When governments around the world signed up to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) they committed to promote, protect and fulfil the rights enshrined in it. Twenty years on these basic rights are still not being met. Governments are failing to keep their promises under the convention and in many countries there are no effective legal mechanisms that can hold them to account. We at Save the Children think that’s unacceptable and are asking for a new international mechanism that would give children the opportunity to challenge violations of their rights.
A lack of accountability
The UNCRC is rightly praised for what it has achieved in the last 20 years. It has influenced legislation, public institutions, policies and practice. But a fundamental flaw persists. Children and young people cannot complain directly to their expert committee about violations of their rights by their governments.
The Committee on the Rights of the Child (the Committee) – the body of independent experts that monitors the implementation of the UNCRC by its state signatories – does not have a mandate to consider and decide on individual or collective complaints or to undertake enquiries into violations.
Yet in many countries children continue to suffer widespread and often severe breaches of their basic rights. Many countries, particularly fragile and conflict-affected states, do not have functioning legal systems capable of protecting children. In others, poverty and/or discrimination prevent certain groups of children from accessing those legal systems that do exist.
In addition, in many countries the UNCRC is still not fully incorporated into national law, which means violations cannot be challenged through the national courts. This is also the case for economic, social and cultural rights, which include a child’s right to survival, an adequate standard of living and heath, and access to an education. These rights are rarely legally enforceable in national courts, which means that the vast majority of violations of child rights go unchallenged and unpunished. In the absence of national-level accountability, regional and international scrutiny is crucial.1 But at present, with the exception of the Council of Europe and the Inter- American system, regional mechanisms tend to be weak or non-existent.
The African Committee of Experts on the Rights and Welfare of the Child, for example, could be a powerful tool in addressing child rights violations. But it is underfunded and lacks specialist knowledge and capacity. As a result, it has yet to complete a single investigation in a region blighted by grave violations. In Asia children have no regional mechanism at all.
The Committee is the best-placed international body to assure children’s rights and, in the absence of effective national justice systems, is essential to hold governments accountable to children.
Read the full Policy brief here.