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EDITORIAL: Children's right to freedom of association
Introduction: winds of change
The wave of anti-government protests sweeping the Middle East and North Africa in recent weeks has brought violations of civil and political rights, both in street protests and online communications, to the forefront of international attention.
The protests are pressing for the removal of those in power, greater freedom of expression, and reforms to address long-standing inequalities. States have responded by further limiting civil and political rights, in many cases where state of emergency laws already exist.
In Egypt, for example, where a state of emergency law has reigned since 1981, the government tightened restrictions, imposing total censorship on the internet and mobile communications until Tuesday.
The young age of those involved in the protests has been a defining feature across the board - a reflection of the region's young population. In Yemen, for example, where protests are also taking place, 70 per cent of the population is under 25, according to IRIN. While in Egypt, reports tell of the participation of children who are out on the streets with their families, on their own, or in some cases even leading the protests.
In this context, today's CRINMAIL looks at how violations of the right to freedom of association affect children across the world.
Read detailed updates on the Middle East and North Africa here.
Freedom of association for children
The ability to interact is especially critical for children's development. If children cannot associate freely with one another, how can they be expected to build friendships, form views about the world, participate actively in society and stand up for their rights and those of others later in life?
While in many cases the denial of political rights extends to the population of a country as a whole, in others, children - but not adults – are excluded from participating in protests or from forming or joining associations simply because of their age. This situation reflects the view of children as helpless human beings incapable of making informed decisions without the manipulation of adults, and provides yet more evidence of the fact that while children's protection rights are widely accepted, their civil and political rights are relegated to pariah status.
Civil and political rights for all are enshrined in a raft of international laws, but the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child is special because it sets out a number of articles which specifically protect civil and political rights for children (articles 12 to 17). Article 15 embodies children's rights to freedom of association and assembly, including their right to form and join associations and gather peacefully as well as to associate freely with friends and others in public spaces.
Freedom of association is closely linked to other articles of the Convention. Article 13 on children's right to freedom of expression is particularly relevant: restricting children's freedom of association of course restricts children's right to freedom of expression and vice versa.
Article 12 (the right to be heard) is also connected. The latest General Comment of the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, which addressed this article, stating that it “relates to the right of expression of views specifically about matters which affect the child, and the right to be involved in actions and decisions that impact on her or his life”.
In many countries, adults also face barriers to associating freely. Both adults and children participating in anti-government protests in Belarus in December, for example, were dealt with repressively. A number of those involved, including children, were subsequently detained, prompting the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child to issue recommendations to Belarus about children's freedom of association in its Concluding Observations published last week (paragraphs 35, 36).
However, in other countries, where adults' freedom of association is well established, young people are barred or inhibited from using public spaces or from forming their own organisations simply because of their age.
The most obvious example is the imposition of curfew laws. Curfew laws typically apply only to children. Such laws not only stigmatise and criminalise young people, but also obstruct them from building relationships and getting involved in society. For examples of curfew laws and how to challenge them, see CRIN's Global Report on Status Offences.
In the United Kingdom, a range of measures have excluded young people from public spaces. These include evening curfews, antisocial behaviour orders that restrict children's conduct and movement, and the proliferation of the 'mosquito' - an electronic device heard only by children and young people which is used by small businesses to deter children from gathering in public spaces. Read: "Freedom of Association? Not if you’re young and living in the UK", CRIN, 2008, p. 26). Also read about how use of the 'mosquito' device has been challenged in Belgium.
Japan's 2004 report to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child revealed that children cannot join an association until they turn 18 without permission from their parents (Concluding Observations, 2004, paragraph 29).
The Committee has noted inconsistencies in Costa Rica's legislation and reports on freedom of association. While information submitted by the Ministry of Education stated that students have the right to freedom of association, including to participate in political activities, but article 18 of the Childhood and Adolescence Code provides that under-18s have the right to freedom of association, except for political or lucrative activities. (Concluding Observations, 2005, paragraph 23).
Children have also been punished for or prevented from exercising their right to protest by schools. In Jamaica in 2008, for example, when children launched a peaceful protest against the poor condition of their community's roads, the country's Education Minister Andrew Holness, announced that they were in “breach of the peace”, according to the Jamaica Gleaner. He then asked the police to investigate children's involvement in "unlawful protests" and warned educators who fail “to protect children from these illegal acts” that sanctions will be applied.
On a more positive note, Malaysia withdrew its reservation to articles 1, 13 and 15 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child in June last year. Full story.
There are some circumstances in which children’s right to freedom of assembly may be restricted, but these must be in strict conformity with paragraph 2 of article 15, which says that any restrictions must be “imposed in conformity with the law and … are necessary in a democratic society in the interests of national security or public safety, public order, the protection of health or morals or the protection of the rights and freedoms of others”.
However, in many cases arguments about “public safety” and “child protection” have been invoked spuriously to restrict children's right to freedom of assembly.
In 2007, the Committee on the Rights of the Child expressed concern in its Concluding Observations that “a repressive policy [in Honduras] combating 'maras', the crime of 'illicit association' (art. 332 of the Penal Code) has been interpreted too broadly, which in some instances may amount to a violation of article 15 of the Convention, which recognises the right of the child to freedom of association.” (paragraphs 41, 42).
In Moldova, the Ministry of Justice attacked children's involvement in demonstrations against a proposed law mandating Russian language classes for children from age seven. Specifically, they alleged that the Christian Democratic People's Party, which organised the demonstrations, had violated children's rights to freedom of assembly under article 15. The CDPP sued the government before the European Court of Human Rights, claiming that although a ban on their activities had been lifted, the original decision to impose the ban was never expunged. Full details on CRIN's CRC in Court database.
A better environment
The Committee on the Rights of the Child has encouraged States in its Concluding Observations and other guidelines not only refrain from banning children's participation in the public sphere, but to create an environment respectful of children's right to freedom of association. In its General Comment on article 12, the Committee stated that “Children should be supported and encouraged to form their own child-led organisations and initiatives, which will create space for meaningful participation and representation.” (paragraph 128).
In its Concluding Observations to Mozambique, the Committee expressed concern that children's freedom of association is limited by “the condition that they have the capacity to exercise the right to register an association” and recommended that it “encourage children to form associations on their own initiative” (Concluding Observations, 2009, paragraphs 39, 40). It has recommended to a number of States that they consider systemically involving children's associations in all stages of implementing the Convention.
The Committee's 2010 Guidelines for Periodic Reports further request information on “Child and youth organisations or associations and the number of members that they represent” (p. 12). This point was reinforced by the recommendations made by the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child following its Day of General Discussion on Children's Right to be Heard in 2006 which state:
“The Committee welcomes the increasing number of youth-led organisations in various parts of the world. In this context, the Committee reminds States Parties of the right to exercise freedom of association as stipulated in article 15 of the Convention (Report on the 43rd session, September 2006, paragraph 33).
And in September 2010, the UN Human Rights Council created a new Special Procedure mandate to monitor for the right to freedom of peaceful assembly with resolution 15/21. The mandate holder will be appointed during the sixteenth session of the Human Rights Council (March 2011). This presents a new opportunity for children's rights advocates to raise the rights of children in this context.
Latest news and reports
UPDATE: Optional Protocol for a Communications Procedure
One of the key issues discussed during the second drafting meeting was whether the OP would allow for collective communications. Read the briefing. This would give qualified NGOs, ombudsmen, and national human rights institutions the power to bring complaints on behalf of large numbers of children suffering grave or systematic violations of their rights without identifying any individual victims. Many States, especially Commonwealth countries, saw little added value in allowing for these kinds of complaints. Others - including the MERCOSUR countries and Eastern European States like Slovakia, Slovenia, and Serbia - believed that collective communications would better be able to protect children's rights. Read the joint NGO Submission for this week's meeting here.
UN Member States are meeting this week in Geneva for the third - and probably last - meeting to draft the communications procedure for a new Optional Protocol under the UN CRC. It is hoped a final text can be adopted next week, which would then need to be adopted in a resolution at the Human Rights Council in June.
CRIN will be reporting directly from the event. Updates will be posted here.
Reviewing children’s rights
The Committee on the Rights of the Child has released its Concluding Observations for its 56th session, in which eight countries were reviewed including Afghanistan, New Zealand, Belarus and the Ukraine. Read the reports here.
A year of violations
Over 5,000 children were abused and violated in 2010 across Pakistan, according to data released by the Madadgar Helpline Report. It also details 288 cases of child rape and 211 incidents of sexual assault against children including 149 in which children were sodomised, while 572 children suffered torture, 200 were trafficked, and 202 committed suicide. More on this story.
A study conducted by NGOs in Bangalore, India, reveals that children living in the Balakara Bala Bhavana care home for children in distress suffer the effects of overcrowding, poor food, lack of running water, health issues, and beatings and physical torture at the hands of their caregivers. Full story.
This follows another recent finding this time from New Delhi, which has revealed that 1,807 children escaped from NGO- and government-run shelter homes for children during a four-year period, and has documented cases of inadequate hygiene facilities, poor food and even child deaths. Full story. Both cases have highlighted significant gaps in the shelter home system in India that comprehend a lack of a child-friendly environment and insufficient training of staff in child rights.
End to the death penalty
The Tunisian government is on the way towards abolishing the death penalty in the country, as well as announcing the ratification of major international agreements. More on the story.
Justice for the "disappeared"
A new report by the Royal Advisory Council for Human Rights (CCDH) of Morocco details the killing of 352 “disappeared” Saharawis, including children, during a 40-year period between 1958 to 1992. Many of the persons unaccounted for were killed in combat, or died from mistreatment in detention centres, which is the case for 14 children aged from three months to 15 years. Saharawis are demanding that an international court look into the case. Full story.
HIV testing in schools
In last week’s CRINMAIL we reported on a government proposal to introduce HIV-AIDS testing in schools across South Africa, which had received criticism from children’s rights groups over concerns of children’s emotional wellbeing and the question that testing should be voluntary. Since then, the Children’s Rights Centre of South Africa has provided new information clarifying that for the time being, HIV testing in schools will not take place on a nationwide scale, and that concerns raised are receiving due consideration. To read the briefing, click here.
Interrogation & torture of 16-year-old
The Secretary-General of the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) is calling for an urgent investigation into a case of torture against a 16-year-old girl and her father in Caracas, Venezuela. The two were allegedly physically mistreated and threatened by police officers in order to extract their testimonies regarding an incident in which a girl was shot dead at a family gathering. The young girl was handcuffed, slapped, and interrogated in the absence of one of her parents and a lawyer. Full story (in Spanish).
Children as "second-class" rights holders
A children’s rights advocate has slammed government agencies in Victoria, Australia for failing to prevent over 700 children from being exposed to contact with 376 registered sex offenders. In a report submitted to the Victoria state parliament, the advocate says that the rights of sex offenders were placed above those of vulnerable children. While the chief executive of the Australian Childhood Foundation, Joe Tucci, has stated that the case demonstrates how ‘the culture and the priority put on the protection of children isn’t at the foremost of thinking at the heads of these bureaucracies.’ Full story.
Stop detaining migrant children
The Council of Europe's Commissioner for Human Rights, Thomas Hammarberg, has argued against migrant children being detained as it constitutes a violation of their right to health, as well as being a cause of trauma and anxiety for children. Read the full statement here.
Outrage over Roma deaths
The death of four Roma children in a fire at their makeshift shack in an informal camp in Rome, Italy has sparked public outrage over the lack of long-term solutions to the housing situation of Roma communities in the country, which include forced evictions. Full story.
In light of this tragedy, the European Roma Rights Centre (ERRC) has written a letter to the mayor of Rome, Gianni Alemanno, urging him to halt further forced evictions of Roma families in the city. The ERRC points out that authorities routinely expel residents and tear down their makeshift homes without providing alternative accommodation, which only drives Roma families to seek shelter elsewhere. The ERRC also highlights that this constant threat of eviction means that Roma families find it difficult to maintain jobs and children's school attendance suffers because of the constant moving. In the case above, the families of the four victims had previously been forcibly evicted 30 times in ten years. To read the ERRC letter, click here.
Implementing the right to nationality
The Open Society Justice Initiative has issued recommendations to the Committee on the Rights of the Child about making it clear to State Parties how they should interpret and implement children’s right to nationality. It is done in the hope that clarifying and emphasising the obligation that governments bear for stateless children would raise the profile of the issue in high-level discussion. Read the recommendations here.
To read CRIN’s Editorial on children and statelessness, click here.
Domestic Violence: ‘Zero Tolerance - Towards a Comprehensive EU-Wide Strategy’
Date: 3 March 2011
Location: Brussels, Belgium
Organisation: Public Policy Exchange
More details here.
Child Exploitation: ‘26th Meeting of the Task Force for the Protection of Children in Tourism’
Date: 11 March 2011
Location: Berlin, Germany
Organisations: Task Force for the Protection of Children in Tourism and WTO
More details here.
Child Trafficking: ‘Enhancing Human Security - Developing Local Government Capacities to Combat Child Trafficking in the Asia-Pacific Region’
Dates: 30 March 2011 – 1 April 2011
Location: Jeju, South Korea
Organisation: Cifal Jeju / Jeju International Training Centre (JITC)
More details here.
Child health: ‘Quality in Alternative Care’
Dates: 4 April 2011 – 6 April 2011
Location: Prague, Czech Republic
Organisation: SOS Children’s Villages International
More details here.
Save the Children Sweden – Consultant
Save the Children Sweden is accepting applications for the role of Consultant at its MENA Regional Office. The consultation period is for 8-10 weeks, to start as soon as possible.
To apply, send a CV and a letter of intent in an email with the title SHRH Module Consultant to: email@example.com
For further information on the role, click here.
Application deadline: 14 February 2011
UNICEF – Child Protection Systems Specialist
UNICEF Regional Office for West and Central Africa in Dakar is recruiting a regional child protection systems specialist for the West and Central Africa region to start on 1 April 2011.
For a detailed description of the role, click here.
In order to apply, click here.
Application deadline: 18 February 2011
Save the Children International – Knowledge Management Advisor
Save the Children International is recruiting for the position of Knowledge Management Advisor to enhance the quality of Education Cluster services through improved information and knowledge management across all levels. The post is based in Geneva for a period of nine months with the possibility for renewal.
For a detailed description of the role, click here.
To apply, please submit your CV and a covering letter in English, including the name and contact details of two referees to: firstname.lastname@example.org
Application deadline: 21 February 2011 (5pm Geneva time)
ECPAT International Secretariat – Deputy Director for Programmes
The ECPAT International Secretariat is accepting applications for the role of Deputy Director for Programmes who will be responsible for the management of the organisation’s regional and specialised programmes. The post is based in Bangkok for a period of three years with the possibility for renewal.
For more details on the role, click here: http://www.ecpat.net/EI/GetInvolve_vacancies.asp?id=37
To apply, please email your CV and cover letter quoting “Vacancy for Deputy Director” in the subject line, to: email@example.com
Application deadline: 15 March 2011
Jargon of the Week: **Best Practice**
With much of world's economy revolving around businesses, it's no wonder that business jargon has strayed over into other sectors such as nursing, education and even human rights. 'Best practice' is one such example.
Best practices generally refer to the easiest and most effective ways of achieving an objective, based on evidence and research. For instance, “It is best practice to monitor the well-being of children in foster care.”
However, on the same basis that we wouldn’t expect a child to understand business jargon, NGOs shouldn’t use it in their child-friendly documents as it is not child-friendly language.
Specifically, it’s the “practice” component that can confuse readers. This is especially the case when the term is repeated in the same sentence. For example, “Experts came up with various best practices, which later formed a list of best practice statements.”
In order to avoid using the term, you may need to be more creative in your wording by interchanging between adjectives or superlatives. For instance, instead of saying “it’s best practice to share research between NGOs”, try “it’s best to / it’s advisable to / it’s better to share research between NGOs.”
Remember: the simpler the language, the easier it is to understand.
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