During the 2021 High Level Political Forum (HLPF), on July 13, Child Rights Connect together with the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child (the Committee) and UNICEF, organised a side-event on Equitable access to justice for all children.
The event was co-sponsored by the Permanent Missions of the Federal Republic of Germany and the Republic of Slovenia in New York as co-chairs of the Group of Friends on the Rights of the Child in Geneva, the Permanent Mission of the Kingdom of Belgium in New York, and Child Rights International Network (CRIN).
Reaching a wide and diverse audience, including representatives from different States, civil society, UN agencies and child human rights defenders (CHRDs), it was truly a day of many firsts. For the first time ever, both the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child and Child Rights Connect, as its strategic partner, participated and co-organised an event at the HLPF, the core UN platform to follow-up and review of the 2030 Agenda for the Sustainable Development and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). And it was also the first time this topic was addressed within the framework of the HLPF.
As noted by the moderator of the event, Genevieve Boutin (UNICEF Deputy Director of Programmes), this event shed a new light on an issue either too often neglected or considered not a central child rights issue.
Indeed, the discussions contributed to clarifying the meaning and scope of access to justice, challenging common misconceptions. They also provided the opportunity to present and discuss the various avenues various avenues that children can – and do – pursue to claim their rights, the barriers they face when doing so and the possible ways to overcome these.
In the COVID-19 context, where children’s rights have been largely deprioritised, access to justice, including for children, as an integral part of the SDGs, has also an important role to play in combating inequalities and leaving no one behind.
Opening the panel, the Chair of the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, Mikiko Otani, accentuated how access to justice, as both a fundamental and gateway right, recognises children as full-fledged right holders and gives meaning to all the other rights enshrined in the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
Dohyeon Kim and Yujin Kim, two child and young climate activists from South Korea, shared with the audience their experience in engaging in national litigation for climate inaction. “I really think that it is time for us to change the perspective on children, change the discourse surrounding children and start seeing us as defenders of our own rights, rather than powerless victims who need special care and protection only. And I think that is essentially what children’s access to justice is about: giving them tools and agency to protect themselves. And that is what today’s event is also about”, said Dohyeon Kim.
Other panellists, such as Amparo Peñaherrera from the Federación de Mujeres de Sucumbíos in Ecuador and Aneta Genova, a Bulgarian lawyer providing legal support to children with disabilities, also reminded us of the many barriers children and especially the most vulnerable and excluded groups of children, face when they seek justice. Yet these obstacles are not unsurmountable.
Theoni Koufonikolakou, the Greek Deputy Ombudswoman for Children, talked about the role human and children’s rights institutions play in addressing the existing obstacles and the importance of making complaints systems accessible for all children without discrimination.
Complementing the remarks already made by panellists and certainly deserving a special mention, the Optional Protocol on a Communications Procedure (OPIC) made an appearance. Participants had the opportunity to watch a video showcasing the positive outcomes of a recent interim measures request by the Committee under the OPIC.
Many speakers and attendees, including several Committee members and representatives of the Permanent Missions of Germany and Slovenia, also took this opportunity to encourage States to ratify this important instrument.
In the words of Alex Conte, Executive Director of Child Rights Connect, “as part of a holistic approach to ensuring national-to-international redress for children, we call on states to ratify the OPIC. This is integral and indispensable to enhancing child access to justice through an international child sensitive mechanism that can fill gaps at the national level and further advance the full implementation of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.”
For further information on the event, please contact Beatriz Santaemilia at firstname.lastname@example.org