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Convention on the Rights of the Child

Human rights are measured through United Nations covenants and conventions. Regular State reviews monitor how the rights enshrined in these treaties are being implemented. The review of every nation offers a chance to educate citizens and demand realization of the rights enshrined in the treaties ratified by their governments. Indigenous Peoples’ involvement is essential to seek justice through the review process. In this series we aim to break down the core treaties.

Adopted on November 20, 1989 by UN General Assembly Resolution 44/25, the Convention on the Rights of the Child is the first treaty created for and about children. A bill of rights for children, it blends international human rights and humanitarian law and is the first legally binding international human rights instrument to include all fundamental freedoms—civil, cultural, economic, political, and social—including Indigenous Peoples. Articles 17, 29, and 30 recognize Indigenous children’s rights.

The first two protocols of the Convention are the Optional Protocol on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict and the Optional Protocol on the Sale of Children, Child Prostitution and Child Pornography. The third is the Optional Protocol on a Communications Procedure, which allows for children to testify to the State regarding violations of rights and seek remedy through the committee decision review process. The specific recognition of Indigenous children is a testimony to the growing influence of Indigenous Peoples in international human rights law.

Core Content

The Convention contains four general principles: non-discrimination; best interest of the child; right to life, survival and development; and participation and inclusion of the child. The document’s 54 articles can be divided into 3 parts: Survival Rights, Participation Rights, and Development Rights. These are further subdivided for the State reporting process to ensure proper review of all children’s rights enshrined in the Convention. These include General Measures of Implementation; Definition of the Child, Civil Rights and Freedoms; Violence Against Children; Family Environment and Alternative Care; Disability, Basic Health and Welfare; Education, Leisure and Cultural Activities; and Special Protection Measures.

Country Reports

An 18-member committee of experts reviews States as duty bearers. Since October 1991, the committee members have received and reviewed reports prepared by States as the basis for generating recommendations to share with governments. This culminates in the multiple review sessions of the State, which take place predominantly in the pre-session portion. When a country ratifies the Convention, an initial report is due two years after acceding to the convention. Periodic reports are due every five years. The first and second optional protocol follow a similar pattern.

The Committee on the Rights of the Child meets three times a year in January, May, and September for three weeks at a time, followed immediately by a one-week Pre-Sessional Working Group to prepare a list of issues and questions for the States under review at the subsequent Committee session. As with all human rights treaty bodies, the committee meetings all take place in Geneva, predominantly at the Palais Wilson.

After the State submits its report, there is a period of six months to two years before NGOs submit their alternative (shadow) reports. When submitted at least three months in advance, these reports ensure inclusion in the background documents prepared for the Committee. Civil society should review what the government has submitted and respond directly to what the government claims. It is important to distribute the previous concluding observations as well as the new State report widely at the national and community levels. The shadow reports identify gaps in government reports and offer objective analyses of concluding observation implementation and oversight challenges of children’s rights in the country since the previous review.

Successful supplementary reports don’t follow an article-by-article approach. Instead, they should be based on the nine clusters of the official guidelines for governments. They should offer systematic analysis and incorporate direct input from children along with data to create a list of issues, and ultimately recommendations. The report should offer concrete evidence based on specific cases and should be a maximum of 20,000 words. Children can also submit information through supplementary reports, such as a video or any other creative means, to share their stories with Committee members so they can participate in the interactive dialogue with the State under review.

More than 80 grassroots and global NGOs continue to serve children and their allies through Child Rights Connect. This network has partnered with the committee experts since the Convention’s establishment. It is important to contact Child Rights Connect to partner in the review process in all phases, especially as the committee does more work in earlier sessions than other human rights treaty bodies to ensure maximum engagement for children’s rights.

Five Phase Cycle: Preparation

In the 18–24 months prior to the State review, the preparation phase centers around community engagement. The heart of the action is a thorough examination of the human rights record of the government with a focus on education and explanation of human rights and how they can be a framework for fundamental freedoms and equality. Supplementary reports are prepared by civil society and presented to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child. Children can also submit information through alternative reports, such as drawings or videos, to share their stories. The alternative report should be an assessment of the progress made since the previous review.


The interaction phase initiates participation with the secretariat of the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, committee experts, and Child Rights Connect to ensure that the relevant issues and specific recommendations are understood and considered by the committee in every phase of the State review. This phase especially prepares the country rapporteur(s) and task force to be able to read through the government rhetoric and raise specific questions about current practices. It transforms the shadow reports into short, detailed summaries with specific language, and also prepares the Committee to be able to better discuss the facts and make specific recommendations for change. The core of the interaction is in the Pre-Session.

The Pre-Sessional Working Group in Geneva allows for direct interaction with the Committee members. Invitations to participate are based on the alternative reports submitted. Interaction starts with a two-hour confidential meeting with the Committee, civil society, and UN agencies, and continues through the creation of the List of Issues and the written replies of the State. Even NGOs that don’t submit an alternative report or participate in the Pre-Session can submit additional analysis and insightful information to the Committee.


The consideration phase revolves around information raised in the reviews by the Committee experts based on the shadow reports. The coordination of civil society should result in national recommendations to realize children’s rights. It is possible for informal involvement during breakfast or lunch breaks. The consideration is at least six hours of constructive conversation consisting of two, three-hour sessions between the State delegation and the Committee experts led by the country rapporteur(s) or country task force. The interactive dialogue in this phase results in the deeper understanding of the interests of Indigenous Peoples to influence the direction of the national discussion of children’s rights at the UN Committee, resulting in recommendations cited in the Concluding Observations.

NGOs should submit their responses to the State and the Committee one to two months prior to the actual consideration at the Plenary Session. Then, NGOs should ensure their badges with Child Rights Connect and the Child Rights Connect secretariat. Indigenous voices should be heard through social media at every phase of the consideration, especially around the six-hour review of the State. The relationship begun at the Pre-Session Working Group should be nurtured by being available for conversations in the Palais Wilson cafeteria and in hallways during breakfast and lunchtime during the week of the review.

The consideration phase is also where civil society realizes if their questions and concerns are raised to the State under review. Coordination must be maintained at home but also with global partners. Child Rights Connect assists throughout the entire process, and it is important to issue a press release with highlights of the review. The consideration phase is an opportunity to meet with the state delegation to begin to plan how to ensure the children’s rights recommendations, released during the Adoption phase in the concluding observations, can be realized at home.

Adoption: Mobilization and Connection

The adoption phase is where recommendations are issued to the State based on the responses to the original report; the NGO and UNICEF alternative reports in the Pre-Session; the responses to the List of Issues by the State and NGOs; and the review. The priorities of Indigenous Peoples regarding specific children’s rights enshrined in the Convention and the List of Issues should be featured in the Committee’s concluding observations, if one’s concerns were well presented during the three previous phases. On the final day of the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, there is an open meeting where the concluding observations are shared with the public. The adoption of the Concluding Observations outlines recommendations on how to address the challenges to realize children’s rights. The Committee also issues a deadline for the submission of the next State report.

Implementation: Dedication and Realization

The implementation phase requires dedicated followup for realization of the fundamental rights and freedoms cited in the Concluding Observations recommendations. This closes the cycle. The Committee has not yet adopted any formal followup procedures. The Concluding Observations highlight areas of concern that require dedicated resources and attention by the national administration and agencies. States are expected to submit their next report based on deadline the set in the Concluding Observations.

— Joshua Cooper is a professor at the University of Hawai’i, West Oahu, Kapolei and director of the Hawai’i Institute for Human Rights.


Photo: Q’eqchi Maya children of El Estor, Guatemala, are claiming their right to their language by participating at their community radio station, Radio Xyaab’ Tzuul Taq’a. Photo by Avex Cojti. 

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