By Sofía García García, Representative to the UN and Head of Strategic Partnerships and Elisabeth Schmidt-Hieber, Communications Advisor Advocacy at SOS Children’s Villages International
One year on from the adoption of the UN Resolution on the Rights of the Child focusing, for the first time ever, on children without parental care, awareness and recognition of the situation of this group of children have increased. It is now time to act and make those commitments a reality putting policies and finance in place to realize them for all children. We need to come together in a multi-stakeholder partnership to make this work.
The UN General Assembly resolution (A/RES/74/133) was adopted on 12 November 2019. It is a landmark step in recognizing the situation of children without parental care. Never before had member states made such an explicit commitment to end unnecessary child family separation and address its root causes effectively.
Proper implementation at national and regional levels, however, is yet to follow.
In fact, since the adoption of the resolution, a lot has changed. More children are in a vulnerable situation, more families struggle economically and there is a risk of regressing on child protection measures.
The COVID-19 pandemic and related measures have further exposed already existing inequalities in accessing basic rights such as education. Worse, the pandemic has been used at times to justify a neglect of monitoring and implementing children’s well-being and rights, ignoring the negative long-term consequences of doing so.
According to findings of UNICEF, 117 million more children could be pushed into monetary poor households by the end of this year alone. Poverty is a major root cause of preventable child family separation.
These most recent developments demonstrate how needed the resolution’s commitments are and that there is no time to lose for governments to act on these commitments. In fact, the resolution’s two main areas: strengthening the economic, social, and parenting capacity of families to prevent family breakdown and providing quality alternative care solutions that meet the needs of the individual child in case of necessary child family separation, are key to tackle and reverse these negative trends.
Besides a missed opportunity with dreadful consequences for many children, not implementing the resolution can lead to the perception that international policymaking remains at a higher distant level, too far from the realities said to be changed. Bringing international policy to the local level for real impact will show the importance of multilateralism at a time where it is highly needed.
Measures with a lasting positive impact
The resolution shows that when we take measures to protect children in need of alternative care and prevent family breakdown, we are supporting the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). At a time when governments, pressured by the immediate and long-term consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic and other crises, are searching for ways to build back better while achieving sustainable development, implementing this resolution is a practical, detailed and impactful tool to achieve both.
The ramifications of proper social protection floors (paragraph 34 g), listening to the voices of children (paragraph. 34k) and improving gate-keeping systems (paragraph 34l) have a far-reaching impact and are an indicator for policies that are sustainable.
With a wealth of direct experience in providing care to children and effectively preventing child family separation, organizations such as SOS Children’s Villages offer support to governments around the world to build a bridge between the policymaking level and adapting solutions to different contexts on the ground as well as to monitor implementation and good practices effectively.
Making everyone aware of governments’ commitments
A first step towards effective implementation is reaching all those who work with and for children to be aware of the commitments and solutions laid out in the resolution. Policy agreements and frameworks can often seem distant and complex to those who directly work with children and young people but are crucial in their role as care experts to implement measures.
The new user friendly version of the UN Rights of the Child Resolution focusing on children without parental care explains the original text in an easy-to-follow way targeting policy-makers, care professionals, social workers and all those working with and for children, including judges, lawyers, health professionals, teachers and government officers.
Building on the potential of partnerships including children and young people
The direct experience of caregivers on the ground coupled with expert knowledge on care solutions, social protection measures and support for families is key for effective implementation of child rights frameworks.
It takes a multi-stakeholder partnership to adequately assess different realities, find solutions to challenges and maintain ongoing dialogue with governments to make the commitments of the resolution a reality for children.
Children who lived in difficult family situations or who needed to be separated from their parents are experts on knowing the consequences and coming up with solutions. However, they are often not heard, in the very courthouses, police stations, hospitals, social service centers and schools that decide over their destiny, let alone in the policy-making arena.
It is their right to be heard, and this should happen by treating them as equal partners aiming to find solutions in debates and decisions affecting their lives. Partnering with children and young people directly can significantly contribute to implement commitments made in the resolution and other child rights frameworks effectively. They can guide us on how to turn words into action and make policies lead to positive impact for all.
On the occasion of commemorating the anniversary of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, the official date when children were recognized as particular rights holders 31 years ago, the international community should seize the opportunity of using shared expertise to confront current challenges and crises for the benefit of the individual child and societies as a whole.