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The Convention on the Rights of the Child: implementation and challenges ahead
Catarina de Albuquerque, Child Rights International Expert

The standards

The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, adopted by the United Nations General Assembly and in force since September 1990 is the most widely ratified human rights instrument in the world with 192 States parties - there are in fact only two States that are not parties to it .

The Convention sets an ethical and legal framework for the development of a tangible agenda for children everywhere, and in addition provides a common reference to promote and assess progress within and across countries.

For many countries, the ratification of the Convention was the first international commitment made in the area of human rights.

For countries with long democratic traditions, it provided an opportunity to recognize that it was important for policies to be informed by the voices and potential of their youngest citizens, and in turn to promote a renewed reflection on the values of genuine democracy, full citizenship and social inclusion of all members of society.

The Convention also stresses that children's rights are human rights. This may be perceived as an obvious statement, but in practice children had remained invisible and unheard, and children's interests had rarely been perceived in a distinct manner. The Convention conveys the message that "children are not mini-citizens with mini-rights". While a lot still remains to be done, we need to recognize that with the Convention, children's rights can no longer be perceived as an option, a question of favour or kindness. They generate obligations everyone needs to honour and fulfil.

The Convention calls for the transparency of public policies and the monitoring of their impact on children. It also shows that this commitment needs to be translated at the municipal and local levels - with the need for municipalities to develop a clear agenda.

The Convention calls for multi-disciplinary action to overcome challenges compromising the realization of their rights. According to the Convention:

    • Children are citizens and have the right to express their views and have them taken into account;
    • All actions need to be guided by the best interests of the child, promote equity and protect against discrimination;
    • Children can no longer be perceived as not-yet persons, expected to wait in the lobby of life to become mature by the magic effect of attaining the age of majority.

The Convention stressed that every child is important. It is not enough to attain good averages or a high rate of general progress in any given country. It is critical to identify disparities, address those children who are not affected by the wave of progress, who remain neglected or forgotten on the basis of their gender, social or ethnical origin or simply because they live in remote areas.


Progress achieved

Several countries have incorporated children's rights in their Constitutions, as was the case notably in including Armenia , Belarus , Brasil , Bulgaria , Croatia , Latvia , Moldova , Nicaragua , Poland , Portugal , Romania , Russian Federation , Senegal , Slovakia , Slovenia , Spain , and South Africa .

Many States parties do the Convention also underwent an important process of law review has been undertaken to ensure compatibility with the provisions of the CRC. In some countries Child Rights Codes or Child Rights Statutes were adopted, as is the case of Brasil, Colombia, Chile, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Guatemala, Paraguay, Uruguay, Panama Mexico, Mozambique, Burkina Faso, South Africa, Malaysia and East-Timor. This has often happened in countries, which underwent a decolonisation or democratisation process.

Often, legislative changes were introduced in particular sectors, including to protect children from child labour (in India, Pakistan or Portugal), from sexual exploitation (including to establish extra-territorial jurisdiction as in the case of Australia, Belgium, Sweden and Germany), in the context of Juvenile justice (as in the case of Belgium, Sweden, Norway, Spain, Ukraine, Costa Rica and Salvador) and inter-country adoption (including in Spain, Portugal, Paraguay, Romania and the UK).

In addition, some important steps have been taken to promote behaviour change and forbid practices contrary to the spirit and provisions of the Convention, such as the prohibition of violence against children, including corporal punishment in schools and within the family (as in the case of Sweden, Austria, Finland, Norway, Denmark, Germany, Romania and Cyprus) as well as of access to an employment below a minimum legal age (as in Portugal and Romania).

These reforms are an inspiration for all and confirm the Convention's potential to promote a process of social change. However a lot remains to be done. But the normative and ethical framework of the Convention, together with national standards, are a strong foundation for the way forward.

Therefore, and in order to transform the legal principles into true practice, there are several elements that we should keep in mind:

1. First, we need to ensure that children's rights are addressed as a central, autonomous and distinct concern . They matter in all decisions and processes, and at all moments. The previous decade was instrumental to place children's rights on the map. The present one is key to achieve their effective mainstreaming into the national agenda, translate them into tangible and relevant public policies, promote an engaged participation of the civil society and generate an effective public scrutiny of governmental action. In this context it is important to mention that Romania adopted in 2004 a Law on the Protection and Promotion of the Rights of the Child (Law 272/2004), which entered into force on the 1 st of January 2005 . This Law regulates «the legal framework concerning the observance, promotion and guaranteeing of the rights of the child» - this is a comprehensive Law that sees children as unique and special human being, who have the right to receive special treatment and attention. Moreover, t he National Authority for the Protection of Child Rights (NAPCR), subordinated to the ministry of Labour, Social Solidarity and Family plays a central role on the issues affecting children's rights with strategic, regulatory, administrative, representative and monitoring functions. Also the Romanian Office for Adoptions has been set up with the role of monitoring children ready for adoption and families willing and able to adopt, monitoring the evolution of internationally adopted children and taking measures against children trafficking.

2. Second, international agreed commitments need to be translated into a clear national and municipal agenda for children's rights, framed by the CRC and adjusted to the specific reality of each country. Whatever the solution may be the children's rights agenda needs to be clearly identified and safeguarded in the overall national political and development process, including through the effective allocation of resources to achieve its goals and targets. Failing to do so, we run the risk of fragmented and insufficient action for children, and children's concerns ignored by major political, social and economic decisions.

One of the specific problems related to children's rights in Romania was the situation of the children placed in residential institutions, which was widely exposed in the international media. In this respect, , in the past years Romania has witnessed the closure of a significant number of large "old style" institutions, an increased number of new child welfare services integrated at the level of the local community, a reduced number of children cared for in residential institutions and increased number of children protected through alternative care services, the development of local social workers networks to be used for the identification, evaluation and support of the poorest/at risk families in order to prevent child abandonment and also the development of the local foster care network to ensure protection of children in need in each local community, including the children with special needs. Moreover, at the local level, the process of integrating the Departments for Child Protection into the Social Assistance Departments was undertaken as a consequence of the new legislation. This is a clear sign that international and national commitments are being integrated into a municipal agenda, which clearly supports the principle of the best interest of the child.

Third, the reality of children rights needs to be assessed and understood in an accurate, reliable and transparent manner. Only this way it will be possible to monitor policy impact on the enjoyment of children's rights, to expose challenges, to mobilize support and introduce change. In Romania an Educational Campaign on Child's Rights, financed by the European Union, is underway. The aim of the project is to train professional groups on the new legislation of child protection and on the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and the European Human Rights Convention, as well as to bring awareness on children's rights in Romania .

Finally, progress made in the realization of children's rights, needs to be regularly reviewed through a public and participatory process, in which main stakeholders, and clearly also children, take active part. We need to promote the genuine involvement of children and adolescents, both as a recognition of their citizenship, and an instrumental contribution to the consolidation of democratic institutions and good governance. In Romania a free phone line for child protection ( 0800-8-200-200 ) started its activity in November 2001, once with the launch of the Public Awareness Campaign for Preventing the Abandonment and the Institutionalization of Children in Romania "Casa de copii nu e acasa". The free phone line for child protection ( 0800-8-200-200 ) is a free phone information and counselling service, specialized on family and child protection. The phone calls of potential beneficiaries are taken over by the free phone line's specialized personnel, made up of psychologists, social assistants and legal experts. Most of the phone calls came from potential beneficiaries who had requested either support for raising their children, or information and juridical counselling on the necessary procedure for national adoption or foster care. All the cases registered by the Free Line are delivered monthly in the attention of the National Authority for Protection of Child Rights and the General Directions for Social Assistance and Child Protection, where they are taken over, checked and solved by the responsible persons working within specialized services.

Moreover, in each one of Romania's counties there are also toll-free emergency heplines for child protection. When a phone call is received, a mobile team from the respective DPC will immediately render itself at the place the call came from and make an assessment of the situation, in order for a suitable solution to be found for the child in question. This is not true for all the counties. Only some counties have set up child lines and even fewer have mobile teams responding to the calls imediately. In this case we should consider revising this paragraph or removing it if it becomes irrelevant.

Finally all the GDSACP have monitoring services, which are in charge of following-up the situation of every child which is under their jurisdiction.

The years ahead will surely be promising and crucial ones in order to make child rights a reality for all children in the world! We already have put in place the legislative tools, so what we need now is political will around the world.



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