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Up Front: Beyond Protected

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Sara with schoolchildren in Thailand.
Sara with schoolchildren in Thailand.

A new United Nations treaty gives children a way to be heard if their rights are violated


While international law existed to protect their rights, children had no way to appeal directly to the United Nations when their rights were violated. That was until this January when a new international treaty entered into force. The idea for the treaty began with a life- long advocate for children, Sara Austin of World Vision Canada.

The new treaty, known as the third Optional Protocol, allows children to file a complaint if their rights under the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) are violated and have their complaint investigated.

In the mid-2000s, as a graduate student in international law at the University of Oxford, Austin noted that the CRC was the only international human rights legislation without a mechanism for complaints. Children could not hold governments accountable to the promises they made to protect them.

“Children have been largely power- less to direct their countries’ policies, or
to see them enforced, leaving millions of girls and boys around the world to grow up abused, ignored or neglected,” says Austin. For the CRC to have greater strength, it needed Austin’s idea for the Optional Protocol. Her work on the treaty spanned a challenging eight years. In 2006, before a UN committee, Austin’s proposal was shut down.

But she and her partners of non-governmental organizations were determined. “We continued to meet with the UN Committee for the Rights of the Child, with government representatives in Geneva and New York, and with governments in capital cities worldwide,” says Austin. “I was convinced that it would work. We just had to be persistent.”

Finally the persistence paid off: the Optional Protocol is now active in the 10 countries that have ratified it.

Austin’s hope now is that more countries will ratify, including Canada. “I want to see children all around the world living, thriving and having a say in their own futures,” Austin says. “Let’s not waste any more time.”

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This article originally appeared in the Spring 2014 issue of Childview.

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