Concluding comments from the Day of General Discussion on the Child’s Right to Be Heard


[GENEVA, 15 September 2006] - In his concluding comments from the Day of General Discussion on the child’s right to be heard, Jaap Doek, the Chair of the Committee on the Rights of the Child, spoke of the role of today’s discussion in furthering children’s participation.

Jaap Doek commented that the work on Article 12 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) is not something that can be achieved overnight; it is a long process because it involves changing attitudes at all levels of society. He said today’s discussion was an opportunity for advocates and other child rights professionals, UN agencies, NGOs and children themselves to express their views, experiences and concerns about children’s participation to the Committee. The Committee has no magic bullet, he said, but it does have an ongoing responsibility to remind States of their obligations.  

This Day of General Discussion is a milestone in furthering Article 12 of the CRC. The findings will be expressed in recommendations at the close of the current session of the Committee on the Rights of the Child on 29 September 2006. The recommendations will be sent to governments who are expected to take them seriously and make them part of policies and programmes. “Are they going to do this? I am not sure, but you are there to, if necessary, knock them over the head with these recommendations,” Doek told participants. “Children’s rights, despite all the lip-service, are not automatically translated into practice and it is the responsibility of all of us to work on this. These recommendations are an instrument for you.”

The next step of this process is the elaboration of a General Comment in which the Committee further explains to governments what they are supposed to do to implement Article 12. This document must be drafted in close consultation with NGOs and children across the world.

Jean Zermatten, member of the Committee on the Rights of the Child, took the floor to introduce the concluding observations of the young people participating in the discussion. 

Viola from Italy commented that she hoped all of us would have a better perspective on children’s right to be heard after this discussion. Her key message was that education is essential to promote the Convention on the Rights of the Child, and that today’s work should not end here.

Luxman from India, said that in his state lots of people remarry and many men take extra wives without consulting their children. He believes that children have a right to have a say in such family matters. 

Sehreem from the UK stressed that having young people on the Committee is essential to getting their voices heard. She regretted that they had not had the opportunity to speak for longer with Committee members. She expressed concern that children who come from poorer countries will not have access to child rights education, and this is information that needs to be accessible to everyone.

Zermatten took the floor again to conclude the discussion. He stressed that Article 12 must be considered in relation to other articles of the Convention and the fact that children’s participation in matters that affect them is a non-negotiable right. "Rights come with responsibilities, he continued, States have an obligation to set up mechanisms and spaces for children to talk so that we can make the move from paternalistic protection to an approach based on law which recognises that all children have rights." 

Speaking about meaningful participation, he questioned the conditions that often surround children’s participation. Participation is not a gift or a way of manipulating the child and trying to make them say what the adult wants them to say: it is a right. For this right to become a reality, adults must change their mind-set. They need to learn to listen. There also needs to be a balance between protecting children too much and giving them too much responsibility. Furthering children’s right to be heard will bring benefits to all levels of society, from the family unit to wider democratic society. Knowing about and exercising rights is fundamental to supporting democracy.

Zermatten concluded by stressing the importance of everyone present to take back the messages that have come out of today’s discussion. All of us to make States aware that they have a responsibility to overcome obstacles to children’s participation. Members of the Committee must make sure that States respect this responsibility.

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