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Youth Forum on the Right to be Heard, Day 2: Children ask questions to members of the Committee

Child Rights Information Network - News Release (
14 September 2006

At the end of the second day, the children and young people had the opportunity to ask questions to eight members of the Committee on the Rights of the Child, as well as the chair of the Committee, Jaap Doek.

The chair of the Committee greeted the children and young people and said that the Committee on the Rights of the Child was happy about the good representation of children and young people in tomorrow's debate. He then introduced the Committee members who came along for the question and answer session:

  • Lothar Krappmann (Germany)
  • David Brent Parfitt (Canada)
  • Norberto Liwski (Argentina)
  • Rosa Maria Ortiz (Paraguay)
  • Alison Anderson (Jamaica)
  • Kamel Filali (Algeria)
  • Awich Pollar (Uganda)
  • Jean Zermatten (Switzerland)

Jaap Doek added that tomorrow's debate was generating a lot of interest and that the conference room would be very crowded. The rights of the child to be heard and participate is a topic which has different aspects. The discussion will be attended by people from all works of life: diplomats from other countries interested in the topic and who will report back to their governments, NGO representatives from different countries, UN agencies representatives (UNICEF, UNESCO, ILO, WHO, etc). A very interesting mix.

He then said that the plenary session in the morning was meant to introduce the topics that the working groups were going to cover, starting around 11am. The Committee hopes that children and young people will actively participate in the discussions and in the reporting sessions. He said he hoped that they were well prepared to bring their contributions to the working group group discussions.

The end result of the Discussion Day, he said, is to issue Recommendations. After everybody goes home, Committee members will write up recommendations based on the input from all participants including children and young people's. They are supposed to be very concrete and meant for governments to undertake further actions.


Child from Wales: Why are there no children on the Committee?

Jaap Doek: The CRC is not responsible for its composition. It is an elected body, but there is no minimum age, so no legal obstacle for children and young people to be part of the Committee. However, what has to happen is that a government submits the candidacy of a child. So you have to speak to your own governments. Committee members are elected themselves, so they will be reluctant to suggest the candidacy of one specific person. However, some children's ombudspersons have advisory panels for young people. It could be done through them.

Awich Pollar: It is your own responsibility to become members of the Committee. Nobody is barring you from it.

Girl from India: Can we as children monitor the implementation of the CRC? If yes, how? If not why?

Norberto Liwski: The CRC is almost as young as all of you. The evolution of the CRC cannot be measured only by the number of countries that have ratified it. There are other ways to measure it. One way, is to look at the relationship between governments and children. Children do have the possibility to get involved in the implementation of the CRC, and it is important for children to organise in order to be able to do so. It's also important to keep knocking on the same doors so that your voices will be heard. And the Committee can and will work far better once children are part of the process and involved in the monitoring at country level. The Committee is also learning and will continue to learn on how to improve its work with children. One of the things we must do is ask States to hear children's voices in a much more substantive way.

Brent Parfitt: In many countries there are mechanisms, such as Ombudsmen for children. In Ireland, the Ombudsman office has a young person's advisory group. Also, when a country submits a report, it brings children representatives. The Committee meets separately with those children to hear their particular point of view. Which is important as children's views often differ considerably from those of adults.

Girl from Bangladesh: Why are there no children on the Committee? Also, what is the Committee going to do for those countries that have not ratified the CRC? 

Kamel Filali: To answer the second question, States have obligations after ratification, to present their initial report two years after ratification and then to report periodically. In those reports, States have to include everything that has been done within the country to enforce the CRC. The Committee prepares itself for such an examination. So previous to the session, the Committee meets with NGOs, national institutions, specialised UN agencies, and individuals, including children, who speak to the Committee in a very appropriate way on their experiences. In its final observations after examination of the report, the Committee gives its recommendations, but also has to recognise all the efforts made by the State as well as highlight the points that have not been tackled sufficiently. The Committee then emphasises the need for governments to go back to those points.

Girl from UK: It might be our responsibility to try to make our voices heard, but what if people don't listen to us? What if we don't have a children's Ombudsman office in our country?

Boy from Peru, member of the network of municipal schools and of the national network. We have to acknowledge that the Committee has invited us, and thank you for it. I want to give two reflections on the Committee: I feel that the Committee has a paternalistic attitude towards us, something which is widespread within society. Before the French revolution, feudal laws gave protection to people in return for their absolute obedience. We can establish a parallel with the relationship between adults and children. Also the CRC has an ambivalent message: on the one hand it supports more protection measure for children, at the same time, it encourages children to have more autonomy and freedom. I believe that to make autonomy real, it is necessary to have less protection but rather add more support from adults.

Boy from Ghana: How was the CRC written?

Jaap Doek: The Committee did not write the CRC. It was drafted between 1980-90 by a group of people including government representatives, and NGOs which made proposals for particular articles of the Convention. The result is a political compromise, because it is a document that must be useful for 192 States. It is a challenge for Committee members to sometimes put meat on the bones of this basic instrument and interpret the text.

Boy from Colombia:  Rosa Maria Ortiz told us that governments present their reports to the Committee on their compliance towards the CRC. Why is there no child friendly reports of State reports? Maybe there are some in other countries, but not in Colombia.

Rosa Maria Ortiz: There is not only a need for a child friendly versions of State reports, but children should also participate in the drafting of State reports and alternative (NGO) reports, and in this area, there is more experience in child participation. In addition, children should participate in the elaboration of the recommendations. I would like to emphasise that the drafting of the recommendations and of the report is an important way to participate in the CRC and to know what is happening in the country with regards to what the governments is doing and what more can be done. This is not an easy task, but you are not alone. It is an opportunity for you to participate in the monitoring system. How much you wish/can participate will depend on you and the organisation that supports you.

Boy from Wales: Why is it that if you break national law, you face legal action, but if a State violates the CRC, nothing happens, except the drafting of recommendation after recommendation? Governments are never punished.

Jaap Doek: Agrees. There is no way the Committee can enforce the CRC or punish governments. The bottom line is that CRC implementation has to take place at national level. Therefore it is important that Ombudsmen's offices are put in place, because this type of office can make a big difference in promoting children's participation at national level, and also because they enable children to get involved in putting pressure on their government to implement the CRC. See Norway, NZ, Australia, etc.

Brent Parfitt: Frustrated like the children and young people about children's voices not being heard. But a change is being operated at the moment. This is an opportunity to start on a long road towards successful child participation.

Lothar Krappmann: On the question of paternalistic protection: Protection is paternalistic when we don't ask the question of whether there is a need for protection. The CRC dos not only provide protection, it also asks for participation, and when we combine the two, then it's not a paternalistic protection, but a negotiated protection. Not ideal, but only solution.

Boy from Jamaica: The CRC says that we have a right to demand our rights, but a Convention developed 10-20 years ago is no longer relevant today. We need to revisit it.

Boy from Austria: We are happy to be here, and we want to help, and we need your help for that. We want to keep it simple and not make things complicated. Find solutions, not create problems.

Girl from UK: Why were children's rights set in place?

Jaap Doek: Because under the existing human rights treaties, children were not specifically provided for. The International Covenant on civil and political rights, and the International Covenant on social, economic and cultural right concerned the rights of adults as well as children, but there were no specific provisions for children. Additional protection was needed and that is why the CRC was drafted.

Why is it that in some countries, nothing is done for children's rights? And that some children don't know about their rights?

Jaap Doek: A lot of young people don't know, but a lot of young people do. It takes a long trip to change attitudes and mindsets and that's what the Committee is trying to do and it wants to do that with children. Our power is limited and your power is limited, but if we don't try to do it together, no one else will do it.

Girl from UK: Are we going to be taken seriously when we give our views tomorrow?

Norberto Liwski: The mechanisms in place to facilitate child participation should each day become more simple. The organisations that are dedicated to promoting children's rights should support children's involvement in the preparation of the report to the Committee. The Committee wants to be ever more close to children and learn from them and incorporate their views in its concluding observations and its recommendations.

Girl from India: What can we do concretely in our country to help?

Alison Anderson: You begin wherever you are, in your community or school, become active in your school government for example and at community level, through a community organisation, in the youth arm of a community organisation. The Committee can give you information on who to contact in your local area. Also you need to use the methods that are available to you. Write a letter to your provincial governor for example. There are simple but effective mechanisms that allow you to become more involved. All of us share your frustration about the difference between national and international law.

Rosa Maria Ortiz: The CRC is not a perfect document, it can be improved, that is why there has been two additional protocols to the Convention. It's important to take into consideration and know that human rights instruments are developed over time. They evolve in relation to the problems that we face. Also they evolve thanks to the work of activists involved in human rights protection and thanks to government actions. In different countries, there are expectations that punishment for non-compliance should come from the outside. However, some countries have mechanisms to punish non-compliance. For example, in Latin America, there is a tribunal to judge human rights violations. In Paraguay, the government has paid for its violations by paying a fine, constructing schools and closing jails. So there are many ways in which you can oblige countries to comply with human rights treaties. The important thing is to remember that we inherit the achievements that others have fought for. And it is up to us now to conquer even more and making sure that CRC implementation keeps being improved.

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