Children play at a school in London. © UNICEF UK/2008/Caroline Irby
One of UNICEF UK's core missions is to advocate for the UN
Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) becoming part of UK law. By incorporating the
CRC into law, we can offer powerful protection to children around the UK and ensure their rights are realised. But it's hard to say what we mean by "incorporation" when so many different models exist around the world, and methods of implementation vary from country to country.
UNICEF UK has commissioned colleagues from Queen's
University Belfast and the University of Cork to look at what has happened
since the Convention was ratified in twelve industrialised, relatively affluent
countries. (The word "relative" is an issue in itself as the economic crisis
continues to hit.)
We believe this research is timely. A growing number of countries have
incorporated the CRC in some form and are proud of having done so; children's
rights are talked about and receive broad public support. Others find it a
challenge to disentangle children's rights from child protection issues, but
are trying to make inroads into other sectors. Within the UK, Wales
and Scotland are placing
children's rights in statute, and England is planning to put the
'rights' into the Office of the Children's Commissioner. And of course the UK
Government is due to submit its next periodic report to the UN Committee on the
Rights of the Child in January 2014.
Our research is looking at a number of things: What laws are
in place, and what impact are they having? What processes are being used to try
to embed a children's rights approach to policy, law and practice? Are there
structures in place like a Children's Commissioner or Ombudsman? Who are the
children's rights champions? How aware are people - from government ministers
to practitioners to children and parents - of children's rights and the CRC? Do
children have the opportunity to contribute to discussions about their rights?
And especially, what lessons could the UK learn from these other countries
- particularly those where regional governments are responsible for discrete areas of law, strategy and service provision?
We've just completed field visits to five of these
countries: Belgium, Germany, Norway,
Spain and most recently Ireland - thus
the reference to Irish dancing (on posters everywhere, but we didn't have the
right shoes). Desk research can only tell you so much: interviewing the politicians,
officials, academics, lawyers, NGO representatives and practitioners who are
involved in legislating for, working with and representing the interests of
children in their respective countries has given us a more nuanced
understanding of what is going on in these places in relation to children's
rights and the CRC.
We're in the midst of assessing what we've found out and finalising
the report, with the research due to be launched in November. So watch this
space ... and clear the dancefloor!
Lisa Payne is the Domestic Policy and Parliamentary Manager at UNICEF UK.