The Convention on the Rights of a Child was adopted nearly 23 years ago. The document grew out of a growing recognition that children needed special protection if the United Nations was to meet its goals of securing human rights for all. In the Universal Declaration of Human Rights the needs of children are specially pointed out. Starting with the Geneva Declaration of the Rights of the Child in 1924, and acknowledging the U.N.’s Declaration adopted by the general assembly in 1959 and several other documents, the Convention remains the guiding instrument in efforts around the world to secure the safety and future of all children.
One interesting part of the Convention is its adherence to the principle of respect for the views of the child. This probably receives the least attention in the efforts of child advocates, but is one of four principles specifically addressed by the document.
Sharon Whitaker, in RightsNI, writes about efforts to align the juvenile justice system in Northern Ireland with international standards. Whitaker is a communications worker at Include Youth, an advocacy group that promotes best practices with at–risk youth. They do this by helping young people directly engage in policy discussions.
In December they facilitated a meeting between members of their Young Voices project and Thomas Hammarberg, then Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights. In the commissioner’s letter to Kenneth Clarke, the UK Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice, many of the issues raised by the young people he met inIreland are specifically addressed. One of the most important was the continued housing of juvenile inmates with adult prisoners.
Ms. Whitaker writes that, “…the Commissioner noted that notwithstanding the economic recession and budgetary cuts, there is an obligation on government to ensure that the youth justice system in Northern Ireland is fully child rights compliant.” He also pointed out deficiencies in mental health and educational programs for the incarcerated youth.
This is a good example of an organization promoting actual youth involvement in policy making, and one I hope to see replicated in other countries.