Championing Children’s Rights: A global study of independent human rights institutions for children – summary report

from UN Children's Fund
Published on 31 Oct 2012 View Original


Over the last two decades, progress in the development of independent human rights institutions for children has been remarkable. In 1989, there were far fewer than the more than 200 independent institutions that exist today in over 70 countries. Taking many forms – children’s ombudspersons, human rights commissions or children’s commissioners – they share the unique role of facilitating governance processes for children, and have emerged as important actors for the implementation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child. Their work remains little known, however, and their specification as both public and independent institutions is often difficult to grasp.

Independent institutions bring an explicit children’s focus to traditionally adult-oriented governance systems. Often offering direct mechanisms for greater accountability of the state and other duty bearers for children, they fi ll gaps in checks and balances and make sure that the impact of policy and practice on children’s rights is understood and recognized. They support remedy and reform when things have gone wrong or results are inadequate. Far from taking responsibility away from the plethora of often better-known institutions affecting children – schools, health services, government departments, local authorities, private sector actors and parents themselves – the work of independent institutions complements and strengthens their performance to realize the rights of all children.

Amidst the current global economic uncertainty, inequities between rich and poor are widening in some countries. It is a period, too, of reflection on progress towards achieving the Millennium Development Goals and in defining sustainable and equitable goals to follow them. During such times, independent institutions are key players in promoting systems that advance and are responsive to the rights of children; the Committee on the Rights of the Child has been their most unwavering supporter.

Yet the role and position of independent institutions are contested. Their recommendations are too often left unattended by the very governments and parliaments responsible for their creation. In the context of significant economic constraint, these typically small offices are the targets of budgetary cuts. They need to constantly demonstrate their relevance in an area where the direct attribution of results is difficult. Challenges can also be internal; the effectiveness of these institutions depends on their ability to reach out to the most marginalized children and provide an adequate remedy for rights’ violations. Leadership and capacity are core aspects of their ability to fulfil their mission.

This study, globally the first comprehensive review of independent human rights institutions for children, takes stock of more than 20 years of their experience. It represents the first phase of a body of work that will also explore, among other topics, good governance, decision-making and coordination for the implementation of children’s rights.

An associated technical report provides practitioners with a more extensive discussion of the issues summarized in the pages that follow as well as a series of regional analyses from around the world. Our aim is to help readers understand the purpose and potential of independent human rights institutions for children, what it is they do and how they operate. Both reports invite policymakers and practitioners to consider how the role of such institutions can be strengthened and enhanced.

What is at stake here is the place of children, and especially the most marginalized and excluded, in our societies. In a political system made for adults, what makes an institution fit for children? Independent institutions are a window not only on the character of childhood in a given country, but also on the way adults and the policies they create really view and respect childhood.