Celebrating children human rights defenders!

by Leah and Emily

Published: 20 Nov 2018

Guest bloggers Emily (aged 13) and Leah (aged 14) went to Geneva to join in with UN discussions about children's rights, as part of the Children’s Rights Alliance for England (CRAE) Change It! campaign. 

In September 2018, the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child held a global event in Geneva to discuss how to protect and empower children as human rights defenders. Thanks to the Equality and Human Rights Commission and the Children’s Rights Alliance for England (CRAE), we were able to go along and join the ‘Day of General Discussion’ (DGD).

We are both part of CRAE’s Change It! campaign steering group. Change It! is run by children and young people and is focused on making sure all children have a home where they can grow up safe and healthy.

Before our trip we both felt incredibly nervous! We didn’t know who we might meet there and who we would speak to about our experiences as young activists at CRAE. But we were so excited to be travelling to Geneva to represent our work and that of other children and young people in England.

In the run up to the trip we were worried that we would only have time to sleep, go straight to the DGD meeting and then travel home. But we managed to fit in a lot more!

When we arrived we went to meet with staff at Child Rights Connect who helped us get our registration badges ready for entry to the Palais des Nations the next day. The staff there introduced us to other people who would be at the DGD which helped us to feel more confident.

In the evening, some children from Scotland hosted a barbecue and it was nice to meet them and see what they had been doing.

The title of the DGD was ‘Empowering and Supporting Children as Human Rights Defenders’ and this really reflects the issues that we talked about on the day.

We heard some inspiring examples of what other children and young people around the world have been doing.

Many children human rights defenders from across the world shared their stories. And all of us seem to be facing the same challenges:

  • we, and our views, are not taken seriously enough by decision-makers
  • often, we do not know enough about our rights or how to get the information we need
  • we don’t get enough support to take part in human rights activities (such as the Change it! campaign)
  • we don’t get the protection we need as human rights defenders (some children reported that they are exposed to threats, bullying or even punishment for speaking up)

Many of the adult speakers said how important it was that everyone recognised children as human rights defenders.

Kate Gilmore from the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights said during the opening session:

‘It should not be such a rare and exceptional event that you [children] join us in discussion because it should be normal, routine… We have to take you seriously. You have the right to participate in decisions affecting you, and to hold us accountable.’

However, we think there could have been more opportunities to properly involve children in the DGD and make the event more child friendly and authentic. We would have liked more time for us to actually talk about our activism and share our views.

As part of the Change It! campaign we have lobbied members of parliament, co-produced reports and engaged a national network of over 300 children and young people. We would have liked to share our experiences and compare them with those of other children from around the world who were at the event, but there weren’t enough opportunities for our voices to be heard on the day.

Nonetheless, we both found the DGD really interesting and quite joyful in its commitment to recognising children as rights-holders.

For us the best bit of the trip was the moment we arrived in Geneva. Walking off the plane in a different country knowing we would be representing our work with CRAE and the work of other children and young people was an amazing feeling. It was a thrill!

The worst part was going home. Attending the DGD was a unique opportunity and we didn’t want the trip to end.

We both learnt a lot about children’s rights and how we can work together to defend them.

If we could change one thing or send a message to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, it would be to make the day more child friendly, with more small group sessions and discussions. We kept hearing adult speakers comment that we needed to recognise children as our present and not just our future.

It would have been nice to have more chances to tell them what the present is really like for us and other children our age.