obligations set out in the CRC.

It also marks an important recognition by both countries and the UN that children have equal status to adults as rights holders – the CRC is no longer the only major human rights treaty without a dedicated complaints mechanism.

Among the 20 countries that signed the Optional Protocol in Geneva yesterday were those that had led the way in the drafting of the new complaints procedure. They included Austria, Belgium, Chile, Finland, Germany, Peru, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia and Spain, among others.

Unfortunately, the UK Government, which did not play an active role in drafting the procedure, chose not to sign up to the Optional Protocol at this stage. Instead it noted in a statement to Parliament that it is ”considering the implications” of the new procedure in consultation with the devolved governments in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales.

What next? 

Signature is only the first step for those countries who have already committed to the new complaints procedure – 10 of them must now ratify the treaty in order for it to come into force.

UNICEF UK will be continuing to urge the UK Government to sign and ratify – in full – the new Optional Protocol so that children living in the UK have a powerful remedy of last resort when they are prevented from enjoying all of their rights.

And perhaps most importantly, we’ll be continuing to urge the Government to put legislation in place to make sure UK children can enforce their CRC rights in the British courts to avoid them having to make the long journey to Geneva.

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