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There are nine UN human rights treaties. Each of the nine treaties has its own treaty body, or committee of experts, which monitors the implementation of the provisions of these treaties, by the states which have ratified them. One of these treaties is dedicated to children's human rights - the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC). The CRC sets out children's most basic human rights, such as their right to survival, and protection from harmful influences, abuse and exploitation. It also sets standards in healthcare, education, and legal, civil and social services for children. Its treaty body is the Committee on the Rights of the Child.
Currently, seven of the treaty bodies may, under certain conditions, receive and consider complaints or communications from individuals. This does not include the Committee on the Rights of the Child. This means that a child cannot complain to the Committee about violations of their human rights. This situation could change though...
A complaints mechanism for children's rights violations
In December 2011, the UN General Assembly adopted the Optional Protocol to the CRC on a communications procedure. So what does this mean? An optional protocol can either make provisions for procedures with regards to a treaty (in this case the CRC), or it can address a substantive area related to the treaty. States which are party to the main treaty can sign and ratify optional protocols.
The communications procedure is the third Optional Protocol to the CRC. (The other two are the Optional Protocol on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography, and the Optional Protocol on the involvement of children in armed conflict.) The third Optional Protocol is not yet in force, because ten states have to ratify it first. After this, it will become international law. Children in states which ratify this Optional Protocol will then be able to submit complaints to the Committee on the rights of the Child, if their rights have been violated, and if they have exhausted all domestic remedies to seek justice. So far, eight countries have ratified the third Optional Protocol.
What sort of human rights violations would children be able to complain about?
Children would be able submit complaints to the Committee on the Rights of the Child, if their rights under the CRC had been violated, so long as their country had ratified the CRC. If their country had also ratified either or both of the other two Optional Protocols, children would also be able to submit complaints if their rights under these had been violated too.
Most countries in the world have ratified the CRC. In fact, only the USA, Somalia and South Sudan have not. Fewer countries have signed the first and second Optional Protocols. The ideal situation would be for all states to ratify the CRC and the three Optional Protocols, to give greater protection to children's rights globally, and to allow children to complain about human rights violations at an international level.
What happens next?
On the day the UN General Assembly adopted the third Optional Protocol, Save the Children made this statement:
"Save the Children with over 80 international and national NGOs have been campaigning for many years to offer children a level of protection equivalent to that provided to adults by other core human rights treaties. Now that the international legal framework is created, the NGO coalition is dedicated to campaigning for the widespread ratification of the Protocol and making sure it is used to make a real difference in the struggle to protect children around the world."
It is important for as many states as possible to ratify the third Optional Protocol. Firstly, so that it will come into force (and just two more states need to ratify it to make this happen!), and secondly, so that as many children as possible will have access to the communications procedure and can complain about violations of their human rights.
An international coalition concerned with the communications procedure, called Ratify OP3 CRC, has provided material which explains more about the Optional Protocol itself, including a child-friendly leaflet, as well as an advocacy toolkit and template letters you can send to your government, to urge them to ratify this Optional Protocol. All of these resources can be found on this page.
Children are one of the most vulnerable groups in society. Giving them a way to speak out and complain against violations of their human rights at an international level, is an important and empowering thing to do.