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High-level conference to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the Convention of the Rights of the Child

20 November 2019, European Parliament, Brussels

Velina Todorova, Vice Chair,
UN Committee on the Rights of the Child

Your Majesty,
Mr. President,
Members of the Parliament, children and colleagues,

It is an honour to be here today to mark with you the 30th anniversary of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, in my capacity as Vice Chair of the Committee on the Rights of the Child, but also as European citizen.

The 30th birthday of the Convention has been marked so far all over the world. Many words were said to celebrate it. I would like to focus on two issues – what do we celebrate now and what should we expect to celebrate in the future.

The adoption of the Convention 30 years ago was defined as a legal and cultural revolution. Legal – because an international law was born to give rights to children on equal footing with adults. Cultural – because it demanded changes in social norms, values and perceptions of children built for centuries and based on powers that be in the families, groups and societies. Thus, the major aspiration of the CRC was to ‘redefine the powers’, as a recent conference of the Council of Europe was titled.

The legal revolution should have been in support of the cultural change that was meant to make the rights real for every child. There was a hope that time, that the commitment demonstrated rapidly by the universal accession to the Convention, would have translated into strong leadership, resources and policies to support the change in mind-set and in the life of children. Not least – there was and still is – a strong message that children should be empowered – provided with space, machinery and support to speak and participate and to be listened to as every human being and rights’ holder. Respect for human rights is a foundation of European democracy and the rule of law and the human rights-based approach to children is part of it.

The European Union is at the forefront of children’s rights global agenda. Europeans, such as Eglantyne Jebb and Janusz Korczak were among the founders. Today, the rights of children are in the EU treaties and legislation, Fundamental Rights Charter and in the jurisprudence of the two international courts in Europe. Children are high on the EU policy agenda implemented not only in the Union but also internationally. These are achievements that we celebrate!

Yet, the good laws and policies have not reached many children in Europe. In addition to poverty, institutionalisation, violence and corporal punishment still being regarded as acceptable methods for disciplining children, the Committee on the Rights of the Child recognises a number of emerging global issues that are likely to affect children’s rights negatively by, among other things, hindering inclusion and equality. These issues are wide-ranging and include, for example, environmental issues such as global climate change, activities of the business sector that negatively affect children’s human rights, corruption, and natural disasters, unstable food and energy prices, escalating armed conflicts, political instabilities, the rise of extremism, economic crises, and increasing global economic inequalities. All these issues have a serious detrimental effect on the enjoyment of children’s rights, and they further constitute significant challenges to achieving inclusive, equitable and sustainable development that does not only respect the rights of the child, but also seeks to realize them.

Celebrating birthdays goes along with wishes for the future. Perhaps our common wish for children at the moment could be associated with the ambitious 2030 agenda, agreed globally. The relationship between its goals and the international human rights framework is considered critical. The Committee is of the view that inclusive and equitable development cannot be achieved without children’s meaningful participation as active agents of change.

We should realise that today’s children are born in the 21st century. Their life started in the digital era that develops rapidly, thus changing life styles, access to information and communication for good and for bad. These children do not take authority or decisions for granted unless they were given space for participation and experience. A very recent survey among 20 000 children from all over the EU, shows that only 14.6% feel that adults listen to their opinions when making decisions in school and less than 8% feel that adults listen to their opinions when making decisions in their community. We need to do more in order to meet the expectations of children.

Many good practices for child participation are developed worldwide and are encouraged by the Committee such as – hearing of children in administrative and judicial proceedings, school councils and parliaments, involvement in local councils and consultations. The Committee itself established a practice to meet children regularly before the dialogue with the respective State Party. All these practices prove that children are perfectly able to see the challenges that their families and communities face and to suggest ideas; ideas that, with the support of adults, can be developed into effective solutions.

The participation of children to their rights’ protection received an additional strength by the third Optional Protocol to the CRC on the communication procedure (OPIC). Adopted in 2011, this Optional Protocol became the first international instrument recognising direct access to an independent body to decide on individual complaints of children, if violations of their rights cannot be addressed effectively at national level. It only came into force in 2014, but the cases submitted by children or on their behalf are on the rise. We consider OPIC is a powerful tool for policy and cultural change that could positively affect the life of many children. So far, the OPIC is ratified by 46 State Parties -- out of which only 14 EU Member States (out of 28). We invite all EU Member States to consider its ratification.

To conclude, I would like to let you know that the Committee on the Rights of the Child decided last year to mark the 30th anniversary of the Convention by inviting the 196 State Parties to renew their commitments to children. The statistics are self-evident: 47 State Parties made pledges so far for the next years, making 197 commitments to realise the rights of children: 45 pledges relate to enhancing human rights education; 33 – to take legislative and other measures to implement the Convention, 21 – to ensure education to all children, 15 – to ensure respect for children’s views an 12 – to protect children from violence. 56% of the pledges are made by State Parties from Europe.

The 30th birthday of the CRC gave an impetus to renew the commitments of governments to children’s rights. Hopefully, years later, we would be able to celebrate this day in the EU, where all Member States are proud by having made their promises to children real, thus investing in a better life of children but also in the prosperity of their nations.   

Thank you for your attention!