Training Manual on Human Rights Monitoring - Chapter XII: Children's Rights





1. Why do children have a set of human rights specific to them?

2. The protection of children under international human rights and humanitarian law

3. Integrating children's rights into human rights field operations and developing a strategy

4. Some examples of broad child rights strategies         

5. Monitoring and reporting on respect for children's rights

6. Working with children

Appendix I to Chapter XII: Sources of Further Information



This chapter of the manual focuses on children's rights and the contribution that can be made by a human rights field operation, and individual human rights officers, to their respect, fulfillment, promotion and protection. Special attention is given here to children because:

a)      of the particular vulnerability of children;

b)      some children's rights are different from those accorded to adults;

c)      some children's rights may need to be respected, fulfilled or protected in different ways from more general human rights;

d)      and because in many situations in which human rights officers may operate, such as internally displaced persons camps, children often make up over 50% of the population.


1. Why do children have a set of human rights specific to them?

The general thrust behind national and international action on behalf of children is the moral and legal recognition of their emotional, physical and psychological vulnerability, their need for special care, and  recognition of the obligation to respect and ensure respect for their rights including having their views respected. These concerns reflect the value that society places on childhood for its own sake, not as a training ground for adulthood. Simultaneously we must recognize that events in childhood will affect the individual as an adult and consequently, society as a whole. The international community has recognized the need for standards beyond those defined by the international bill of human rights to address specific classes of injustice and the status of entire groups of persons, and it has acknowledged the need for programmatic tools to address the special needs of vulnerable communities. In the case of children, the Convention on the Rights of the Child(CRC) is the main legal instrument of an increasing body of international law specific to them.

 a) Children are the subjects of rights

A key concept of the CRC is that children - as individuals - have rights, and these must be enumerated, legally binding and made specific to the evolving development of the child.

b) Children can be affected differently from adults by the same violations

Children benefit from almost all of the same human rights that are accorded to adults.  Interruptions to children's development have the potential to affect them far more seriously than adults. An adult who lives through a situation of armed conflict, who is displaced from his home who is unable to gain steady employment and who suffers from malnutrition and illtreatment over a period of 4 years, may be expected to  continue his life in a normal manner at the end of the displacement and its causes. A child living through the same situation: may suffer permanently from stunted growth and mental development as a result of malnutrition and illtreatment; and without access to a school during the displacement may never again be able to recover the lost opportunity for education and thus be deprived of many opportunities in the future. It is clear that the same threats to the same human rights of adults can affect children differently. It follows that children require different types of human rights protection and promotion.

c) The rights of children as individuals are closely linked to the rights of other persons

The majority of human rights accorded to adults are assessed on the basis of the rights and obligations of the individual. While recognising and indeed emphasising that children as individuals are the subjects of rights, one should note also that children's rights are closely linked to the rights of other persons of significance to them. In broad terms, this happens in two ways:

·         The link between children and adults: Many human rights protections for adults are based around the concept of ensuring that an adult has the opportunity to take decisions that will affect her or has the opportunity to represent her views. Refugee law for example provides that every person has the right to return to his or her country, however, the capacity to exercise that right depends on the refugee having all the relevant information and understanding required to make a good decision. A baby, clearly cannot make such decisions and is dependent on older persons. Older children have varying capacities to make decisions, according to their individual personalities and according to their age and are also dependent upon adults for the protection of their rights, although to varying extents. Thus, the protection of the human rights of children often gives a major role to an adult - usually a child's parents or other legal guardian. By extension, the effective protection and promotion of a child's rights can often be closely linked to the effective protection and promotion of the rights of those adults upon whom a child is dependent. For example, when an adult refugee who has responsibility for 3 children, is arbitrarily detained the rights of the 3 children may well be violated as a direct consequence of the violation of the adult's rights.

·         The rights of parents or other legal guardians: while children benefit from numerous rights these are accompanied by the rights of parents, or a child's other legal guardians, which can include a significant role for these persons in deciding what is in the child's best interests. One should be able to respect child rights and advance their best interests without infringing on the rights of adults. In strict legal terms, the rights of parents and other guardians over children are limited to the best interests of the child.

d) Children's vulnerability

According to their age, children may be less able to protect themselves from violations of their rights, or even to take advantage of protections that may be available. In addition, particular situations or circumstances can be more dangerous for children than for adults; indeed, some violations are only faced by children. Pedophilia and the use of children in pornography, for example, are acts specific to children. Female genital mutilation is typically performed on girls whose young age prevents their opinions from being taken into consideration in decisions as to whether or not such procedures should be performed. Children in certain situations may find themselves criminalised even though they have committed no crime. This is sometimes the case, for example, for children living on city streets or in railway stations.

There are a number of  factors which can be said to greatly increase the vulnerability of most children to additional abuses of their rights. These include poor access to education; poor access to health care; situations of armed conflict in the region in which a child lives; population displacement; family break-up; and severe poverty. In particular, one should note that it is often a combination or sequence of different factors which  create the most vulnerability; for example, a combination of poor education and population displacement can be factors which aggravate the spread of HIV/AIDS which in turn contributes to family break-up (where parents fall ill and die) and sever child poverty.

Some threats to children's rights might be more likely to affect girls rather than boys, or vice versa. For example, boys are more likely to be recruited as child soldiers, while girls are more likely to be the victims of sexual exploitation by soldiers or armed opposition groups. Girls are more likely to be the victims of forced early marriages. However, it is important to be cautious when categorising risks by gender girls can be forcibly recruited as soldiers and boys can be the victims of sexual exploitation, for example.

2. The protection of children under international human rights and humanitarian law

As described above, children benefit from a wide range of human rights instruments and provisions. Many of these are the same as the human rights protections available to adults. Others, however, are specific to children. The Convention on the rights of the child provides the single most comprehensive human rights protections for children. Other international legal instruments provide complementary protections, some of which are specific to issues such as juvenile justice, adoption and exploitation or to situations, such as the use of children in armed conflicts. International instruments are sometimes supported by the existence of regional instruments; and regional instruments sometimes set higher standards than international treaties.

Many of the relevant legal instruments are described in detail in Part Two. III. ("Applicable International Human Rights and Humanitarian Law: The Framework") of the field manual, and readers should also draw extensively from Chapter III when working on children's rights. The present section focuses only on legal instruments of specific relevance to children and notably on the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

a. The Convention on the Rights of the Child

The human rights of children are most concisely and fully articulated in one international human rights treaty: the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

·         The Convention is the most widely ratified human rights instrument in history (Footnote: As of October 2000 the Convention had been ratified by every State in the world with the exception of two).

·         The Convention is the first legally binding international instrument to incorporate such a broad range of human rights - civil and political rights as well as economic, social and cultural rights.

·         The Convention is the only human rights treaty to incorporate aspects of international humanitarian law.

(Footnote: The following comments within Part 2. a) on the Convention are excerpts from an introduction prepared for Defence for Children International (DCI) as Part 1 of the DCI Kit of international standards concerning the rights of the child.)

The entry into force of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child on 2 September 1990 marked the culmination of nearly 70 years of efforts designed to ensure that the international community give proper recognition to the special needs and vulnerability of children as human beings.

- The Convention in general

Rather than a catalogue of children's rights, the Convention in fact constitutes a comprehensive listing of the obligations that States are prepared to recognise towards the child. These obligations may be of a direct nature - providing education facilities and ensuring proper administration of juvenile justice, for example - or indirect, enabling parents, the wider family or guardians to carry out their primary roles and responsibilities as caretakers and protectors.

The Convention covers the whole range of human rights. Traditionally, these have been classified as civil and political on the one hand, and economic; social and cultural on title other. Although reference is made to this classification in article 4 of the treaty, the substantive articles themselves are not explicitly divided in this way. Indeed, the whole thrust of the Convention is to emphasise the inter-connected and mutually-reinforcing nature of all rights. In this respect, it can be more' useful to describe the range of rights covered by the Convention as the three "Ps": provision, protection and participation. Thus, essentially, children have the right to be provided with certain things and services, ranging from a name and nationality to health care and education. They have the right to be protected from certain acts such as torture, exploitation, arbitrary detention and unwarranted removal from parental care. And children have the right to do things and to have their say, in other words to participate both in decisions affecting their lives and in society as a whole.

In bringing together all these rights in a single cohesive text, the Convention sets out to do three basic things:

1.       To reaffirm, with regard to children, rights already afforded to human beings in general through other treaties. Some of these rights, such as protection from torture, are non-controversial in terms of their applicability to children. Others, like freedom of expression, freedom of assembly, freedom of religion and the right to social security, gave rise to heated debate during the drafting process as to whether or not, and under what conditions, children could and should be the explicit beneficiaries. Consequently, reaffirmation was by no means a superfluous exercise, but a very necessary means of underlining the fact that children are human beings too.

2.       To upgrade certain basic human rights In order to take account of the special needs and vulnerability of children. An obvious example here is that of acceptable conditions of employment, where standards must be tighter for children and young people than for adults. Another is the conditions under which children may be deprived of their liberty.

3.       To establish standards in areas that are pertinent only, or more specifically, to children. Safeguarding the child's interests in adoption proceedings, access to primary education, prevention of and protection from intra-familial abuse and neglect, as well as the recovery of maintenance payments, are among the child-specific issues addressed by the Convention.

-          The Convention's provisions

The Committee on the Rights of the Child has identified the following articles as "general principles" that are basic to implementation of all rights contained in the Convention:

·         Article 2 on non-discrimination;

·         Article 3 on the best interests of the child;

·         Article 6 on the right to life, survival and development;

·         Article 12 on respect for the views of the child,

The Convention contains three major substantive innovations:

·         Firstly, it introduces "participation" rights for children, which were notably absent from previous Declarations. Linked with this is the explicit recognition of the need to ensure that children themselves are informed about their rights.

·         Secondly, the Convention takes up questions never previously dealt with in an international instrument: the right to rehabilitation of children who have suffered various forms of cruelty and exploitation, for example, and the obligation of governments to take measures to abolish traditional practices harmful to children's health.

·         Thirdly, it includes principles and standards that have so far figured only in non-binding texts, notably those relating to adoption and juvenile justice.

The Convention also introduces two significant conceptual elements with important substantive ramifications:

·         The "best interests of the child" (article 3) becomes the compulsory criterion "for all actions concerning children "~ necessarily in conjunction with all pertinent rights set out elsewhere in the Convention?'

·         The principle that parents (or others responsible for the child) should provide guidance to their child in exercising his or her rights, in accordance with the child's "evolving capacities" (article 5).

A significant number of the CRC's provisions have innovative characteristics:

1.       Preservation of identity (art. 8): This is a totally new obligation. Here, the Convention underscores the child's right to name and nationality by the careful protection of the child's identity. The drafters of the Convention included this provision at the suggestion of Argentina in the light of that country's experience, during the Seventies, of mass "disappearances" of children whose identity papers had been deliberately falsified and family ties arbitrary severed.

2.       The child's opinion (art. 12): The right of the child not only to express an opinion but also to have the opinion taken into account in matters that affect him or her is a highly significant recognition of the need to give children a greater say in their own lives.

3.       Child abuse and neglect (art. 19): The feature of special interest in this article is the emphasis placed on the prevention of intra-familial abuse and neglect, which has never previously figured in a binding instrument.

4.       Adoption (art. 2 1): This article is of special importance because of the emphasis it places on the need for strong safeguards surrounding the adoption process - especially as regards inter country adoption - and the fact that it brings into this instrument principles that were adopted only three years previously by th United Nations in the framework of a non- binding declaration.

5.       Health (art. 24): In addition to its explicit references to primary health care and to education regarding the advantages of breast-feeding as means of promotion access to the highest attainable standard of health, this article stands out because it mentions - for the first time in a binding international instrument - a State obligation to work towards the abolition of traditional practices, such as female circumcision and preferential treatment of male children, that have harmful consequences for children's health.

6.       Periodic review of placement (art. 26): The obligation to review periodically all institutional placements designed to ensure the care, protection or treatment of children, in order to determine whether or not they are still appropriate, responds to a recently-voiced concern and, again, has never previously figured in human rights instrument.

7.       Education (art. 28): The novelty here is that, whilst corporal punishment is not explicitly outlawed, there is reference to the fact school discipline must be administered "in a manner consistent with child's human dignity".

8.       Drug abuse (art. 33): This is the first time that explicit mention is made of the need for protection of children from drug abuse and from being used in the production and distribution process of illicit substances.

9.       Deprivation of liberty (art. 37): The aspect of special note in this article is the inclusion of the principle that deprivation of liberty must be looked upon as a last resort and, If it is the nonetheless ordered, must be limited to possible period of time.

10.   Social rehabilitation and rehabilitative care (art. 39): An important addition to the body of children's rights is this article which places an obligation on States to promote adequate treatment for children harmed physically or psychologically as a result of violations of their right to protection, in particular, from exploitation and cruelty.

11.   Administration of juvenile justice (art. 40): Many of the essential principles of the 1985 UN Standard Minimum Rules of Administration of juvenile justice - a non-binding instrument - have been incorporated into this article, the longest and the most detailed of the whole Convention, with the result that international norms in this sphere have been significantly upgraded.

12.   Making Convention known (art. 42): Strictly speaking, this article comes under the implementation provisions of the Convention. It is well worth highlighting here, however, because it is the first time that specific and explicit recognition has been given to the need for children themselves to receive information on their rights. This is a further indication of the gradually changing attitude towards children that, overall, this Convention both reflects and helps to fosters.

This is not an exhaustive list of the improvements that the Convention brings to children's rights. Many others improvements - including those dealing with minority children or indigenous children, the special needs of handicapped children, protection from all forms of exploitation, freedom of expression and association, to name but a few - could also validly be mentioned.

- The Committee on the Rights of the Child

The CRC creates a monitoring mechanism along the same general pattern as earlier international treaties such as the Convention Against Torture. Under the Implementation mechanism provisions in the Convention itself, a Committee on the Rights of the Child composed of ten "independent experts” is elected for renewable terms by States Parties to the Convention (i.e. those States that have ratified the CRC) and monitor States' compliance with their obligations. The Committee conducts its monitoring work based on reports  provided by States every 5 years, as well as other information made available by reliable sources. The number of experts on the Committee is likely to be raised to 18 to cope with a growing workload.

- Applicability

The Convention is legally binding within the jurisdiction of every State in which it has been ratified - although different States have different methods of introducing international law into their domestic legal systems, which will in turn have an impact on the manner in which the Convention can be used, for example, by domestic courts.

The rights provided for in the Convention are applicable to all children within the jurisdiction of a State, irrespective of a child's nationality or other status. Thus, any child who has entered a foreign country (which has ratified the Convention) will be entitled to all of the Convention's rights, in the same way as children who are nationals of that country.

b. Optional protocols to the Convention on the Rights of the Child

Two Optional Protocols to the Convention on the Rights of the Child were adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on 25 May 2000:

·         Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the involvement of children in armed conflict

·         Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography

In order for the Optional Protocols to enter into force, States must ratify each of the Protocols following the same procedure required when ratifying the Convention. In the case of the Optional Protocol on the involvement of children in armed conflict, upon ratification States are also required to make a binding declaration regarding the age at which they will permit voluntary recruitment into national forces.

- Optional Protocol on the involvement of children in armed conflict

In article 38, the Convention on the Rights of the Child urges States Parties to take all feasible measures to ensure that persons who have not attained the age of fifteen take no direct part in hostilities. On 25 May 2000, the General Assembly adopted by consensus the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the involvement of children in armed conflict.

The Optional Protocol's main provisions include:

·         Participation in hostilities: States Parties must take all feasible measures to ensure that members of their armed forces that are under the age of eighteen do not take direct part in hostilities.

·         Conscription: States Parties must not conscript (compulsorily recruit) any persons under the age of eighteen.

·         Non-governmental Armed Groups: Rebel or other non-governmental armed groups are prohibited from recruiting under-18 year-olds or using them in hostilities. States Parties are required to criminalize such practices and take other measures to prevent the recruitment and use of children by such groups.

·         Voluntary recruitment: States Parties must raise their minimum age for a voluntary recruitment beyond the current minimum of fifteen, and must deposit a binding declaration stating the minimum age they will respect. (In practice, this means the minimum age for voluntary recruitment is sixteen.) States Parties recruiting under-18 year-olds must maintain a series of safeguards, ensuring that such recruitment is genuinely voluntary; is done with the informed consent of the person’s parents or legal guardians; that recruits are fully informed of the duties involved in military service; and that proof of age is established.

·         Implementation: States Parties must demobilize children recruited or used in violation of the protocol, and provide appropriate rehabilitation and reintegration assistance.

·         Ratification: All States can sign and ratify the protocol, regardless of whether or not they have ratified the underlying Convention on the Rights of the Child.

Relevant UN bodies and NGOs are currently urging States to ratify the Optional Protocol and to endorse 18 as the minimum age at which voluntary recruitment will be permitted. The United Nations has indicated that countries contributing to UN peacekeeping operations should not send civilian police or military observers under age 25, and troops should, ideally, be over 21, but never younger than 18.

- Optional Protocol on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography

 The Optional Protocol supplements the provisions of the Convention on the Rights of the Child by providing detailed requirements for the criminalization of violations of the rights of children in the context of the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography.

Key Provisions include:


·         Definitions for the offences of "sale of children", "child prostitution" and "child pornography".

·         Setting standards for the treatment of violations under domestic law, including with regard to offenders,

·         protection of victims and prevention efforts.

·         Providing a framework for increased international cooperation in these areas, in particular for the prosecution of offenders.

The Optional Protocol gives special emphasis to the criminalization of serious violations of children's rights - namely sale of children, illegal adoption, child prostitution and pornography. Similarly, the text stresses the value of international cooperation as a means of combating these transnational activities, and of public awareness, information and education campaigns to enhance the protection of children from these serious violations of their rights.

It is important to recall that interpretation of both Optional Protocols to the CRC must be undertaken in light of the Convention as a whole and be guided by the principles of non-discrimination, best interests and child participation.

c) The protection of children under the Geneva Conventions and their Additional Protocols


International humanitarian law (IHL) is applicable in all situations of armed conflict. Detailed information on the overall content of IHL is provided in earlier chapters of this Field Manual and clearly the general provisions in international humanitarian law on the protection of civilians in armed conflict apply equally to children. In addition, however, the 1949 Geneva Conventions and the two Additional Protocols of 1977 contain some 25 articles which specifically refer to children. Human Rights Officers are encouraged to draw upon standards of international humanitarian law in their work, including those provisions specific to children. The following is an overview of some of these provisions.


The Fourth Geneva Convention, which deals with the protection of civilians in armed conflict, contains several provisions for the protection of children. For example:


·         Article 14 indicates that safety zones may be used to provide protection to children under fifteen, in particular.

·         Children are also mentioned in Article 17, which provides for the evacuation of civilians from besieged areas.

·         Article 23, which deals with the free passage of relief consignments intended for particularly vulnerable groups among the civilian population, explicitly refers to children under fifteen.

·         Article 24 is devoted to the protection of children under fifteen who are orphaned or who are separated from their families as a result of the war, and provides for the identification of children under twelve.

·         In Article 38, which applies to protected persons in the national territory of belligerents, children under fifteen are included amongst those persons who should enjoy preferential treatment to the same extent as nationals of the State concerned.

·         Article 50 deals with children in occupied territories and the institutions devoted to their care, while Article 51 prohibits the occupying State from compelling children under eighteen years of age to work.

·         Article 68 prohibits the sentencing of the death penalty to a protected person who was under eighteen years of age at the time of the offence.

In addition to these provisions, the principle of the special protection of children as victims in international armed conflict is explicitly stated in Additional Protocol I to the Geneva Conventions. Article 77 (1) of the Protocol states that “Children shall be the object of special respect and shall be protected against any form of indecent assault. The Parties to the conflict shall provide them with the care and aid they require, whether because of their age or for any other reason.”

Additional Protocol II to the Geneva Conventions contains similar provisions with regard to the protection of children in non-international armed conflict. Article 4 of Additional Protocol II on ‘fundamental guarantees’, for example, contains provisions devoted specifically to the protection of children and reiterates some of the principles contained in the Fourth Geneva Convention, including Articles 17, 24 and 26 in particular.

It is important to note that responsibility for the implementation of international humanitarian law, including the special protection it affords to children, is a collective responsibility. It is the duty of the States party to the Geneva Conventions to respect and ensure respect for these standards.  The Convention on the Rights of the Child reiterates this duty in Article 38, which provides that “States Parties undertake to respect and ensure respect for rules of International Humanitarian Law applicable to them in armed conflicts which are relevant to the child”. According to this article, States party to the Convention on the Rights of the Child “shall take all feasible measures to ensure protection and care of children who are affected by armed conflict” in accordance with their obligations under international humanitarian law to protect the civilian population in armed conflict.

d) Other human rights instruments specific to children

Some of these instruments provide guidance and are not considered binding in and of themselves; while others are legally binding upon ratification.

- Juvenile justice instruments

The following instruments provide guidance as to the application of juvenile justice, and are not legally binding in themselves, although a significant number of their provisions can be argued to be legally binding in the context of other legal instruments.

·         United Nations Rules for the Protection of Juveniles Deprived of their Liberty (U.N. Doc. A/45/113 (1990))

United Nations Guidelines for the Prevention of Juvenile - ILO Convention 182 concerning the Prohibition and Immediate Action for the Elimination of the Worst Forms of Child Labour


In June 1999, the International Labour Conference adopted a new Convention (No. 182) concerning the prohibition and immediate elimination of the worst forms of child labour. The Convention entered into force on the 19th November 2000. Main provisions include:

·         Article 1: Each State Party to this Convention shall take immediate and effective measures to secure the prohibition and immediate elimination of the worst forms of child labour as a matter of urgency.

·         Article 2: For the purpose of this Convention, the term ‘child’ shall apply to all persons under the age of 18.

·         Article 3: For the purpose of this Convention, the term ‘the worst forms of child labour’ comprises: (a) all forms of slavery or practices similar to slavery, such as the sale and trafficking of children, debt bondage and serfdom and forced or compulsory labour, including forced or Delinquency (The Riyadh Guidelines) (U.N. Doc.A/45/112 (1990)).

·         United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Administration of Juvenile Justice ("The Beijing Rules") (U.N.Doc. A/40/33 (1985))

·         compulsory recruitment of children for use in armed conflict”.

- African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child (1990)

The African Member States of the Organization of African Unity have developed a regional child rights instrument, the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child (1990) that entered into force in November 1999. The Charter establishes an African Committee of Experts on the Rights and Welfare of the Child empowered to receive state reports as well as communications from individuals, groups or non-governmental organisations recognised by the OAU, a Member State or from the United Nations. A particularly important aspect of the Charter is that  - unlike the CRC - the African Charter defines a child as anyone under 18 - with no exceptions. Further, the African Charter also defines duties of the child.


 Security Council resolutions

Numerous recent UN resolutions and other developments have contributed to the protection and promotion of children’s rights. While these initiatives do not have the status of international legal instruments they can often contribute to the legal protection available to children in specific situations or regions. Many commentators see these sorts of Resolutions as a part of “soft law”.

In August 1999 the United Nations Security Council adopted Resolution 1261 strongly denouncing the targeting of children in situations of armed conflict. With this Resolution the Security Council has signaled that it will no longer tolerate the killing and maiming, sexual violence, abduction and forced displacement, recruitment and use of children in armed conflict. The Resolution also condemned attacks on places that usually have a significant presence of children, such as schools and hospitals.

In August 2000 the United Nations Security Council adopted Resolution 1314, the second resolution on children and armed conflict, wich put in place key building blocks for the protection of war-affected, children as a follow-up to resolution 1261 (1999).

Statute of the International Criminal Court(ICC)

The Statute, adopted in Rome on 17 July 1998, includes in its list of war crimes within the Court’s jurisdiction the active involvement in hostilities of children under 15 or their recruitment into national armed forces during an international armed conflict(Art.8, para.2b(xxvi)) or into the national armed forces or other armed groups during a non-international armed conflict(Art.8, para.2e(vii)).

According to the principle of complementarity, the Court has jurisdiction in situations where a State is unable or unwilling to prosecute. In order to take advantage of this principle and to ensure repression at the national level, States should adopt legislation enabling them to prosecute the perpetrators of such crimes.

The Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement

The Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement (E/CN.4/1998/53/Add.2) were developed by the Representative of the Secretary-General on Internally Displaced Persons (see below). The Principles, which set out the relevant standards providing protection against arbitrary displacement, protection and assistance during displacement and during return or resettlement and reintegration, pay special attention to the needs of internally displaced children.  The General Assembly and the Commission on Human Rights have requested the Representative to use the Principles in his dialogue with Governments.  The Guiding Principles are being disseminated widely and their application promoted by UN agencies, regional organizations and NGOs.

e)      Some useful UN mechanisms

The UN system includes many different mechanisms and structures almost all of which can be linked in some way to a protection of children’s rights. This section draws attention to a small number of mechanisms which may be particularly relevant to the protection and promotion of child rights by human rights officers working in the field. Ideally, Human Rights Officers will familiarise themselves with the full range of UN human rights mechanisms.

The capacity of UN mechanisms to protect and promote children’s rights depends in large part upon the child rights information made available to those mechanisms. It is important that information concerning violations of child rights is fed into all mechanisms. Commission on Human Rights (CHR) special procedures, Conventional human rights mechanisms and other UN human rights mandates - such as activities conducted by OHCHR (e.g. technical co-operation projects, field presences) - depend for their information on sources in the field. States, national and international NGOs and others can provide very valuable information from a country or region. UN human rights field operations can provide an essential channel for such information, complementing this with child rights data collected from their own monitoring.

- Conventional mechanisms: treaty monitoring bodies

“Conventional mechanisms” refer to committees of independent experts established to monitor the implementation of international human rights treaties by States parties. By ratifying a treaty, States parties willingly submit their domestic legal system, administrative procedures and other national practices to periodic review by the committees. These committees are often referred to as treaty-monitoring bodies (or “treaty bodies”).

·         Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (monitors the implementation of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights)

·         Human Rights Committee (monitors the implementation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights)

·         Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (monitors the implementation of the International Convention for the Elimination of all Forms Racial Discrimination)

·         Committee against Torture (monitors the implementation of the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment)

·         Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (monitors the implementation of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms or Discrimination against Women)

·         Committee on the Rights of the Child (monitors the implementation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child)

Human Rights Officers can contribute to the work of these Committees by providing them with information prior to their consideration of a State party’s report. Following publication of a Committee’s concluding observations human rights officers can support State and NGO efforts to implement the recommendations they contain.

- Extra-Conventional mechanisms: Special procedures

“Extra-conventional mechanisms” refer to those mechanisms established by mandates emanating, not from treaties, but from resolutions of relevant United Nations legislative organs, such as the Commission on

Human Rights or the General Assembly. Extra-conventional mechanisms may also be established by expert bodies, such as the Sub-Commission on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights (formerly the Sub-Commission on Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities). They normally take the form of an independent expert or a working group and are often referred to as “special procedures”.

Special procedures of the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) and the Sub-Commission on the Protection and Promotion of Human Rights include a number of child specific procedures and many broader procedures which increasingly include references to children's rights in the context of their particular mandates. Special Procedures include:

·         Special Rapporteurs, Special representatives, Special envoys and Independent experts, Working groups – thematic or country (Urgent Actions)

·         Complaints procedure 1503.

The following provides a brief description of activities undertaken by some Special Rapporteurs and/or Representatives in the context of children’s rights within their various human rights mandates. Some of these mandates are child specific but most focus on general human rights issues that are nevertheless important in overall efforts to protect and promote children’s rights. It is essential to recognise the potential of almost all UN human rights mechanisms and procedures for contributing to the protection and promotion of children’s rights and the following list does not include all mechanisms (the full list is included as an annex to this Field Manual).

·         Special Rapporteur on the Sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography: The mandate of the Special Rapporteur (SR) was created in 1990 to investigate and receive information about the situation of children facing these concerns throughout the world. The Special Rapporteur can receive information about individual situations and bring these to the attention of the Governments concerned. The Special Rapporteur also makes recommendations to Governments, NGOs, UN agencies, and other members of civil society. During her tenure as mandate holder, she has studied and made recommendations as to the role of the justice system, the media, education and the family with regard to the concerns of her mandate.

·         Special Rapporteur on the Right to Education : The Special Rapporteur on the Right to Education has focused on the availability, accessibility, acceptability and adaptability of education services, working closely with relevant UN partners.

·         Special Rapporteur on Torture: In his 1996 report (E/CN/.4/1996/35) to the Commission on Human Rights, the Special Rapporteur on Torture raised the issue of conditions of detention of children and made recommendations according to the provisions of relevant UN standards. In his 2000 report to the UN General Assembly, the Special Rapporteur continued to report upon conditions of detention for children and also placed particular emphasis on the situation and treatment of children cared for in non-penal institutions; the report also referred to the situation of children in regions of armed conflict.

·         Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions: In reports and contacts with Governments, the Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions has on numerous occasions expressed deep concern over the continuing use in some countries of the death penalty against juvenile offenders and persons accused of crimes committed when they were under the age of 18.  The Special Rapporteur has also expressed grave concern at the use of children as soldiers and support staff in the world's conflicts, and has called on Governments to unilaterally raise the age of enlistment to 18, and concluded that the use of children in armed conflict constitutes a serious and direct threat to the protection and enjoyment of the right to life.

·         Special Rapporteur on violence against women has taken a life-cycle approach to her mandate, and in so doing has addressed the rights of girls particularly in regards to violence in the family but also on girls in armed conflict situations. The Special Rapporteur reports that gender-specific violence does not begin at a certain age but throughout a woman's life-cycle there exists various forms of gender-based violence that manifest themselves at different stages. The Special Rapporteur has expressed concern that even before birth, females in cultures where son preference is prevalent are targeted by the violent discriminatory practices of sex-selective abortion and infanticide and has reported on different forms of violence inflicted on girls including inter alia enforced malnutrition, unequal access to medical care, as well as physical and emotional abuse, incest, female genital mutilation, early childhood marriage and other harmful traditional practices, and the sale of children by their parents for prostitution or for bonded labour .

·         Country Specific Special Rapporteurs: The CHR has named a number of country specific Special Rapporteurs with mandates to focus on the human rights situations in particular countries and regions. Increasingly, country specific Special Rapporteurs have included a child rights dimension in their reports and work.

·         Representative of the Secretary-General on Internally Displaced Persons:  The Representative systematically focuses on the plight of children, who typically constitute at least 50 percent of internally displaced populations.

·         Special Representative of the Secretary-General on the impact of armed conflict on children: The Special Representative was appointed in September 1997 for a three year term, which was recently renewed by the General Assembly for another three years.  Throughout his mandate the SRSG/CAC has sought to ensure that the protection of the rights of war-affected children are comprehensively addressed by key actors at international, regional and national levels.  His role has centered on, inter-alia: proposing initiatives and engaging key actors to protect war-affected children; proposing concrete initiatives to protect children in the midst of war and engaging parties to conflict to undertake specific commitments in that context; making the protection of children a priority concern in peace processes and peace operations and in all efforts to consolidate peace, heal and rebuild in the aftermath of conflict; and Notably, the Special Representative has placed the children and armed conflict agenda squarely on the peace and security agenda of the UN as well as a number of regional organizations.

Some other relevant mechanisms include Working Groups on: Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances and on Arbitrary Detention; Special Rapporteurs on the Independence of Judges and Lawyers; Religious Intolerance; Freedom of Opinion and Expression; Racism, Racial Discrimination and Xenophobia; Effects of Foreign Debt; Human Rights and Extreme Poverty; Right to Development; Right to housing.

3. Integrating children's rights into human rights field operations and developing a strategy

There are several general points which need to be emphasised and which provide guidance to HROs in developing their child rights field work.

·         A particular strength of UN HR Ops is that they allow the promotion and protection of children's rights to take place within a wider human rights framework.

·         HR Ops should provide a link between the child rights situation in a country or region and UN international human rights mechanisms (e.g. UN treaty bodies, Special Rapporteurs).

·         HR Ops should strengthen and complement the work of other actors (including State, UN and NGO), while avoiding duplication.

·         HR Ops can have a specific specialist role in some areas of concern, such as juvenile justice

·         In other areas UN HR Ops can ensure a link with, and provide access to information on, specific children's rights issues - thereby supporting the work of other actors.

a) Some management decisions concerning an operation's child rights work

This chapter focuses on providing guidance to HROs. However, including a focus on children's rights within the work of an Operation will also require several policy and managerial decisions. As with other sections of this Manual, it is useful for some brief references to these issues to be made.

The inclusion of a children's rights focus among an operation's activities will have certain structural, training, recruitment and budgetary consequences - all of which should ideally be taken into consideration at the planning stage of an operation.

i. Interpreting the mandate of the operation

The mandate of the human rights operation may or may not make specific reference to children and their rights. Even where specific references are made there will usually be a need for the human rights staff to interpret the mandate according to an evolving situation and to their available resources. Ideally, every human rights operation, no matter how small, will focus to some extent on the promotion and protection of children's rights.

ii. (Methodological) Structure

There are different approaches to conducting children's rights work through a human rights operation:

·         All HROs with the operation can include children's rights within their range of activities. It is useful, nevertheless, to have at least one staff member as a "focal point" for children's rights as this person can provide co-ordination and a contact person for co-operation with partners.

·         Where a human rights operation has staff posted outside of the capital city and at different provincial locations, ideally every team should ensure that a children's rights approach is adopted in its provincial work. If possible each team could have one staff member with specific responsibility for children's rights - a "Provincial child rights focal point".

The type of structure or methodology selected will have implications for the budget requirements of the Operation and for the qualifications of staff recruited as human rights officers - with additional funding required for staff with a specific child rights background to serve as child rights focal points.

b) General terms of reference

General terms of reference for the child rights work of a human rights operation and of individual HROs could include some of the following:

1.       Development of a child rights strategy (including priorities, objectives and practical actions). The human rights operation child rights strategy should be developed in awareness of the overall child rights situation in the country/region and the efforts being made by other actors (including State, UN and NGO actors). Strategies should ensure complementarity, avoid duplication and emphasise the particular contribution that should be made by a UN human rights presence.

2.       Ensuring that all of the Operation's activities are sensitive to children's rights

3.       Ensuring human rights training with a child rights perspective for other human rights officers within the operation and for government, UN and NGO partners. Child rights training should include not only the dissemination of information on the CRC but also guidance on the Convention's implementation. The human rights operation may provide training itself, but may also encourage and support training activities of partners. In particular, HROs should emphasise links between children's rights and the broader international human rights framework.

4.       Conducting regular monitoring and analyses of the evolving child rights situation

5.       Reporting on the evolving children's rights situation

c. Child rights checklist for Human Rights Officers - developing a strategy

The following check-list provides a helpful tool to HROs in defining a child rights strategy. It can be used as a complement to the above basic terms of reference. Keeping the following questions in mind should provide a basis for the development of the human rights operation's overall child rights objectives and strategies.

The child rights situation

1.       What are the main child rights concerns in the country/region?

2.       In what ways are these child rights concerns related to other main human rights concerns?

3.       How is the child rights situation evolving?

Structure and activities with a potential to improve the child rights situation

4.       What national structures (State, NGO, other) exist with a capacity to improve the child rights situation? How can the UN's human rights effort contribute to supporting and strengthening their impact on the child rights situation?

5.       What are the main actions currently being taken by State, UN and NGO partners in favour of children's rights?

6.       Does the Common Country Assessment (CCA) include a child rights perspective and accurately reflect the child rights situation? Have child rights concerns been addressed in the UN Development Assistance Framework (UNDAF)?

7.       What regional and international human rights mechanisms can be used to address the situation and how can they be linked to country child rights situation and to national structures addressing the situation?

The child rights potential of the UN Human Rights Operation

8.       How do the main activities (e.g. technical co-operation projects, national human rights institution building, monitoring, etc) of the human rights operation have a positive impact on children's rights? How can the positive impact be strengthened?

9.       Given the child rights situation and activities of other actors, what role should the Human Rights Operation fulfil? What should the Operation's strategy include? How can the Operation's strategy complement the ongoing work of partners?

10.   What role is the Operation playing in the CCA and UNDAF processes, with regard to children's rights?

11.   How can the Operation link the international and regional human rights mechanisms with the child rights situation? Which of these mechanisms are the most relevant to the child rights situation?

12.   Where is the country in the CRC reporting process? How can the operation contribute to strengthening this process? In what way can the reporting process be supported so as to help in addressing the current most urgent child rights concerns?

13.   Which UN treaty bodies have published concluding observations on the country's implementation of its treaty obligations? How many of the specific concluding observations are of direct relevance to the current child rights situation? Can the human rights operation support the State in follow-up to the concluding observations?

14.   Which UN Special Rapporteurs, Representatives and other relevant experts have reported on the country and included concerns and recommendations of relevance to the child rights situation? Can the Operation support follow-up to these reports?

15.   Does the Operation's monthly report include a child rights perspective? Can this be strengthened?

16.   How can the Operation contribute to strengthening juvenile justice? What are the key concerns?

17.   How is the Operation sharing information on the child rights situation, and efforts to address it, with headquarters and with relevant partners outside of the country?

18.   Are there any upcoming or ongoing international child rights activities (e.g. international conferences on children affected by war, regional workshops on the trafficking of children, etc.)? Could any of these activities be used to create momentum for improving the child rights situation in the Operation's country?

19.   Have there been any recent national, regional or international initiatives (e.g.. the adoption of legislative instruments, the passing of resolutions, the publication of reports by the Secretary General) of relevance to children's rights in the country? Can the operation make use of, and provide information on, these initiatives?

20.   What international human rights instruments have not yet been ratified by the country in which the human rights Operation is working? What can the Operation do to support further ratifications?

4) Some examples of broad child rights strategies

The following paragraphs focus on 3 broad child rights strategy areas. This short list is not in any way exhaustive, but provides an indication of the manner in which a child rights strategy and its component activities can be developed.

a.  Strengthening the child rights impact of the Operation current activities

It should be possible to find a potential positive impact on respect for children's rights from almost any activity undertaken by a human rights operation - e.g. detention work, investigations, training for soldiers, promotion of the human rights of women, capacity building for local human rights NGOs, etc. However, the impact of these activities on children's rights may remain mere potential or incidental, unless there is a concerted effort to ensure that child rights are taken into consideration at the planning stage of activities in the Operation's strategies.

For example, human rights training for police officers, judicial and prison officials my focus on:

·         rights to freedom of movement and speech, the rights of defendants in criminal trials, minimum standards of conditions of detention, and the rights of detainees not to suffer ill-treatment or torture.

From a child rights perspective, the same training programme could be strengthened to include a focus on:

·         juvenile justice principles, the principle of the best interests of the child, the obligation for the detention of minors to be used only as a measure of last resort, alternatives to imprisonment sentences, the obligation for minors to be detained or imprisoned separately from minors, etc.

One aspect of the Human Rights Operation's strategy could be to ensure that all of the operation's main activities include a children's rights perspective and that the operation's overall analysis of the human rights situation includes children's rights concerns.

b. Supporting the work of partners

Supporting and strengthening the efforts of others to protect and promote children's rights should be a major aspect of any strategy to promote and protect children's rights. "Partners" is a term that can be used very broadly to include parts of the State (e.g. the minstries of education or justice), other UN bodies and national or international NGOs. The following provide a couple of examples.

1.       Partners with a general mandate to assist children: The work of many organisations in favour of children focuses on the more material aspects of rights protection. The expertise and mandates of these organisations are best suited to this task; human rights operations, however, can often contribute to helping these missions achieve their objectives by complementing and strengthening their work using the operations' particular mandate and expertise. For example:

·         While access to education in a certain region my be a fundamental child rights problem its cause may be a combination of a lack of school buildings, equipment and teachers on the one hand, and on the other the practice of discrimination through which local officials prevent children from a particular religious or ethnic group from attending school.

·         Many humanitarian organisations are uncomfortable with directly addressing human rights violations in a manner which goes beyond the provision of assistance as described in their mandates. Human rights operations can usefully fill this sort of gap ensuring, as in the above example, that the provision of material aid genuinely addresses existing rights violations.

2.       "General measures of CRC implementation" - supporting national structures: The CRC devotes several articles to "general measures of implementation" (also known as the 1st cluster in the CRC reporting guidelines). Respect for children's rights cannot be truly effective unless a State successfully implements various "general measures of implementation". 

·         These include the: strengthening of domestic legislation; establishment of national structures to develop and co-ordinate child rights policy; development of a human rights (including child rights) national plan of action; development of mechanisms for the accurate collection of data relevant to the child rights situation; involvement of civil society in implementation of the CRC; implementation of child rights training programmes for relevant persons, including Ministry officials, the police, teachers, social workers, parents, etc.

·         These factors, among others, are considered to form a major base upon which children's rights can be securely established. Many of these factors are as relevant to the implementation of broader human rights standards as they are to child rights standards and there are relatively few organisations with the relevant mandate and expertise to provide assistance in these areas. By way of example, human rights operations, in an appropriate situation could very valuably contribute to the strengthening of some aspects of a State's general measures of implementation.

c. Building upon the CRC reporting process

A further example of a broad strategic area through which a human rights operation can contribute to the protection and promotion of children's rights is through support to treaty body reporting processes (and to that of the CRC in particular) and the follow-up to treaty body concluding observations. The regular presentation (in principle every 5 years) to the Committee on the Rights of the Child of a State's report is only one stage in a process which creates multiple opportunities for the improved protection of children's rights. UNICEF provides valuable support to States throughout the CRC reporting process and follow-up to concluding observations. There are also some areas in which UN human rights operations have a specific expertise to contribute. For example:

·         The preparation of a State's report requires the gathering of specific information on the Convention's implementation. Some of this information should be drawn from areas that fall within the competence of the human rights operation - HROs can support the State in ensuring accurate data collection and help to establish permanent data collection mechanisms for particular humanr ights criteria.

·         The reporting guidelines implicitly require States to consult with NGOs in the preparing their report; human rights operations can support the contribution of national human rights NGOs to this process and in so doing help to strengthen independent national human rights organisations.

Human rights operations can usefully contribute to the CRC, other treaty body and special procedures reporting processes as part of strategy to improve respect and promotion for children's rights.

5. Monitoring and reporting on respect for children's rights

Human rights operations often monitor and report upon the human rights situation in a country. Children's rights should be taken into consideration in this process and should, ideally, have a specific section in the Operation's reports.

Other chapters of this manual provide detailed guidance on human rights monitoring and reporting. This section emphasises, however, that monitoring and reporting upon respect for children's rights can require a slightly different approach than that taken towards reporting on general human rights monitoring.

a) Monitoring - identifying priorities in a child rights situation

- What child rights criteria?

·       Types of rights: many human rights operations focus their monitoring, investigative and reporting activities on violations of civil and political rights, often because of the immediate urgency of responses that are required to violations of many of these rights. Efforts to protect and promote children's rights should focus their analyses on a broader range of rights - including economic, social and cultural rights as well as civil and political.

·       Referring to the human rights of parents/family: Monitoring and reporting on children's rights should take into consideration relevant violations of the human rights of their parents and immediate families, as these are often linked to respect for children's rights. One should re-emphasise, nevertheless, that children are the subjects of rights in their own individual capacity.

·         Focus on structures. Analyses of children's rights should include reference to the role of "structures" which contribute to the protection and promotion of children's rights, including: access to schools and health care; the strength of immediate and extended family structures; the effectiveness of those government ministries with responsibility for issues affecting children; etc. Analyses should be aware of both modern and traditional structures, where relevant.

- Recognising the importance of "time" and "vulnerability"

It is essential, when seeking to protect and promote children's rights to note the importance of "time" as a factor affecting the impact of a situation on a child.

Children, at different stages of their development, are more vulnerable to an enormous array of influences that will have lasting consequences on their moral, physical, emotional, psychological development and their ability to function as fully participatory citizens when they reach adulthood. They will be detrimentally affected (and differently affected than adults) by virtually any violation of their rights, to varying degrees, whether it is a denial of education, denial of access to health, denial of the freedom of association or expression, forced participation in armed conflict, etc.

"Time" should be taken into consideration in addressing children's rights issues in 2 ways:

Children may be affected far more seriously than adults by violations of their rights which continue over a certain duration of, for example, weeks or months - this argument is applicable to almost any rights violation e.g. torture, food deprivation, poor conditions of detention, etc. The duration of a particular situation can have a more serious impact on children than on adults, leading to more severe violations of their rights.

In light of the increased risk of lasting negative consequences for children and society posed by child rights violations - the assessment, monitoring, reporting and intervention to address these violations is particularly urgent.

- Using the CRC reporting guidelines as a support for monitoring and analysis

The CRC reporting guidelines were defined by the Committee on the Rights of the Child for the purpose of assisting States parties to the CRC in reporting accurately on the Convention's implementation. The reporting guidelines divide the Convention in 8 broad "clusters" of rights. Under each of the 8 headings the guidelines provide significant detail of the sort of information that should be provided in State party reports. These headings and further details provide a very useful list of possible criteria for child rights monitoring; Human Rights Officers could focus on 5 to 20 key issues of particular relevance to the country of operations. Reference should be made to UNICEF's "Implementation Handbook for the Convention on the Rights of the Child". The following list includes the main 8 headings from the reporting guidelines, with some sub-headings (the articles refer to provisions of the CRC):


(arts. 4, 42 and 44, paragraph 6 of the Convention)

A.  Status of the Convention in domestic law, new legislation and law enforcement

B.  Co-ordination, monitoring, existing and new institutions

C.  Implementation of article 4 of the Convention

D.  Involvement of civil society

E.  Measures taken to make the principles and provisions of the Convention widely known



A.  Non-discrimination (art. 2)

B.  Best interests of the child (art. 3)

C.  The right to life, survival and development (art. 6)

D.  Respect for the views of the child (art. 12)

IV.  CIVIL RIGHTS AND FREEDOMS (arts. 7, 8. 13n17 and 37 (a))

A.  Name and nationality (art. 7)

B.  Preservation of identity (art. 8)

C.  Freedom of expression (art. 13)

D.  Freedom of thought, conscience and religion (art. 14)

E.  Freedom of association and peaceful assembly (art. 15)

F.  Protection of privacy (art. 16)

G.  Access to appropriate information (art. 17)

H.     The right not to be subjected to torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment (art. 37 (a))

V.  FAMILY ENVIRONMENT AND ALTERNATIVE CARE (arts. 5; 18, paras. 1n2; 9n11; 19n21; 25; 27, para. 4; and 39)

A.  Parental guidance (art. 5)

B.  Parental responsibilities (art. 18 paras. 1‑2)

C.  Separation from parents (art. 9)

D.  Family reunification (art. 10)

E.  Illicit transfer and non-return (art. 11)

F.  Recovery of maintenance for the child (art. 27, para. 4)

G.  Children deprived of their family environment (art. 20)

H.  Adoption (art. 21)

I.  Periodic review of placement (art. 25)

J.  Abuse and neglect (art. 19), including physical and psychological recovery and social reintegration (art. 39)

VI.  BASIC HEALTH AND WELFARE (arts. 6; 18, para. 3; 23; 24; 26; 27, paras 1-3)

A.  Disabled children (art. 23)

B.  Health and health services (art. 24)

C.  Social security and child care services and facilities (arts. 26 and 18, para. 3)

D.  Standard of living (art. 27, paras. 1n3)


A.  Education, including vocational training and guidance (art. 28)

B.  Aims of education (art. 29)

C.  Leisure, recreation and cultural activities (art. 31)

VIII.  SPECIAL PROTECTION MEASURES (arts. 22, 38, 39, 40, 37 (b)n(d), 32n36)

A.  Children in situations of emergency

1.  Refugee children (art. 22)

2.  Children in armed conflicts (art. 38), including physical and psychological recovery and social reintegration (art. 39)

B.  Children involved with the system of administration of juvenile justice

1.  The administration of juvenile justice (art. 40)

2.  Children deprived of their liberty, including any form of detention, imprisonment or placement in custodial settings (art. 37 (b)n(d)

3. The sentencing of children, with particular reference to the prohibition of capital punishment and life imprisonment (art. 37 (a))

4.  Physical and psychological recovery and social reintegration of the child (art. 39)

C.        Children in situations of exploitation, including physical and psychological recovery and social reintegration

1.     Economic exploitation of children, including child labour (art. 32)

2.  Drug abuse (art. 33)

3.  Sexual exploitation and sexual abuse (art. 34)

4.   Sale, trafficking and abduction (art. 35)

5.  Other forms of exploitation (art. 36)

D.  Children belonging to a minority or an indigenous group (art. 30)


  b) Reporting on respect for children's rights

Ideally, a human rights operation's monthly report will have a specific section on children's rights. The child rights section would include:

·         information on key civil, cultural, economic, political and social rights criteria.

·         some information on the situation of families and of parents, essential to providing a complete understanding of respect for children's rights.

·         It should be emphasised that other sections of the report, for example, on the killing of civilians, on IDPs and refugees, may also include information on children. There may be some overlap within the report with cross-referencing where needed.

6. Working with children (Footnote: Text drawn primarily from ARC and Save the children material)

In the course of their human rights work, including but not exclusive to child rights work, Human Rights Officers will work directly with children. Some of this human rights work may involve interviewing a child to gather information on possible human rights violations. Other aspects may involve trying to provide a child with assistance. The guidelines provided in this section are intended as a brief introduction to some important points to take into consideration. Perhaps above all, Human Rights Officers should be aware of the "Do no harm" principle of human rights work. Human Rights Officers should also understand and endeavour to respect the Convention on the Rights of the Child principles of “respect for the views of the child” and the "best interests of the child":

·         taking into account the age and capacities of the child, Human Rights Officers should ensure that children have the opportunity to express their views in any decisions being made on their behalf by the Officer or the human rights operation, and that those views are given due consideration;

·         Human Rights Officers should ensure that in all actions they take with regard to a child, that the child's "best interests" are a primary consideration.

a) How is communicating with children different from communicating with adults?

Children have needs and abilities which are significantly different from those of adults. Communicating with children has some particular requirements which include the following:

·         the ability to feel comfortable with children and to engage with them in whatever style of communication suits the individual - e.g. by sitting on the ground, through play etc., and to be able to tolerate expressions of distress, aggression etc.;

·         the ability to use language and concepts appropriate to the child’s age and stage of development, and culture;

·         an acceptance that children who have had distressing experiences may find it extremely difficult to trust an unfamiliar adult. It may take a great deal of time and patience before the child can feel sufficient trust to communicate openly;

·         an ability to appreciate that children may view their situation in ways distinctively different from that of adults: children may fantasise, invent explanations for unfamiliar or frightening events, express themselves in symbolic ways, emphasise issues which may seem unimportant to adults, and so on.

b) Cultural issues in communicating with children

Different cultures have different norms about inter-personal communication. In many societies there are rules about what topics can be discussed with particular adults - for example, girls in some cultures may only discuss sexual topics with aunts or grandmothers and may be even be forbidden from having contact with anyone outside of the family. Professionals who need to communicate with children need to understand the cultural norms for expressing feelings and emotions: in some societies, for example, it would be a source of great shame for children - especially boys - to cry. It is important that those trying to help children do not make matters worse by encouraging them to talk and express feelings in a way which contravenes such norms. There are also cultural norms about what forms of expression are appropriate - the use of physical touch, or eye contact, for example, will vary between cultures, while the degree of formality and social distance between adults and children may, in some societies, limit the exchange of personal information and feelings. 

c) Language and the use of interpreters 

There are obvious advantages in communicating in the child’s mother tongue: where the adult is not from the same culture as the child, it may be more difficult to interpret the child’s gestures and body language which are very important as another way to get information from the child, and to grasp the nuances of words and expressions. The interviewer's language must be appropriate to the age of the child. Where possible, staff should also be familiar with local terminology, including slang.

Where the use of an interpreter is unavoidable, it is vital that the interpreter is fluent in both languages, understands any specialist terminology and is able to use words which the child can understand. He or she needs to be acceptable within the community and be seen as impartial. It is vital to ensure that the interpreter has good skills at communicating with children, can cope with any emotions being expressed and does not influence the conversation by mis-translating, summarising or omitting selected sections of what is said.

d) Communication in the context of displacement

Very often, effective communication is impeded in situations of population displacement by an atmosphere of mistrust and suspicion. There may be real fears regarding the way in which information might be used, especially when the interviewer is perceived as a public or authority figure. Moreover, some children will have had experiences (such as some form of exploitation) which will have demonstrated that adults are not always reliable or trustworthy: hiding information, or revealing incomplete or inaccurate information may have been used as a survival strategy. Opening an effective and transparent line of communication with a child may take a great deal of time and trust-building.

e) Providing an appropriate location and environment

Selecting an appropriate location for interviewing children, or having an informal conversation, can have an important bearing on the effectiveness of the communication. For most young people, a quiet space with comfortable and culturally appropriate seating may be the ideal choice, though for others going for a walk, or playing or working together may provide the best opportunity for communication.

·         Privacy can be important, especially when the interview relates to personal or potentially painful information. Equally, some children may prefer to be accompanied by a trusted adult or friend.

·         A non-distracting environment can also be important - especially if the child has been exposed to an environment of uncertainty, change and anxiety.

·         A comfortable environment chosen with the child  will help the child to feel relaxed.  

f) Attitude and approach

Communicating effectively with children requires a particular approach, and although some techniques will vary from culture to culture, a vital objective is to facilitate children’s self-expression. In general, the following guidelines should be followed:

·         Introductions are important so that the child knows who the interviewer is, what role he or she has, and what is the purpose of the meeting with the child. When planning to interview children, it sometimes helps to get to know them among a group before talking to them individually..

·         Confidentiality should be respected: but it is also important to explain carefully why information is being collected, who will know about it and how it will be used.

·         Simple language should be used, and which the child can readily understand. If there is a suspicion that the child has not understood something you have said, it can be helpful to ask the child to repeat or paraphrase.

·         Keep direct questions to a minimum and bring in some general conversation so that the child does not feel that he or she is being cross-examined.

·         A friendly, informal and relaxed approach will help the child to feel at ease.

·         Adequate time needs to be given to help the child to feel relaxed, to develop mutual trust and to enable the child to feel that he/she is being taken seriously. Time for playing together may be helpful in developing rapport, and conversation about neutral issues (school, games etc.) may be appropriate before more personal or painful topics are discussed.

·         It is important to allow for children’s limited concentration span: a series of shorter meetings may be more effective than a few longer ones.

·         A non-judgemental attitude which conveys acceptance of the child, whatever he or she has or has not done, is essential. It is important to convey respect for his or her beliefs, feelings etc. and not to judge his or her behaviour - for example in the case of former child soldiers.

·         Taking notes during the interview may be distracting for the child and raise questions and uncertainties about confidentiality. If it is necessary to take notes, it is important to explain the reason and seek the child’s permission first.

·         Ending the interview or conversation appropriately is also important: providing the child with an opportunity to ask questions, say anything else which he or she would like to say etc and summarising what has been said or agreed may help the child feel that he or she has been taken seriously. It is also advisable to finish the interview on a positive element particularly where the child has been recounting traumatic events.

·         After the end of the interview, it is important to make sure that there is follow-up support available to the child, especially if painful and difficult issues have been discussed.

g) Helping children to express themselves

Sometimes children may be willing to talk but find it difficult. Making the conversation less personal can help.

One child was reluctant to give his name to a HRO interviewing him. The HRO made up a story about a bird and gave the bird a name. In the story, the bird asked the name of the child and the child gave it. He was able to talk much more freely within the context of the story. Other ways of helping children to express themselves include drawing, playing games and singing. Children with a physical disability may need extra help; for instance, a child who is unable to speak and too young to write may be able to convey information through play or drawings. There are various techniques which may help the child to express himself or herself:

·         A quiet tone of voice can help the child to feel safe, and shows that the adult is being sympathetic.

·         Gestures such as nods of the head (or whatever is appropriate within the particular culture) can encourage the child to continue to talk.

·         An appropriate degree of eye contact also helps the child: again this will vary with culture.

·         Listening attentively and demonstrating that you have heard the child - e.g. by summarising what has been said, seeking clarification etc. confirms to the child that you are actively listening.

·         Showing respect for the child’s feelings is also important - e.g. by reflecting the feelings (“that must have made you feel very sad/angry”, etc.). This helps to convey empathy - the capacity to identify with the child’s situation and feelings.

·         Avoid interrupting the child.

·         Asking open questions generally will encourage the child to explain something in his/her own way: for example, an open question such as “tell me about life in your village” may elicit a more free response than a closed question such as “where did you live?”. It is usually best to avoid leading questions - i.e. those which suggest an answer to the child such as “You like school, don’t you?”

h) When children become distressed

Look out for signs of distress in children and do not pressurise them if they are upset. Their distress should not be ignored, and they must be supported and comforted in a way that is appropriate. What is appropriate will depend on the child and the circumstances, and again you should take a lead from the child.

Other children can be enlisted to comfort a child in distress. If you know that your interviewee has a friend, ask him or her to talk to the child so that the interview can be finished. Above all, children should be given time, even when there is a lot to do. Give them a break, time to play games or have a drink. Work should be prioritised so that staff are able to give time to the children who need it. Children may become upset after an interview, so if possible the person caring for them should be available.

Appendix: Sources of further information

·         ARC(Action for the Rights of children) A Rights Based Capacity Building and Training Initiative( joint training initiative by UNHCR, Save the Children Alliance, UNICEF and OHCHR (available on UNHCR's web site, and will be made available on CD Rom or/and paper).

·         Children’s rights:turning principles into practice, Save the Children Sweden , UNICEF, 2000.

·         Hodgkin, Rachel and Peter Newell, Implementation Handbook for the Convention on the Rights of the Child, UNICEF, Geneva.1997.

A small selection of useful web sites

·  A new branch of the UN's web site, focusing on treaties and related information. A second database, the United Nations Treaty Series (UNTS) is a collection of treaties and international agreements in their original language(s), along with translations into English and French.

· A web site through which a search can be conducted across all UN web sites and which provides links to individual sites and to the sites of States with UN missions.



· Including access to the Action for the Rights of Children (ARC).

· or

· Human Rights Internet.

· Includes links to a wide range of international organisations working on children's rights


· Includes links to a wide range of international organisations working on children's rights



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