Article 2 (3) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights provides for the right to an effective remedy, and this guarantee implies that all children must be able to obtain fair and timely remedy for violations of their rights. In its General Comment No. 31 on the Nature of the General Legal Obligation Imposed on State Parties to the Covenant, the Human Rights Committee also emphasised that such “remedies should be appropriately adapted so as to take account of the special vulnerability of certain categories of person, including in particular children”.
In practice, however, children around the world face insurmountable obstacles in accessing justice: Judicial systems are frequently complex and inaccessible, children are often unaware of their rights, and many may be reluctant to seek justice because they fear harassment, further stigmatization, abandonment, or reprisals against them or their families. In many parts of the world, it is also culturally and socially unacceptable for children to lodge complaints and claim redress.
His Excellency Mr. Ali Mohamed Saeed Majawar, Ambassador of the Republic of Yemen to the United Nations Office and other international organizations in Geneva, addressed these challenges in a statement in his capacity as current President of the Council of Arab Ambassadors. He emphasised that “Governments in the Arab world are united in their commitment to promote and protect children’s rights [and] we are working to establish judicial systems which take into consideration the age, dignity, and social development of young offenders”.
H.E Mr. Majawar also reported that “a 2014-15 work plan for the Rights of Children in Arab nations is already underway, and we aim to establish guidelines for child-sensitive justice in the region. The plan will also recommend that relevant professionals in social services, the healthcare industry, and judicial institutions are adequately trained to ensure children can access a clear and facilitative legal system”. H.E Mr. Majawar acknowledged that implementation of such a work plan will require a significant shift in public opinion and societal norms, and he stressed the need for “several awareness raising programs in cooperation with international institutions in order to mainstream specialised justice for children”.
The Geneva Centre welcomes the positive steps taken by governments in the MENA region to promote access to justice for children, and we join the United Nations Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights in advocating for a three-step approach for access for child-sensitive justice:
- Firstly, all states need to empower children to claim their rights. To be properly empowered, children must be able to give their informed consent to decisions that concern them, in line with their evolving capacity. They need to be aware of, and have access to, information about their rights and how to obtain a remedy. It is important that such information is adapted to their age, maturity and circumstances, and conveyed in accessible language, and information on children`s rights should also be available to parents, teachers and people working with and for children so that they can have access to legal advice and support from knowledgeable adults.
- Second, states must ensure that national legal systems have the capacity to accept and address complaints from, or on behalf of, children. This implies that all measures, procedures and mechanisms must be child-sensitive, including alternative, non-judicial ways to challenge violations.
- Thirdly, the need to ensure access to justice for children also extends to the international level. In this regard, it is essential that states ratify and implement all international conventions protecting the rights of children.
To this end, the Geneva Centre aims to work with states in the MENA region who have reservations to the Conventions on the Rights of the Child to identify ways in these reservations can be lifted in line with their national plans for human rights advancement the best interest of their citizens. Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Morocco, Oman, Saudi Arabia, Syria, the United Arab Emirates, and Yemen all currently have reservations to the CRC.
The Geneva Centre also calls upon all states to ratify the Optional Protocol to the CRC on a Communications Procedure (OP3 CRC). This Protocol sets out an international complaints procedure for violations of children rights, and allows children to bring complaints about violations of their rights directly to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child if no solution can be found at a national level.
As Marta Santos Pais, the UN’s Special Representative on Violence against Children, reflected, “There is a sound foundation to build upon and change is clearly within reach. But only through steady action can we make children’s right to access justice a reality”.
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