Monitoring Children's Rights

Human rights are a tool to create positive change for and with children. Monitoring their implementation is a critical aspect of achieving this change. In the UK there are a number of different mechanisms for monitoring children’s human rights.

International Monitoring Mechanisms

UN Committee on the Rights of the Child
Implementation of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) is monitored by a group of 18 independent international children’s rights experts – the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child. The UK Government, like all States that have ratified the UNCRC, must submit periodic reports on its implementation of the Convention to the UN Committee. The UN Committee also receives evidence from non-governmental organisations and children and young people. After each examination, the UN Committee issues its Concluding Observations, which highlight positive developments in the country in questions as well as the most pressing rights violations. The Committee’s Concluding Observations also detail the action the UN Committee expects the UK Government to take to fulfil its human rights obligations to children.

The UN Committee examined the UK Government in 1995, 2002 and in 2008. The most recent set of Concluding Observations includes over 120 recommendations for action needed to improve children’s lives, many of which made specific reference to children’s participation rights. The UN Committee felt that the UK had made “little progress to enshrine article 12 in education law and policy” and that the “participation of children in all aspects of schooling is inadequate”. The UN Committee also placed particular emphasis on the rights of disabled children to take part in decision-making, criticising the “insufficient action” to “ensure the rights enshrined in article 12 to children with disabilities”. The next examination of the UK is scheduled for 2014.

The Committee also publishes ‘General Comments’ which explore the meaning of particular rights in the Convention in more detail. A General Comment on children’s right to be heard was published in 2009.

UN Human Rights Council
The UN Human Rights Council is an inter-governmental organisation composed of 47 elected UN Member States which meets in Geneva for 10 weeks each year. The UN Human Rights Council aims to prevent abuses, inequality and discrimination; to protect the most vulnerable; and to expose perpetrators of human rights abuses. The UN Human Rights Council is responsible for administering ‘Special Procedures’ – a process which allows it to investigate specific human rights issues on a country or thematic basis.

The UN Human Rights Council also leads the Universal Periodic Review – a process whereby the human rights records of all 192 UN Member States are reviewed every four years. The UK was last examined in 2008 and a series of recommendations made for government action.

Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights
The Commissioner for Human Rights is an independent, non-judicial institution of the Council of Europe, mandated to promote awareness of and respect for human rights in the 47 member states. The Commissioner has been active in challenging European governments on many children’s human rights issues and has championed children’s participation rights. The current commissioner is Thomas Hammarberg.

National Monitoring Mechanisms

Joint Committee on Human Rights (JCHR)
This joint committee of MPs and Peers can undertake inquiries relating to human rights in the UK (excluding consideration of individual cases), and scrutinises draft legislation progressing through the Houses of Parliament.

The JCHR has taken a proactive role in scrutinising the Government’s record on children’s human rights. It regularly makes reference to children’s rights, including the right to be heard, in its reports and legislative scrutiny. In 2003 it investigated the case for a Children’s Commissioner for England and issued a report on implementation of the UNCRC. In 2009 the Committee held a special inquiry into children’s rights.

Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC)
The EHRC is a statutory body that aims to reduce inequality, eliminate discrimination, strengthen good relations between people, and promote and protect human rights. The EHRC enforces equality legislation on age, disability, gender, race, religion or belief, sexual orientation and transgender status.

The overriding role of the EHRC is to promote understanding of equality, diversity and human rights. It is specifically interested in monitoring and promoting compliance with the European Convention on Human Rights (as enshrined in the Human Rights Act) but also has a broader human rights remit including the UNCRC. It must undertake a triennial review of equality and human rights in Britain, and report its findings to Parliament every three years.

The EHRC was established by the Equality Act 2006, incorporating the roles of the Commission for Racial Equality, the Equal Opportunities Commission, and the Disability Rights Commission. The EHRC is currently chaired by Trevor Phillips, supported by a team of Commissioners.

Children’s Commissioner for England
The Office of the Children’s Commissioner is a national organisation led by the Children’s Commissioner for England, Dr Maggie Atkinson. The role was created by the Children Act 2004 and the Commissioner champions the views and interests of all children and young people in England. The Commissioner also has UK-wide responsibility for issues relating to asylum and immigration. In championing the views of children, the Commissioner must have regard to the UNCRC.

Professor Sir Al Aynsley-Green was appointed the first Children’s Commissioner for England in March 2005. Dr Maggie Atkinson took over the post in March 2010.

Children’s Commissioners are in placen Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales. The European Network of Ombudspersons for Children brings together children’s commissioners from across Europe.

National children’s rights coalitions
Charities and the third sector play a crucial role in monitoring children’s rights implementation and advocating for law and policy reform. Across the world, national coalitions of children and young people’s NGOs (including those run by children and young people) work together to safeguard children’s rights. Many national coalitions are members of the NGO Group on the Rights of the Child.

The Children’s Rights Alliance for England (CRAE) is one of the largest children’s rights alliances in the world. CRAE protects the human rights of children by lobbying government and others who hold power, by bringing or supporting test cases and by using national, European and international human rights mechanisms. It provides free legal information and advice, raises awareness of children’s human rights, and undertakes research about children’s access to their rights. CRAE mobilise others, including children and young people, to take action to promote and protect children's human rights. Each year CRAE publishes a review of the state of children's rights in England.

There are also national children’s rights coalitions in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales.

Participation Works is a partnership of…
British Youth CouncilChildren's Rights Alliance for EnglandKIDSNational Council for Voluntary Youth ServicesNational Youth AgencyNCB