UN committee on the rights of the child

On January 14, the United Nations announced that the Third Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child had been ratified. This protocol enables children from ratifying countries to lodge formal complaints with the Committee on the Rights of the Child about rights violations. This legal development will expand children’s rights and the accountability of states to the children they are expected to protect.

The Convention on the Rights of the Child entered into force in 1990. It has been signed by 192 countries, more than any other Third Optional Protocol. It established that all children are entitled to the basic human rights of survival, the chance to develop fully, protection from harm, exploitation and harm, non-discrimination, and the opportunity to participate in social life. Child protection is primarily the responsibility of national governments, yet states often fail to protect their children or are guilty of abuses themselves.

Loretta Ann Rosales, Chair of the Commission on Human Rights commented on the vulnerability of children, stating that they “are routinely neglected by decision makers, and their views and opinions ignored.”

Even though the Convention was ratified by nearly every country in the world, it remained the only international human rights treaty without a mechanism allowing victims to make claims and seek justice on an international level. By enabling children to bring complaints before the Committee on the Rights of the Child, the UN will now have a greater ability to hold states accountable for violations of children’s rights.

The Committee on the Rights of the Child will hear three types of complaints. Individual complaints can be made by children or groups of children who make an accusation of a rights violation. Before children bring their complaints to the Committee, they will first have to seek justice within their own country’s legal system. Inquiries refer to investigations initiated by the Committee itself when concerned about a suspected case of large scale abuses against children. Finally, inter-state communications will involve complaints by one state against another about any type of abuse, big or small.

“The Optional Protocol gives children who have exhausted all legal avenues in their own countries the possibility of applying to the Committee. It means children are able to fully exercise their rights and are empowered to have access to international human rights bodies in the same way adults are under several other human rights treaties,”explained Kirsten Sandberg, Chairperson of the Geneva-based Committee on the Rights of the Child.

Ten countries were required to sign in order to ratify the Optional Protocol and on January 14th, Costa Rica became the tenth signatory. Germany, Spain, Portugal, Thailand, Montenegro, Slovakia, Albania, Bolivia and Gabon are the other nine countries to have ratified the treaty. According to Kirsten Sandberg, “we applaud the countries that have ratified it and call on other States to take this step too.”

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