To help civil society organisations, experts working with children, state structures, and activists, the National Network for Children has just published the document “The rights of child human rights defenders: Implementation Guide”. NNC shares the document as a result of our activities under the project “Present and Future: Empowering Child Defenders in Bulgaria”, launched at the end of last year. The aim of our project initiatives is to give impetus to the empowerment of children in Bulgaria to be defenders of human rights.
According to the United Nations, all children taking any kind of action to promote and protect human rights, including children’s rights, are defenders, even if they or others use another terminology (i.e. actors of change, child advocates/activists, agents of transformation, etc.). However, it is not widely understood enough that children have rights, particularly civil and political rights, have the capacity to understand and claim human rights, and can and should be able to speak up on human rights abuses.
Adults and children need to recognize that children have human rights as advocates, as stipulated in the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, and that child participation in public life is a “child-sensitive issue” and States have an obligation to respect and support human rights defenders and to take them seriously on issues that are of public interest and may not seem like specific child rights issues (e.g., environment, civil society space). Children need to be aware of mechanisms at national, regional and international level that can help them. Adults (together with children) should ensure that these mechanisms are accessible to children and strengthen/create systems where needed.
What needs to happen?
Respecting and supporting children as human rights defenders does not mean just calling them human rights defenders; it means that States need to take distinctive and additional actions that recognise the specific rights and status of CHRDs in society. It is crucial to build awareness and legal understanding of what it means to be a CHRD and how their rights must be respected, protected and fulfilled at the national level through the coordinated implementation of the UNCRC and the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders.
What’s different for child human rights defenders?
Not only do they have the same rights as adult advocates, but the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child extends some of these rights by taking into account the distinctive social context of children. Children experience specific and additional challenges and violations when acting as human rights defenders due to their status in society, lack of political power, lack of voice and dependence on parents/guardians. Some children may face other barriers based on their gender, ability, ethnicity, culture.
What can adults do?
The Guide “The Rights of Child Human Rights Defenders: Implementation Guide” provides detailed guidance on what is distinctive about CHRDs and how to support them. Adults can use the Guide to learn more about what they can do to strengthen the protection and empowerment of CHRDs and disseminate it among all relevant stakeholders who can play a role. There are many ways in which you and others can use the Guide, and these are few key examples of what different actors could do in practice.
Government officials can use the document to evaluate and rethink national and local legislation and policies, including those that do not directly address children’s rights (e.g. freedom of peaceful assembly).
CSOs and NGOs can use the Guide to strengthen legal and rights-based arguments in advocacy on many issues, e.g. child participation, parental rights, civil and political rights, education.
The document has been translated to Bulgarian and is available on our website here.
For the project “Present and Future: empowering child rights defenders in Bulgaria”, the National Network for Children works locally with the Know-how Centre for Alternative Care for Children, NBU, and internationally with Child Rights Connect – the largest child advocacy network that links those who fight for children’s rights with the UN human rights system. Through its 90 member organizations, coordinated by a secretariat in Geneva, the network reaches every country in the world. The National Network for Children is a member of Child Rights Connect.