2009 New Year round up

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2008 began with a bang, as CRIN launched the petition to establish a complaints procedure under the Convention on the Rights of the Child. The petition is part of the campaign being led by a group of organisations under the umbrella of the NGO Group for the Convention on the Rights of the Child. Almost a year on, and 415 petition signatures later (by organisations from across the world), and the campaign looks to be nearing fruition with the endorsement of the Committee on the Rights of the Child. Will a decision be taken soon? You’ll hear it here first!

On 21 January stock markets around the world plunged amid growing fears of a U.S. recession, fueled by the 2007 subprime mortgage crisis.

Much later in the year, there was a mixture of bafflement, anger, sniggering and resignation when, on 3 October, U.S. President George W. Bush signed the revised Emergency Economic Stabilisation Act into law, creating a 700 billion dollar Treasury fund to purchase failing bank assets, and ensure bankers stay above the organic bread line. Some branded the plan ‘socialism for the rich’.

The move was followed by similar bailouts in other countries. Although the interventions were widely accepted as inevitable and necessary to hold off economic meltdown, many were left wondering what 700 billion might have given social services, healthcare or education. Our financial CRINMAIL breaks down some of the issues, and explores what a global recession might mean for children.

Better late than never…

On 13 February, Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd delivered a formal apology to the Stolen Generations, Aboriginal children taken from their parents to be raised by white families. It wasn’t so hard, was it?

Perhaps encouraged by the fact that Australia did not break out in civil war, nose dive into national bankruptcy as a result of reparation claims, or involuntarily retreat in shame into the Antarctic seas, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper also apologised to Canada's First Nations for the Canadian residential school system on 11 June. The schools, which operated during the 19th and 20th centuries, were an attempt to assimilate Indian people into the non-native culture.

In March, the first session of the ‘Universal Periodic Review’ mechanism at the Human Rights Council took place. Great hopes have been pinned on the process for addressing those criticisms of the old Commission for Human Rights (which the Council replaced). These criticisms largely centered around the political infighting and mutual back-patting which tended to dominated the Commission’s work. Will the UPR process, by which all countries sitting on the Human Rights Council have their human rights record assessed, address these criticisms?

The mechanism certainly got off to a bad start. Bahraini human rights NGOs were blocked from attending the first session, while Tunisian delegates were able to dictate the questions being asked during the Review. Succeed or fail, the role of NGOs will remain crucial in holding the activities of governments up to the harsh light of international scrutiny.

Between April and March, rising food and fuel prices triggered riots and unrest in some countries. World Bank head, Robert Zoellick, said the rapid rise in food prices could push 100 million people in poor countries deeper into poverty. Meanwhile, the IMF said hundreds of thousands of people are at risk of starvation. Children and other vulnerable groups are especially at risk from food insecurity - their health, education and protection are all likely to suffer. Our special CRINMAIL on food explained the origins of the rising prices, as well as the impact on children and the benefits of a rights-based approach.

On 3 May, more than 133,000 were killed by Cyclone Nargis in Burma - the deadliest natural disaster since the Boxing Day Tsunami in 2004.

Also in May, CRIN launched its child rights strategic litigation toolkit. The Guide, written by Patrick Geary, of Simpson Thacher & Bartlett LLP, was produced to help those working for children's rights understand the role of strategic litigation, and consider how it may be used for effecting change for children by using the law. The Guide is available here.

The UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) took effect on 3 May 2008, a month after Ecuador became the 20th ratifying nation. The Convention, which has so far been ratified by 44 countries and its Optional Protocol by 26, expressly recognises the equality of persons with disabilities for the first time in international law. Read more here 

On 15 June, the Council of Europe launched a Europe-wide initiative against corporal punishment of children in Zagreb, Croatia. “The European Convention on Human Rights is for everyone and there is no footnote in it which says that the human rights are for adults only,“ said Council of Europe Deputy Secretary General Maud de Boer-Buquicchio at the launching ceremony.

Unfortunately, during May and June the CRIN website was attacked by hackers, affecting many of our services. While we eventually managed to get back on track, thanks to the big-hearted efforts of some very friendly IT people, there were many stumbling blocks along the way as the hackers kept finding holes in our defence. Thank you to all our users for their patience during this time, and an especially huge thanks to Encription, the IT company who came to our rescue. Since the experience, we have made huge efforts to shore up our defences, and believe we have done all we can, with the technical material currently available, to ensure this does not happen again.

False hope

In October, there was both relieved excitement and desperate disappointment within a matter of days, as Iran seemed to ban all executions of juvenile offenders, only to issue a qualification and apparent retraction less than a week later.

Nonetheless, there was cause for hope as hundreds of NGOs and other organisations joined in virtual solidarity to sign the petition against the execution of juvenile offenders – launched on CRIN with Human Rights Watch.

On a positive note, October also saw a landmark ruling in Africa grip both the regional and international press. The Court of Justice of the West African regional body ECOWAS (what is this?), found in favour of Hadijatou Mani, from Niger, who was sold aged 12 and made to work for 10 years in slavery. A judge ordered the government - which claimed it has done all it can to eradicate slavery - to pay Ms Mani 10m CFA francs (£12,430; $19,750). The decision, which is binding on all ECOWAS Member States, could also have huge consequences for thousands of other people who have been kept in conditions of slavery across the region.

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) held its 133rd session from 15-31 October 2008. Hearings with a child rights element included: juvenile justice in Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay, torture in Honduras, the situation of children deprived of their liberty in prisons and mental institutions in Argentina, and an individual case against the USA for failing to protect children from domestic violence. Read more here

On 4 November, Barack Obama was swept into the President-elect hot seat on a wave of hope, excitement and relief. National holidays were declared in several Asian and African countries, while politicians throughout the world fell over themselves to profess their allegiance. Expectations are no doubt inflated, but there is also a reasonable hope that his inauguration on 20 January will spawn a more peaceful and just world order. Will he bring the changes that human rights advocates demand, and that the world needs? Will the US finally come in from the child rights wilderness, and ratify the Convention on the Rights of the Child? Will he close Guantanamo Bay, and outlaw torture, as promised? Watch this space!

Also in November, Brazil welcomed thousands of delegates from across the globe at the III World Congress Against Sexual Exploitation of Children and Adolescents. Unfortunately, agreement on an outcome document remained elusive.

In December, the draft European Directive on anti discrimination and equal treatment set out proposals to extend legal protection from unfair discrimination beyond the workplace. Crucially, the inclusion of age in the Directive is a defining moment in enshrining children’s rights in law. As it stands, the Directive will provide much needed legal protection from unfair age discrimination to children, young people and adults. Read more, and take action!

At the Human Rights Council, the efforts of hardworking child rights advocates, committed to mainstreaming, continued to inspire. Sadly, the disruptive efforts of some delegates also helped create the playground atmosphere which tends to result from a surplus of self interest.

The 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the parent instrument of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, generated a flurry of activity and passionate commitment, albeit accompanied with the usual hollow rhetoric from those governments who publicly endorse justice and privately condone violations. You can read more about the Declaration, its relation to child rights, and the day’s activities by reading our special CRINMAIL.

Here at CRIN, we distributed our 1000th CRINMAIL in July. We are very grateful to all those loyal readers who sent messages of support.

In perhaps the most laboured process to have graced the international human rights arena (an impressive achievement in itself), the process to appoint a Special Representative to the Secretary General on Violence Against Children drags on. While adults groan in frustration, what is the effect of the delay on children? When will they finally get the high-level appointment their protection deserves?

News from our Arab desk

The fledgling Cairo desk has been a hive of activity, and Eman continues to work hard at bringing news, reports and events on child rights in the Arab world to both a wider global audience, and to committed activists and organisations in the region.

During the year, CRIN Arabic issued weekly and monthly newsletters, including specials on disability and sexual exploitation. In addition to key resources in Arabic such as CRIN's Media Toolkit, the Child Rights A to Z, and a number of information pages have also been translated and made available.

Poverty, child labour and violence continue to blight the lives of children in the region. Armed conflicts in the OPT and Iraq affect children particularly severely. Different issues are receiving close attention in different counties. For example, in Morocco, SOS Morocco is campaigning against the use of children in sexual tourism, in Saudi Arabia, a group of NGOs are campaigning against child marriage, and in Kuwait a group of NGOs is lobbying for Bedoon's rights. Meanwhile in Yemen, child rights organisations have been drawing attention to trafficking in children between Saudi Arabia and Yemen.. In short, progress is solid, but much more remains to be done!

Armed conflict and child exploitation gets support

Albania and Iraq acceded to both Optional Protocols to the CRC (on child soldiers and sexual exploitation). Zambia also signed both, while Cyprus signed the Protocol on armed conflict.

Meanwhile, Burundi, Singapore, China and Russia all ratified the armed conflict Protocol. Greece, Israel and Monaco ratified the Protocol on sexual exploitation.

A vigorous campaign in New Zealand threatens to overturn a ban on smacking, passed in 2007. Certain adults’ need to hit a child appears to remain strong among some sections of society.

To find out which countries have banned the corporal punishment of children, visit here.

Elsewhere, Japan passed a law on citizenship for mixed-race children, a bill on the right to education was tabled in India’s Upper House, Egypt announced plans on a draft law on trafficking, the US passed a law on criminalising the use of child soldiers…even if the guilty parties operate outside the US, while laws were introduced in Guatemala on sexual exploitation, and Kyrgyzstan on breastfeeding. In Yemen, a new law guarantees the rights of children with HIV and AIDS and a South Africa child justice bill was broadly welcomed, while in Russia, the Duma adopted a law on the protection of orphans, and in Botswana, a draft child rights bill is on the agenda.

Meanwhile, massive forced civilian displacements, violence, and unmet medical needs in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Somalia, Iraq, Sudan, and Pakistan, along with neglected medical emergencies in Myanmar and Zimbabwe, were identified as some of the worst humanitarian and medical emergencies in the world, according to organisation Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF).

2009

In what may be the longest job appointment in history, the UN is still dragging its feet on the appointment of an SRSG. Will this finally be the year that the issue of violence against children is once again rewarded with UN leadership? We hear there is a shortlist and that candidates have been interviewed…it is time for the Secretary General to make a decision.

Will Obama demonstrate his commitment to justice for children and ratify the Convention on the Rights of the Child? Will he hold his nerve once faced with the full force of the anti-rights lobby?

It is clear that a complaints procedure under the Convention on the Rights of the Child is not only well overdue, but also overwhelmingly supported by the child rights community and the Committee on the Rights of the Child. Will this be the year that the wheels are set in motion?

The CRC will be 20 on November 20 2009. What progress has been made? What remains to be done? We will have up-to-date coverage, insightful analysis and commentary from those present at its birth, events listings and more.

At CRIN, we will be launching our discrimination microsite, which will unpack the issues and, we hope, fuel reflection on how the issue impacts your work. We will also be continuing our work on the follow-up to the UN Study on Violence Against Children. You can expect a revamped violence microsite and more.

Our next Review, due for publication in the second half of 2009, will be on the subject of adolescence. We plan to explore the relevance of the distinction between younger and older children, and how the, sometime arbitrary, boundary impacts children’s rights.

Following advice from our members and management team, we have been reviewing our membership application process. All new members will need to accept a set of conditions in order for their application to be processed, so, in the interests of fairness, we will also be asking old members to reapply. This should not take long – we hope you will appreciate why this is necessary. Thank you in advance!

So what else can you expect from us? Well, in line with our strategic plan, we will becoming more ‘proactive’ in providing CRIN users with a platform for advocacy. This means you can expect more toolkits to help you with your work, more petitions for you to sign and more opportunities for working with others to campaign for change. This also means we will be expecting more from our members, whether in the form of support for advocacy initiatives, or the general provision of information, on a more regular basis.

CRIN will be embracing all the latest IT technology in 2009 in a bid to better service our members with information needs. So watch out for updates on new features, and how you can become more involved in the global child rights community.

Are you excited about you or your organisation’s plans for 2009? Let us know what you have store, and we can put it in CRIN’s events calendar. If you are unsure what sort of information we post, visit here

Finally, in the New Year, CRIN will be leaving the Save the Children UK office where it has been housed for the past 13 years, and relocating to another central London location. We are very grateful to all the support offered by Save the Children over this period, and look forward to maintaining a close relationship with them in the future.

Our very best wishes for 2009!

The CRIN team

Countries

    Please note that these reports are hosted by CRIN as a resource for Child Rights campaigners, researchers and other interested parties. Unless otherwise stated, they are not the work of CRIN and their inclusion in our database does not necessarily signify endorsement or agreement with their content by CRIN.