Children’s Rights: Equal Rights? Save the Children

Children’s Rights:
Equal Rights?
Save the Children
Picture It
Picture the Past
And the human race taking part
in the breach of equality
Picture the Past
Where the whole world is in opposition
to a different skin colour
Picture the Present
A revolution where a new generation
finally protests
Picture the Present
The whole world’s opinion changed so that
no one is taken at face value
Picture the Future
A complete human race at harmony with each other
You never know
One day we might not have to picture it.
Philippa Hall
Oban High School, Scotland
Children’s Rights:
Equal Rights?
Published by The International Save the Children Alliance
First published November 2000
The International Save the Children Alliance Charity
Registered Charity No. 1076822
ISBN 2-940217-11-4
All rights reserved. No production, copy or transmission of
this publication may be made without the written permission
from the publisher.
Citation: Children’s Rights: Equal Rights?
Editor: Sarah Muscroft
Designed by River Design
Printed by Impressions
For more information please contact:
The International Save the Children Alliance
275-281 King Street
London W6 9LZ United Kingdom
+ 44 (0)20 8237 8008
Email: [email protected]
Front Cover: Neil Cooper (Save the Children), Inge Lie (Save the Children),
Howard Davies (Save the Children), Eli Reed/Magnum Photos
(Save the Children), Jenny Mathews (Save the Children)
Part I
Peter E. Ross (Save the Children)
Chapter 1
Grovers After-School Club (Save the Children)
Chapter 2
Jenny Mathews (Save the Children),
Chapter 3
Howard Davies (Save the Children)
Part II
Neil Cooper (Save the Children)
Part I A Child’s Right to an Equal World
Chapter 1 Introduction
Chapter 2 Children’s Rights
Chapter 3 Discrimination
Part II Country Reports
Annexe 1 The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child
Annexe 2 International Save the Children Alliance
Difference Lies Within Us
Difference lies within us
If only the insides shone brighter than colour
What would the difference be then
Without so much to prove…
Tears well up in eyes
And stream down faces
We’re all alike
No matter what the race is.
Kathy, age 17
Toronto, Canada
Discrimination comes from ignorance. People discriminate against others to bring them down
and make themselves feel and look better. We all have pre-set ideas and negative views of certain
groups of people. These prejudices are something that we grow up which are easily translated
into practice and abusive actions.
Discrimination is so damaging. It is a very sad and painful thing to feel discriminated against.
You are treated differently and unfairly because of things that you have no control over.
These are not things of choice and yet, because of them, you are treated differently, demeaned
and excluded. Discrimination is extremely corrosive; young people grow up in the shadow
of inferiority, it destroys their confidence and breeds hatred. It is a destructive force that affects
all aspects of their lives damaging their chance of happiness and enjoyment in life.
People are discriminated against because of difference – skin colour, disability, language, religion,
poverty, social group – the list is endless. Black people in particular are treated differently; you
don’t get a job because of your skin colour, you can’t get into a school because of your skin
colour, you are bullied and beaten up because of your skin colour, you get stopped and harassed
by the police because of your skin colour. It makes no sense to me.
You could be any colour, I couldn’t care less. After all we are all human – we have the same two
eyes, a nose, a mouth, a brain. Everyone is equal at the end of the day. Some people may have
different attributes, some will have greater advantages than others, but, everyone has their own
talent – everyone is different, yet everyone is equal. Everyone has the right to feel proud so long
as it is not at the expense of others. Treat people as you would like them to treat you.
Challenging discrimination has to be done step by step. It must start with the young
generation. If you can change the younger generation, in time discrimination can be broken
down. We have to teach people to accept others, promote difference and portray minority groups
positively. Victims of discrimination also have a role to play. They too have to take action and
break down barriers. Despite denials, discrimination is real. We need to speak out against it and
we need to challenge the media, authorities, governments and local communities to take action
and combat prejudice.
I am a Bangledeshi living in the UK and a Millennium Award Holder working with Save
the Children in London with children and young people who are marginalised and face
discrimination. Through Save the Children’s programmes I have learnt a lot. They have
benefited me massively. As a young kid I didn’t really mix widely with other groups of people,
I kept myself to myself. But through this project I have met and spoken with so many different
types of people – professionals, black people, white people, disabled people, children, parents
and the elderly. Before, I too had pre-set ideas about different groups. Now everything has
changed for me. I have a broader mind and I see beyond physical appearance, age or disability.
The work I am doing helps young people in my community. I help to change their ideas.
I try to make them think about other people and tackle prejudice. I truly believe that we can
change people’s views by encouraging them to think and challenging them to see beyond the
boundaries of stereotype. Discrimination comes from our minds and I am attacking people’s
thoughts and beliefs.
I am a young person working with young people to help tackle prejudice and break down
discrimination - I urge you to do the same.
Sayed Miah,
The International Save the Children Alliance would like to thank all those who have been
involved in this project and the preparation and production of this publication.
Principle Writers
Gerison Lansdown, Mike Gidney, & Lisa Woll.
Editorial Board
Paulette Cohen, Diana Dalton, Eva Geidenmark, Burkhard Gnärig, Sarah Muscroft,
Angela Penrose and Carl von Essen.
Editing Team
Gill Harvey, Charles Harrowell, Jane Honey, Sarah Muscroft and Mike Stocks.
Martin Alexanderson, Annalena Andrews, Bill Bell, Aina Bergstrom, Rita Bhatia, Simone Ek,
Agneta Gunnarsson, Andrea Khan, Fiona King, Andrew Johnson, Michelle Morris,
David Norman, Marilyn Thompson, Sue Stubbs and Lisa Woll.
Research Team
Australia – Andrew Johnson.
Canada – Daryl Keating and Nicole Amoroso.
Denmark – Susanne Glending, Neils Hjortdal.
Domincan Republic – Federica Donati & Horatio Ornes Heded.
Egypt – Federica Donati.
Finland – Mirjam Araneva, Juha Eskelinen and Jari Virtanen.
France – Maude Philippe Bert, Catherine Hasberg and Isabelle Moreau.
Greece – Vassiliki Sotiropoolou and Effy Kalogeropoulos.
Guatemala – Óscar Peláez-Almengor, Dr.Luis-Felipe Irías and Tom Lent.
Honduras – Ligia Menacia, Mariano Plannells, Jennifer Vaughan and Betulia Zelaya.
Iceland – Kristín Jónasdóttir and Bjarney Fridríksdóttir.
Italy – Federica Donati and Angelo Simonazzi.
Japan – Attorney Yoshiko Iwasa and Miho Wada.
Jordan – Farouq Al-Amad and Federica Donati.
Korea – In-Sook Kim, Yong-chan Byun (The Korean Health and Social Research Institute),
Myung-sook Lee (Korean Association For the Prevention of Child Abuse and Neglect),
Dong-hyun Ahn (The Korean Council for Children’s Rights) and Bae-keun Lee
(The Child Protection Foundation).
Macedonia – Nevena Serafimova.
Mauritius – Kashila Kistnasamy (SCM), Nadine Chundunsing and Sunita Appadoo
(Commission of Probation After Care Services).
Mexico – Susan Bird, Sylvia van Dijk and Mercedes Villegas de Pesquiera.
Netherlands – Mathieu Hermans and Annuska Overgaag/Majorie Kaandorp (Defence for
Children International, Netherlands).
New Zealand – Tamarapa Lloyd (Ngati Tuwharetoa, Ngati Turmakina and Te Arawa,
Ngati Whakaue), Robert Ludbrook and Beverley Turnbull.
Norway – Lisa Bang, Marianne Borgen and Turid Heiberg.
Romania – Gabriela Alexandrescu, Miralena Mamina, Raluca Slamnescu.
Spain – Carmen del Molino Alonso and Javier Prats Abadía.
Sweden – Simone Ek, Karin Liljeblad and Eva Oscarsson.
UK – Dr Linda Clements (Hull University) and Djuna Thurley.
USA – Maria Chavez-Brummel, Catherine Milton, Don Palladino and Dianne Sherman.
Francis Ellery, John Errington, Jane Gregory, Radhika Howarth, Don MacQueen,
Sayed Miah, Anne Mummery, Alan Thomas, Marion Pocock, Helen Thompson
and Annie Wasdell.
Antony Lawrence, Judi Turner, Colin Smith and Nigel Wilkinson
of River Design, London.
Stuart Traynor of Impressions, London.
African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child
A charter adopted by the Member States of the Organisation of African Unity, which aims to
add an African perspective on the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.
Beijing Platform for Action
Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination
Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination
United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child
Civil Society
Non governmental actors in society who are organised to act in the pursuit of various interests.
United Nations Economic and Social Council
Economic Community of West African States
European Union
Most often used in its economic context - to refer to the pan national economics which is
characterised by huge immediate capital flows of the global electronic economy. Globalisation is
also used to refer to a set of interrelated political, technological and cultural process.
Heavily Indebted Poor Country Initiative
Group of Eight – most industrialised countries comprising Canada, France, Germany, Italy,
Japan, Russia, UK and USA
Internally Displaced People
The International Labour Organisation
ILO Worst Forms of Child Labour Convention
A new Convention adopted in June 1999 and awaiting ratification. It seeks to prevent work that
“is likely to harm the health, safety and morals of children”.
International Monetary Fund
International non-governmental organisations
Non-governmental organisations.
A loose grouping of the “developed” nations which are mainly located in the northern
Organisation of African Unity
Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development
Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe
A loose gathering of the “developing” nations which are mainly located in the southern
States Party
A nation that has ratified a Convention, such as the CRC. They become a “States Party” to
the Convention.
UN Conference on Trade and Development
The United Nations Development Programme.
UN Department of Peace-Keeping Operations
UN General Assembly Special Session
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.
United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights
United Nations Children Fund
United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees in the Near East.
World Conference Against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance
to be held in Durban, South Africa in September 2001.
World Trade Organisation
Part I
A Child’s Right to an Equal World
From ‘We Have Rights Okay’
Since 1919 Save the Children has been fighting for the rights of the child. Right from the start,
everything that Save the Children has done has been underpinned by the concept of children’s
rights, its founder, Eglantyne Jebb, urging the public to;
claim certain rights for children and labour for their universal recognition.
Letter 1923
This vision, outlined by Eglantyne Jebb in 1923, was finally realised in 1989 when the
United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) was unanimously adopted by
the UN General Assembly. It is now the most widely ratified human rights treaty in history.
The adoption of the CRC has marked a watershed in the recognition of children’s rights,
formally identifying children as the bearers of rights – rights, which are distinct from those of
adults. It established an international framework for the treatment of all children and created
an unprecedented greater global commitment to safeguarding their rights.
The twentieth of November 1999 marked the passing of a decade since the adoption of the
CRC. At this time, Save the Children took a critical look at how far the world has come in
realising the vision of the CRC and how much real progress has actually been made for the
Liba Taylor / Save the Children
benefit of children. Save the Children
presented answers to these questions in the
publication, Children’s Rights: Reality or
Rhetoric? (1999), which provides an
overview of the Convention and explores
both the achievements and the failings of
the last ten years. In particular the domestic
situation for children is examined in 25
countries where Member organisations of
the International Save the Children Alliance
are based, providing comparative
information on the implementation of
children’s rights across these countries.
While the reports recognise the undoubted
successes of the Convention, each also
reveals the gaps between the vision espoused
Caroline Penn / Save the Children
in the CRC and the reality for children
across the world today. One of the most alarming findings is the consistent failure of most
governments to fully uphold the principle of non-discrimination, enshrined in Article 2 of the
CRC. Every country report reveals evidence of children being excluded through discrimination
and denied equality of opportunity and the most basic of rights.
While the international community has devoted considerable attention in recent years to
problems of discrimination, in particular racism and related intolerance, the extent to which
children around the world are seriously affected by discriminatory practice continues to be
So, another year on, the 2000 publication, Children’s Rights: Equal Rights? brings these issues to
the fore. It builds on the findings of Children’s Rights: Reality or Rhetoric? by both reviewing the
achievements of the past year and focusing specifically on the issue of discrimination, exploring
the nature and origins of prejudice and discriminatory behaviour. The effects of discrimination in
children’s lives are examined in 26 country reports prepared by Member and Associate
organisations of the International Save the Children Alliance.
Children’s Rights: Equal Rights? is divided into two sections. The first section opens with a review
of progress made over the last year (2000 – 2001) to advance children’s rights. This is followed by
an analysis of the issue of discrimination. Section two comprises the 26 country reports.
The review of children’s rights over the past year focuses on notable achievements, such as the
two Optional Protocols to the CRC, which address the recruitment of child soldiers and the sale
of children, child prostitution and child pornography. While highlighting areas of progress the
review also identifies continuing areas of concern where greater commitment is required to ensure
children’s rights are properly realised. The final section of the review looks ahead to opportunities
provided by the 2001 World Conference Against Racism, Racial Discrimination and Related
Intolerance and the UN General Assembly Special Session on Children. Both of these
conferences, in particular the Special Session, provide opportunities to ensure that children’s
issues are placed on political agendas and practical action is taken to advance children’s rights.
The chapter on discrimination provides an analysis of the nature of discrimination and how
it impacts on children’s lives. The principle of non-discrimination, articulated in Article 2 of
the CRC, is fundamental providing a cornerstone to the Convention underpinning all rights.
The chapter clearly demonstrates how essential Article 2 is to all other rights. If this most
basic of principles cannot be assured, the full vision of Convention simply cannot be realised.
It is an unfortunate feature of the human condition that discrimination against children exists in
all societies with far-reaching implications for society as a whole. Racism and racial discrimination
are given particular emphasis in this chapter, and the role of education as a principal tool for
combating discrimination is explored. Strategies for combating discrimination, providing clear
and practical solutions for fighting this primary violation of children’s rights conclude the chapter.
Part II brings together the series of country reports prepared by 26 of the Member and Associate
organisations of the International Save the Children Alliance (see Annex 2). Each report provides
an update on children’s rights in the given country and then focuses specifically on the issue of
discrimination with special attention
given to racism and ethnicity.
The situation for children is set
against the provisions of the
Convention. By highlighting the
difficulties of upholding the
principle of non-discrimination
and exposing the gaps between the
rhetoric and the reality, each report
identifies the role and responsibilities
of governments, international
institutions and wider civil society.
Practical recommendations issue the
challenge to all actors to promote
diversity and difference and tackle
discrimination head on to ensure
that all children are afforded equal
rights and equal opportunities.
Peter E. Ross / Save the Children
David Stewart-Smith / Save the Children
Collectively these 26 reports present a comprehensive review of the detrimental consequences of
discrimination across a diverse group of countries. This offers the opportunity to compare and
contrast the situation for children across the world, and provides a unique analysis of the ongoing
situation and the challenges to tackling discrimination and achieving equality.
Children’s Rights: Equal Rights? presents a global overview of the far reaching consequences
of discrimination for children in today’s world. The challenge we all face in relation to the
issue of discrimination, and to children rights in general, is the transition from near universal
acceptance of the Convention to its universal observance. To this end, governments, international
institutions and wider civil society are once again called upon to accept their collective
responsibility. Save the Children challenges each to enforce the principle of non-discrimination,
to promote diversity and difference and ensure that all children are afforded equal rights and
equal opportunities in life.
The International Save the Children
Alliance and Children’s Rights
‘I believe we should claim rights for children and labour for their
universal recognition’
Eglantyne Jebb, Founder of Save the Children – 1923
Since Eglantyne Jebb started her pioneering work with children immediately after the end of the
First World War, Save the Children has dedicated itself to making children’s rights a reality.
This fundamental goal underpins everything that Save the Children does.
Over time, the Save the Children movement has grown as organisations from different countries
of the world have joined forces to protect and promote children's rights. Together these
organisations now form the International Save the Children Alliance, a global movement for
children, which currently comprises 30 organisations, spanning the five major continents. Bound
by a common vision and mission, Save the Children remains committed to advancing children’s
rights and to bringing positive change in order to safeguard a child’s right to a happy, healthy and
secure childhood.
Save the Children works for
• a world which respects and values each child
• a world which listens to children and learns
• a world where all children have hope and opportunity
Save the Children’s Vision
Save the Children fights for children’s rights.
We deliver immediate and lasting improvements to children’s lives worldwide.
Save the Children’s Mission
In a world where children continue to go hungry, where they are victims of preventable disease,
where they are abused and exploited or denied access to education, Save the Children continues its
work to bring about real change and an improvement in children’s lives worldwide.
Save the Children now works in over 100 countries. Through long-term development initiatives
and emergency relief programmes, Save the Children tackles key children’s rights issues – health,
education, nutrition and food, security, gender discrimination, disability and early childhood
development. It also possesses considerable expertise in more specialised fields such as family tracing
and reunification (for children separated by war or natural disaster), the rehabilitation of child
ex-combatants, alternatives to institutional care and support for working children. In all this work
it strives to implement a rights-based approach in its programmes, ensuring that all activities seek
to integrate the key principles of the CRC.
In addition, Save the Children builds local, regional and global partnerships to establish a broader
movement to support and implement children’s rights. This involves working with international
organisations and UN agencies and includes support to organisations run by children and young
people to enable them to champion their own rights. In many countries Save the Children works
with coalitions of children’s rights organisations to develop awareness of children’s rights. It is also
piloting a variety of methods of enabling children to participate more actively in decisions that
affect them.
To complement this work, Save the Children has provided training in children’s rights for a wide
range of key actors, such as governments, community organisations and partner organisations, to
ensure a stronger awareness of children’s rights and their realisation in policies and programmes.
In parallel with all of their activities, Save the Children plays a critical advocacy role. It lobbies
governments, the international community and members of civil society, highlighting failures in
public policy and private practice, which represent violations of children’s rights. In today’s complex
international environment, and for agencies such as Save the Children whose purpose is deeply
rooted in children’s rights, this role is crucial. Save the Children and other children's agencies must
act as the custodians of children’s rights, sharing the responsibility to fight for their recognition
and defence.
From ‘We Have Rights Okay’
Children’s Rights
Progress in International
Children’s Rights 1999-2000
This chapter considers international developments in the last year related to children’s rights.
While there has been some attention to issues that should assist in promoting and protecting
children’s rights around the world, there remain many issues, which have still not received
proper attention or which, like the debate about globalisation, have not focused sufficiently
upon children.
Over the past year, notable steps forward include agreement on two new Optional Protocols
to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC). These protocols address the
involvement of children in armed conflict, and the sale of children, child prostitution and child
pornography. Both instruments have now been formally adopted, and were opened for signatures
on 5 June 2000.
The Optional Protocols were discussed at the UN Commission on Human Rights (CHR)
Session in March/April 2000. To coincide with this, the NGO Group for the CRC,
representing fifty-one international NGOs, organised a Children’s Human Rights Caucus to
promote the mainstreaming of child rights within the broader international human rights system.
The International Save the Children Alliance played a lead role in this providing two members
of staff to help with organisation.
Additionally, an important international benchmark has been agreed in the past year on the issue
of child labour. The International Labour Organisation (ILO) has established a Convention on
the Worst Forms of Child Labour, which was adopted unanimously by its 174 member States on
17 June 1999. It states that the worst forms of child labour should be prohibited and eliminated
for all persons under the age of eighteen.
Action also took place related to a child’s right to education. In April 2000, the World Education
Forum was convened in Dakar, Senegal to review progress since the l990 World Conference on
Education for All in Thailand. While many of the NGOs that attended the Dakar meeting saw
the Forum as a missed opportunity for meaningful action, the Dakar Forum is likely to lead to
some progress. Most importantly, governments agreed to “strengthen existing national plans of
action by 2002 at the latest.” The process of strengthening national action plans over the next
two years is an unprecedented opportunity for organisations concerned with child rights to shape
Children’s Rights
Jenny Mathews / Save the Children
the direction of governments’
education programmes. Save the
Children will be working with
governments on these action plans.
Efforts have also been made to
address the situation of internally
displaced children. Over the
last two decades, very little has
changed for the millions of internally
displaced people (IDPs) including
children, as distinct from the
increased public awareness of the
plight of refugees. In the past year,
the United Nations appointed a
Special Representative on Internal Displacement. It remains essential that the Security Council
act in cases where sovereign States do not fulfil their responsibilities to IDPs in their territory and
that the UN Special Representative on Internal Displacement places greater emphasis on the
situation of the 13 million displaced children worldwide.
Girls’ and women’s rights were also on the agenda this year. In June 2000, a UN Special Session,
“Beijing +5”, took place formally reviewing efforts to implement the Beijing Platform for Action
(BPFA) which resulted from the Fourth World Conference on Women in 1995. During the
Fourth World Conference, Save the Children took leadership in ensuring the inclusion of the
perspective of girls in the conference proceedings.
While “Beijing +5” provided evidence of the many challenges still facing girls and women across
the globe, the Session also acknowledged that some progress has been made in education for girls
and greater attention has been given to health issues, including the sexual and reproductive health
of adolescents. More countries have introduced legislation to ban female genital mutilation and
have imposed heavier penalties on those involved in sexual abuse, trafficking and all other forms
of sexual exploitation.
Last, an issue that weaves through all the topics presented in this chapter is child participation.
The opportunity to meaningfully participate in activities and decisions that affect them is a basic
right for children under the CRC. Yet, there exists a great deal of debate and uncertainty about
how children should most effectively be involved.
Some progress has been made, in this respect, in international activities. Encouraged by NGOs
the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child led the way by inviting children to participate
for the first time in the pre-sessional working group of their May-June 1999 session. Children
also took part in the plenary session of the Committee’s meeting to mark the tenth anniversary
of the CRC.
Additionally, during “Beijing +5”, more young women and girls took part than has previously
been the case at similar UN events, and this was reflected in the higher profile they received in
the various panels and workshops.
Although laudable, these examples continue to be the exception rather than the rule. The
international community is still largely missing opportunities to involve children in discussions.
The remainder of this chapter is split into three sections. The first part looks at general actions in
children’s rights. Section two considers progress made related to Children and Armed Conflict,
Sexual Exploitation of Children and Children and the Economy. Section three looks forward to
opportunities, which lay ahead and preparations for the two UN Conferences in 2001.
General Actions in Children’s Rights
The tenth anniversary of the Convention on the Rights of the Child occurred on 20 November
1999. To mark this occasion, the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child organised a
high-profile joint meeting with the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights in September.
The meeting brought together about 200 representatives of civil
society and governments to look at the achievements and challenges
of the CRC, at examples of best practice and at recommendations
for improvements.
A number of recommendations were produced, including a call for
further assessment of the impact and validity of the reservations to
the CRC and more detailed consideration of the legal status of the
CRC in the examination of States Parties reports. The need for
additional guidance on the interpretation or application of the
provisions of the CRC was also highlighted.
During the past year, the Committee on the Rights of the Child has
taken further steps to improve its working methods. A continuing
Philippe Reynaers / Save the Children
Children’s Rights
problem has been the backlog of up to two years in processing States Parties reports. To address
this, the Committee increased the number of reports it considered at the twenty-third session
(January 2000) from six to eight. This was further increased to a total of nine reports at the
twenty-fourth session (May-June 2000), and a similar number will be considered at each future
session. However, one effect of this is that the Committee now allocates only six hours to
examining each States Parties report.
Peter Barker / Save the Children
As of January 2000, another measure
to improve the effectiveness of the
Committee deliberations in Geneva
was the re-establishment of a system
of country rapporteurs for each
State party to the CRC. Country
rapporteurs will work closely with
the Secretariat in the Office of the
High Commissioner for Human
Rights, will finalise the list of issues
to be addressed to the State Party
after each pre-sessional meeting,
and will be responsible for the
quality of concluding observations
and recommendations.
At its May-June 2000 session, the Committee agreed to begin drafting its first General Comment
on Article 29 of the CRC (on the aims of education – for the full text of the article see Annex 1).
Such General Comments represent the Committee’s views on the interpretation of specific
articles and are intended to guide future action. Article 29 was selected because it would
contribute to a discussion about the role of education in teaching tolerance and respect for
human dignity without discrimination. Education is the principle way to challenge and change
society’s attitudes towards ethnic minorities and is thus an essential input to the World
Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance (see the
final section: Planning for Opportunities Ahead 2000 - 2001).
The Committee also decided to allocate two days of general discussion to the issue of “Violence
against Children” over the next two years. The first discussion day, held in September 2000,
focused on State violence against children living in institutions managed, licensed or supervised
by the State and in the context of law and public order concerns. The second, in September
2001, will be on the problems of violence suffered by children in schools and within the family.
The African Charter on the Rights and
Welfare of the Child was initially adopted
by the Organisation of African Unity
(OAU) in July 1990, and was the first
treaty to establish the human rights of the
child across an entire region of the world.
As an example of the application of global
human rights at a regional level, the Charter
has enormous potential.
Liba Taylor / Save the Children
Unfortunately the ratification process for the Charter has been very slow. It was not until
29 November 1999 that it finally took force. Nevertheless, it now has widespread regional
support: as of November 1999, it had been ratified by the governments of Angola, Benin,
Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Cape Verde, Lesotho, Malawi, Mali, Mauritius, Mozambique,
Niger, Senegal, Seychelles, Togo, Uganda and Zimbabwe.
States Parties to the Charter are required to submit reports to an eleven-member committee,
which will monitor compliance and will be empowered to deal with complaints from any person,
group or NGO recognised by the OAU relating to any matter covered by the treaty. However,
the committee has not yet been elected because an insufficient number of nominations have so
far been received. It is unlikely that elections will take place before the next OAU Summit
planned for 2001 in Lusaka, Zambia.
Focus on Specific Issues
Optional Protocol on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict
Public awareness of the widespread problem of child soldiers has increased significantly over
the past year. There is now almost universal agreement that under-eighteens should not be used
in combat. After protracted negotiations, the United Nations General Assembly adopted, on
25 May 2000, an Optional Protocol on the involvement of children in armed conflict - an
extension of Article 38. The Optional Protocol states that children under the age of eighteen
must not be deployed in any conflict. It thereby raises the minimum age for recruitment and
deployment from 15 to 18 years and prohibits compulsory recruitment. The protocol is a major
advance for children’s rights and was broadly welcomed. Several countries signed the Optional
Children’s Rights
Protocol soon after its adoption, including Canada, Sweden, Argentina, Norway, Cambodia and
the United States.
While Save the Children and other NGOs have lobbied extensively for protection of children
in conflict, and support the Optional Protocol, there remains concern about the fact that the
Protocol allows States to recruit volunteers at sixteen. On becoming parties to the Protocol, States
have to deposit a binding declaration setting out their minimum voluntary recruitment age and
the safeguards they have adopted to ensure that such recruitment is not forced or coerced.
It is worth noting that the minimum ages set out in the Protocol relate to any armed group,
regardless of whether they are actually involved in an armed conflict. This protects children from
situations where the precise status of any civil situation is in dispute.
UN Security Council Resolution 1261
On 26 July 2000, the UN Security Council held its
third open debate on the question of children and
armed conflict - the first global thematic issue it has
discussed. The previous debate, in 1999, had resulted
in the landmark Resolution 1261 on children and
armed conflict. At this year’s meeting, the SecretaryGeneral submitted a report on implementing the
Resolution, which has the potential to be a real step
forward for children’s rights, provided that its
recommendations can be fully implemented.
Prior to the debate, an informal briefing was held
for the Security Council by a small group of NGOs,
including Save the Children. The group produced
a statement entitled “From Words to Action,” which
welcomed the progress made in Resolution 1261 but
Save the Children Sweden (Rädda Barnen)
called on the Security Council for strong measures
to implement the policy. It put forward a range of measures to establish children’s rights as a
central element of all Security Council dealings with conflict situations.
As a result, the Council pledged its support for a proposal that would place the rights of children
as a priority concern in the mandates of all peacekeeping operations. It has already acted on this
pledge by incorporating the protection of children into the mandates for the missions in Sierra
Leone and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. A minimum age of eighteen years has also
been established for all UN peacekeepers. In addition, the UN has agreed that all peacekeeping
operations (UNDPKO) should include child rights advocates within their missions.
Secretary General’s Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict
The work of Olara Otunnu, the Secretary General’s Special Representative for Children and
Armed Conflict, has been generally welcomed by Save the Children and the wider NGO
community. He has been an important advocate for children, and has played a lead role in
boosting awareness of children’s rights in international policy. This year this leadership role
has included convening a meeting of Ministers of the Economic Community of West African
States in April 2000, which considered the protection of children in armed conflict. The
Special Representative also brokered an agreement within the Organisation for Security and
Co-operation in Europe in November 1999, which requires participating States to implement
measures to promote children’s rights and interests.
The Optional Protocol, and the strong support on this issue from governments and the UN,
all suggest a significant advance in global policy towards this most vulnerable group of children.
Most recently, in September 2000, the Government of Canada hosted an international intergovernmental conference on war-affected children with the presence of youth, NGOs and other
experts. However, the events of the year demonstrate the gap that remains between policy and
practice. In the same year that the Optional Protocol was ratified and adopted, there has been
widespread alarm at the deployment of children in the latest round of armed conflict in Sierra
Leone. The reality for some children continues to fall well below the benchmarks established by
the Optional Protocol.
The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child this year
drafted an Optional Protocol to the CRC on the sale
of children, child prostitution and child pornography.
The Alliance, along with many other NGOs, believes
that this optional protocol is unnecessary and that the
international framework for protecting children from
sexual exploitation already exists.
Save the Children joined with dozens of other NGOs at
a UN Commission on Human Rights meeting in April
2000 in asking for a technical review before ratification.
The review was desired in order to take into account
the international standards already provided by the UN
Convention on the Rights of the Child and other
relevant international instruments such as the ILO
Convention 182. Despite this, the Optional Protocol has
now been adopted and it has been open for States to sign
since the beginning of June 2000.
D. Stewart-Smith / Save the Children
Children’s Rights
Penny Tweedie / Save the Children
In 2000, the United Nations met to review the progress
towards the goals decided upon at the l995 Social
Summit in Copenhagen. For the first time, southern
governments agreed to the international poverty target
of reducing the proportion of people living in extreme
poverty by 50 per cent by 2015 and all governments
re-affirmed the Copenhagen Declaration and
Programme of Action. The conference, however, placed
little emphasis on children’s issues, even though children
are widely held to be a most vulnerable economic group.
Through high-profile campaigns such as Jubilee 2000,
there is growing public understanding of the extent to
which external debt is hindering development and
poverty reduction. Debt is now more widely understood
to be a constraint on the ability of governments to
implement the CRC. The principal international
response to the critical issue of debt relief - the Heavily
Indebted Poor Country Initiative (HIPC) – has met with only limited success. Three years after
it was introduced, only seven countries were actually due for debt relief under the original HIPC
rules, accounting for just $3 billion of the total $127 billion owed by the world’s poorest
countries. As long as external debt threatens the ability of governments to fund basic services such
as health and education, children in poor countries remain at risk.
Planning for Opportunities Ahead
The World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related
Intolerance (WCAR) will be held in South Africa in 2001. This will be the third World
Conference on this topic; the previous two World Conferences on Racism were held in l978
and l983 in Geneva and focused mainly on ending apartheid. The UN High Commissioner
for Human Rights has recommended that “the particular situation of children should receive
special attention during the preparations for and during the World Conference itself, especially
in its outcome.”
Among the objectives of the conference are to
review the progress made in the fight against
racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and
related intolerance, and to formulate concrete
recommendations on ways to increase the
effectiveness of activities and mechanisms of
the United Nations through programmes aimed
at combating racism, racial discrimination,
xenophobia and related intolerance.
Penny Tweedie / Save the Children
Prior to the World Conference, there will be
an Inter-Sessional Working Group meeting in
January 2001, followed by a second PrepCom
in May. In addition, various regional seminars
are planned to feed into the Conference.
The 1990 World Summit for Children (WSC) was attended by leaders from more than
150 countries. Attendees adopted the World Declaration on the Survival, Protection and
Development of Children and endorsed a global Plan of Action that included twenty-seven
goals to be reached by the year 2000. These included specific steps in health and nutrition,
safe water and sanitation, basic quality education, protection of children and adolescents and
gender equality.
The UN is currently planning a three-day Special Session of the General Assembly in September
2001 to review levels of national achievement against the goals and targets agreed to in 1990.
These include a request to all governments to carry out an “end-decade review” of their progress.
Three Preparatory Committee meetings (PrepComs) will precede the Special Session itself, as will
a series of regional meetings. The first of the PrepComs took place in May 2000.
The challenge for organisations like Save the Children is to make the PrepComs and the Special
Session comprehensively rights-based, continuing to build upon the momentum provided by near
universal ratification of the CRC. The PrepCom in May 2000 was notable for the development
of a Child Rights Caucus, which was organised jointly by Human Rights Watch and the
UNICEF / NGO Committee’s task group on child rights. Human rights organisations, which
were largely absent at children’s rights meetings 10 years ago, are now participating fully in the
ongoing debate about children. Concerted efforts must continue to ensure that children’s issues
are placed on all political agendas and to translate the provisions of the CRC into practice so that
children’s rights become a reality for all children worldwide.
Children’s Rights
Detail from the Children’s Rights Graffiti Wall
Painting by the children of Vuyiseka School, Cape Town
Been tormented again today,
Until I almost cracked,
Lonely, and afraid no one would talk to me.
Like I am leper or something.
You, stop this I told the bullies they just laughed,
Cruel laughs.
Is there something wrong with me?
Nobody can help me.
Go away and leave me alone I scream inside my head.
They never will.
Society’s Shame:
Challenging Discrimination
in a Child’s World.
The Nature of Discrimination
Discrimination exists in all societies, dominating the lives of millions of people throughout the
world. While it may take differing forms, it invariably involves those with power treating those
with less power unjustly because of who or what they are. The Human Rights Committee defines
discrimination as “any distinction, exclusion, restriction or preference which is based on any
ground such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social
origin, property, birth or other status and which has the purpose or effect of nullifying or
impairing the recognition, enjoyment or exercise by all persons, on an equal footing, of all rights
and freedoms”.1 Those discriminated against are perpetually cast as ‘other’ or ‘lesser’ and are often
reduced to a stereotype.
Children in almost every society lack power and are therefore vulnerable to discrimination.
Furthermore, there are many specific groups of children who are additionally susceptible to
discrimination because they differ from others in some respect.
Discrimination is widely recognised to be a violation of human rights, and the right of all people
to be treated as of equal worth is a well-established principle in international human rights law 2
(see Appendix 1). However, the concept of equality within most human rights treaties has not
sufficiently recognised the extent to which children as a group experience
Jenny Mathews / Save the Children
discrimination: while they do not preclude children, they do not address their
specific situation. For example, in many countries it is only children who lack
protection under the law from all forms of assault. Children can be hit by their
parents or by staff in institutions with relative impunity, whereas a comparable
assault on an adult constitutes a criminal offence. Children are often denied
access to the courts to challenge injustices, and major decisions can be made
about their lives without them having the right to be consulted or even
informed. Because of their youth and vulnerability, they have fewer
opportunities than adults to challenge discrimination or abuse. Positive action
is therefore required to protect their rights.
Non-discrimination: 10/11/89 CCPR General Comment 18.
G. Van Beuren and Marinus Nijhoff, The International Law on the Rights of the Child, Save the Children, 1995.
Accordingly, like the 1965 International Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Racial
Discrimination and the 1979 Convention on Elimination of Discrimination against Women,
the Convention on the Rights of the Child was drafted in recognition that children, as a group,
experience discrimination and need special protection under international law if their rights are
to be realised.
While the Convention on the Rights of the Child, in its entirety, addresses the unique
discrimination faced by all children, it also recognises that many children face further
discrimination as a result of their particular status or circumstances, and places obligations on
governments to take active measures to prevent such discrimination. The Committee on the
Rights of the Child has identified four underlying principles that need to be considered in
implementing all other rights.
1. Article 2 – the principle of non-discrimination
Article 2 of the Convention states that:
1. States Parties shall respect and ensure the rights set forth in the present Convention to each child within
their jurisdiction without discrimination of any kind, irrespective of the child’s or his or her parent’s or legal
guardian’s race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national, ethnic, or social origin,
property, disability, birth or other status.
2. States Parties shall take all appropriate measures to ensure that the child is protected against all forms of
discrimination or punishment on the basis of the status, activities, expressed opinions, or beliefs of the child’s
parents, legal guardians, or family members.
In other words, governments must take measures to ensure that all the rights in the Convention
apply without discrimination to all children within the jurisdiction of the state.
• All rights – Discrimination can and does serve to prevent the realisation of all rights. While the
Convention acknowledges that social and economic rights can often only be realised gradually
because of lack of resources, governments cannot defend continued discriminatory practices
against any group of children on such grounds. Non-discrimination must be implemented
immediately. Governments must ensure that their own actions do not discriminate against
any children, and also take active measures to prevent discrimination by others.
• All children – The rights laid down in the Convention extend equally to all children.
Protection is not restricted to those with citizenship: aliens, refugees, asylum seekers, stateless
children and children of illegal immigrants are all entitled to equal treatment. In this respect, the
Convention specifically addresses the rights of vulnerable groups – refugee children, children in
trouble with the law, children in situations of armed conflict, and children from minority
groups. Significantly, Article 2 also introduces specific recognition of the rights of disabled
children – an important milestone in giving visibility to children whose rights are particularly
vulnerable to abuse and neglect.
Discrimination Impacts on all Rights
The following examples illustrate the nature of discrimination against children in many countries.
Article 1 – rights extend to all children under 18
It is common for the age at which girls can marry or give sexual consent to be lower than that
for boys.
Article 6 – the right to life and optimum development
Infanticide is still practised against both disabled children and girl babies.
Article 7 – the right to a name and nationality
Full citizenship may be denied to children whose parents are not citizens, and also the right to
inherit nationality from the father for non-marital children.
Article 8 – the right to preservation of identity
Some countries have procedures for adoption that deny children the right to knowledge of
their identity.
Article 9 – the right to non-separation from parents
Unmarried mothers may be forced to give their babies away for adoption, and girls may be placed
into domestic labour, thus denying them the right to family life.
Article 10 – the right to family reunification
Some countries fail to provide opportunities for refugees to bring their children into the country,
denying this particularly vulnerable group to right to family life.
Articles 12 and 13 – the right to hold and express views
Boys may be given greater opportunities to participate in decision-making processes than girls, and
the views of disabled children are often completely disregarded.
Article 14 – the right to freedom of religion
State funding may be given to schools run by some religious groups but not others. Children are
sometimes penalised in school for practising their religion.
Article 15 – the right to freedom of association
Curfews may be imposed on children, the impact of which falls disproportionately on poor children.
Article 16 – the right to privacy
Children in institutions are often denied privacy in respect of correspondence, personal belongings,
visits, and files.
Article 17 – the right to information
The media may promote and perpetuate negative images of minority groups, even inciting racial
hatred. Even more widespread is the implicit affirmation of stereotypes of girls, disabled children or
minority groups through their portrayal or, indeed, absence in the media.
Article 19 – the right to protection from all forms of violence
The practices of female genital mutilation and honour killings of girls are extreme but prevalent
examples of violation of the right to protection from violence. Discrimination is also evident in the
differential protection of children from corporal punishment according to where they live – at home,
in care, or in penal institutions.
Article 20 – the right to alternative care
Children in care often suffer discrimination in schools and are denied their liberty and family
contact. Disabled children in many societies are abandoned and forced to live in institutions purely
because of their disability.
Article 21 – the right to promotion of best interests in adoption
Children of poor mothers in some societies are tricked, bribed, or cheated into giving up their babies
for adoption. No account is taken of the children’s best interests: they are merely a commercial
Article 22 – the equal rights of refugee children
Refugee children may be denied their rights to education, health or other care on the basis of their
refugee status.
Article 23 – the right of disabled children to the fullest possible social integration
Disabled children are frequently denied the right to education, are offered less access to healthcare,
and are denied the right to family life.
Article 24 – the right to the best possible health
Children living in poverty, girls, children in rural areas, minority ethnic groups, indigenous children,
asylum-seeking and refugee children and illegal immigrants are frequently denied equal access to
healthcare and consequently to the best possible health.
Article 25 – the right of children in institutions to periodic review
Legislation governing reviews is often different according to the institutions in which the child is
placed, giving some children far less protection than others.
Article 26 and 27 – the right to benefit from social security and to an adequate standard
of living
Asylum-seeking children sometimes receive lower rates of state benefits than other families.
Indigenous or minority groups are disproportionately likely to experience poverty, reflecting
discrimination in access to education, training, employment and housing.
Article 28 – the right to education
Girls are frequently denied access to education, as are many disabled children, or children from
minority groups. Separate schools are sometimes provided for different ethnic communities, which
are not funded equitably and offer an inferior quality of education.
Article 29 – the right to an education promoting fullest potential and respect for human rights
Educational materials often exclude reference to minority groups, present a version of history that
denies the experience of indigenous populations, and confirm stereotypical images of girls.
Article 30 – the right to respect for culture, language and religion
Children of minority and indigenous communities are often denied the right to speak their own
language at school, their culture is not reflected in the curriculum and they are refused the right to
practise their religion.
Article 31 – the right to play
Children in custody are rarely offered appropriate opportunities for play, as is the case for disabled
children and young children forced into child labour.
Article 32 – the right to protection from economic exploitation
Minority or indigenous children are at greater risk of working in dangerous environments under
exploitative conditions.
Article 33 – the right to protection from harmful drugs
Poor children are at a significantly greater risk of exposure to harmful drugs.
Article 34 – the right to protection from sexual exploitation
Girls are particularly vulnerable to rape, sexual abuse and sexual exploitation. Abuse can arise within
the family, when girls are used as domestic workers, through child marriages, or through girls being
sold into the sex industry or effective sexual slavery.
Article 35 – the right to protection from abduction, sale or trafficking
Poor children in poor countries are particularly vulnerable to being sold into bonded labour, to
become child soldiers, or to being trafficked for sexual purposes.
Article 37 – the right to protection from torture, cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment and
to use of imprisonment only as a measure of last resort
Aboriginal boys are disproportionately likely to be given prison sentences. Asylum-seeking children
may be detained even though they have committed no offence.
Article 38 – the right to protection in situations of armed conflict
Girls are particularly vulnerable to rape, being exploited as sex workers, sexual humiliation and
mutilation in situations of armed conflict. The very nature of armed conflict leads to the violation or
neglect of almost all human rights for children.
Article 40 – the right to due process
Poor or minority children are disproportionately likely to be involved in the criminal justice system.
However, Article 2 does not mean that all children must be treated the same. The Committee on
the Rights of the Child has stressed that the bar on discrimination does not prohibit legitimate
differentiation between children, such as affirmative action to protect the rights of particularly
vulnerable children.3 However, differentiation between children can only be justified if it can be
shown to be in the best interests of those children. For example, respect for children’s evolving
capacities should allow them greater responsibility for decision-making as they gain in age and
competence. And without special assistance, children such as orphans, street children, children
of migrant workers or displaced children are more likely than others to face discrimination in
the exercise of their rights.
Article 2(2) protects children against discrimination on the basis of their parents’ or guardians’
status, beliefs, activities or opinions. For example, a child cannot be denied the right to schooling
because his parents have been convicted of a crime or are refugees. A child cannot be denied
access to inherit nationality from her father, simply because her parents are not married.
Hodgkin and Newell, Article 2, Implementation Handbook for the Convention on the Rights of the Child, UNICEF
While Article 2(1) is limited to non-discrimination in
the exercise of the rights embodied in the Convention,
Article 2(2) extends to any form of discrimination or
punishment that might be imposed on children on the
basis of their parents’ identity.4
Jenny Mathews / Save the Children
2. Article 3 – the best interests of the child
Article 3 places an obligation on public and private
social welfare institutions, courts of law, administrative
authorities or legislative bodies to give primary
consideration to the best interests of children in all
actions concerning them. This duty applies particularly
in respect of discrimination against children as a body.
Many differences in law, policy and practice in respect
of children are justified on the grounds that they are
necessary for children’s protection, but these often constitute discrimination. Article 3 is now
used as a test against which such distinctions must be judged: unless they are necessary to protect
a child’s welfare, they represent a breach of the right to non-discrimination. For example, a
blanket rule precluding children from attending court when decisions about them are being
made, irrespective of the nature of the decision or the competence of the child, cannot be
justified under Article 3.
Article 3 can also be used to combat the use of the best interests principle to justify laws, policies
or practices that discriminate against particular groups of children. For example, segregated
schools for disabled children are widely defended on the grounds that they are in the best
interests of the children concerned, and in accordance with the concept of affirmative action.
However, in order to determine whether segregation is in a child’s best interests, it is necessary to
consider its impact on the exercise of other rights. The right to family life may be affected if the
child has to live in a school away from home. The right to participate may be denied if children
are excluded from mainstream activities enjoyed by other children. The right to fulfil potential
may be denied in a special school that does not offer the full range of academic opportunities.
Certainly the right to the greatest possible social integration required by Article 23 is likely to be
diminished if the child is in a special school. In other words, Article 3 ensures that it is not
enough simply to assert that discrimination is acceptable because it is in the child’s best interests –
it is necessary to demonstrate how it promotes their best interests through enhancing and
protecting their rights.
3. Article 6 – the right to survival and development
Article 6 of the Convention stresses the right of every child to life and optimum survival and
development, and the non-discrimination principle requires that governments take active
M Santos Pais, ‘The Convention on the Rights of the Child’, Manual on Human Rights Reporting, UN Doc.HR/PUB/91/1(Rev.1)(1997).
measures to ensure that this right is
respected equally for all children. For
particularly vulnerable children,
optimum survival and development
are jeopardised unless they receive
additional targeted help. Special
facilities might be needed for
bilingual children to learn in their
own language. Internally displaced
children’s rights to education, play
and healthcare may require special
protection if they are to achieve their
optimum development. Education
programmes that recognise the
Neil Cooper / Save the Children
realities of street children’s lives
might be necessary to enable them to receive and benefit from equal education. Adaptations to
public buildings are needed to ensure that disabled children experience equal rights to participate,
to play, and to receive access to the arts and culture. Without positive discrimination, these and
many other groups of children cannot
realise their optimum potential.
4. Article 12 – the right to be listened to and be taken seriously
The suffering of children who experience discrimination – from abuse, bullying, humiliation,
social isolation, neglect – is too often unheard. This silence contributes to the persistence of
discrimination against them. It is only through listening directly to children that adults can work
effectively to tackle the roots or the impact of discrimination. Furthermore, children are usually
highly successful advocates on their own behalf when the opportunities are created. At the
Committee on the Rights of the Child’s General Discussion Day on the rights of disabled
children in 1997, two girls from South Africa made an impassioned plea for the right to
be included and to be listened to.5 Despite the strength of the adult presentations also made
during the day, it was this powerful presentation that left an enduring imprint on participants’
Article 12 provides that all children have the right to express their views on all matters of
concern to them and to have those views taken seriously in accordance with their age and
maturity. In other words, children have the right to be consulted when decisions affecting them
are being made. This radical recognition of children as active participants in their own lives
provides a powerful tool through which children can challenge discrimination. The obligation
on governments to act to tackle it can only be achieved effectively if strategies are developed in
the light of children’s unique expertise.
General Discussion on the Rights of Children with Disabilities, 6/10/97, CRC/C/69 26 November 1997.
The Reality of Discrimination
Almost every country in the world has ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child – only
the USA and Somalia have failed to do so. In ratifying, they have made a commitment to protect
the rights of all children within their jurisdiction without discrimination. It is a dramatic
achievement. But, to date, the reality falls far behind the rhetoric.
Discrimination continues to dominate the lives of millions of children throughout the world.
It occurs at all levels of society. It can be practised by governments themselves, by adults against
children, by one community against another, or by one group of children against another.
It can result from active, direct and deliberate actions, and it can happen unconsciously through
insensitivity, ignorance or indifference. The global experience of discrimination indicates a
predisposition in all communities to reject those who are different.
Groups of children who experience discrimination
Children suffer discrimination on many grounds. The following groups have been identified by
the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child as vulnerable to discrimination in the exercise of
their rights6 (they are listed in no particular order of significance):
children not registered at birth
children born a twin
children born on an unlucky day
children born in abnormal conditions
displaced children
homeless children
abandoned children
children placed in alternative care
ethnic minority children placed in
alternative care
institutionalised children
children living and/or working in the streets
non-nationals, including immigrant children,
illegal immigrants, children of migrant workers,
refugees/asylum-seekers including
unaccompanied refugees
children affected by natural disasters
children living in poverty/extreme poverty
children involved in juvenile justice systems; in
particular, children whose liberty is restricted
children affected by armed conflict
working children
children subjected to violence
child beggars
children affected by HIV/AIDS
children of parents with HIV/AIDS
young single mothers
minorities, including Roma children/Gypsies/
Travellers/nomadic children and children of
indigenous communities
children affected by economic
non-marital children (children born
out of wedlock)
children of single-parent families
children of incestuous unions
children of marriages between people
of different ethnic/religious groups or
Hodgkin and Newell, Implementation Handbook for the Convention on the Rights of the Child, UNICEF, New York, 1998
The Committee has also identified factors that may lead to a child experiencing discrimination:
• gender, including
– marriage age of girls and of boys
– inheritance rights of girls and of boys
• disability
• race, xenophobia and racism
• ethnic origin
• language
• unequal distribution of national wealth
• social status/social disadvantage/
social disparities
• place of residence, including
– distinctions between different
provinces/territories, etc.
– rural existence (including rural exodus)
the urban environment
– remote areas
• economic status of parents causing racial
segregation at school
• parental property
• parents’ religion.
There are four key routes through which discrimination is perpetuated – legislation,
institutionalised attitudes, media and government action or inaction. They are each linked and
can be mutually reinforcing. Commonly held prejudices can be deepened by negative media
representations of groups of children, while lack of protective legislation may give implicit
messages of legitimacy to discriminatory actions; and government action can feed individual
1. Legislation
In many societies, legislation directly discriminates not only against children as a group but also
against particular groups of children. Disabled children are frequently excluded from the right to
education, non-marital children may be denied the right to inherit the nationality of their father
and the age of marriage and sexual consent is often lower for girls than for boys.
Julio Etchart / Save the Children
Legislation can also indirectly discriminate against particular groups of children. For example,
laws that require children to wear school uniform, bring books to school and attend at specific
times may discriminate against poorer children whose parents lack resources or need their
children to work in the harvests at key periods in the year.
2. Government neglect, inaction or persecution
Discrimination against children often occurs because governments fail
to protect the rights of particular groups. For example, in the US, over
22 per cent of children are living in poverty.7 In Harlem, the initial survival
rate for baby boys is worse than for Bangladeshi children. While girls in
Harlem fare better than those in Bangladesh, they fare far worse than white
children or those in China or Kerala.8 Evidently, the problem is not due
to a lack of overall resources: the US is one of the richest countries in the
world. Rather, it reflects government failure to take the necessary action to
protect the right to life and an adequate standard of living for all its children.
Child Poverty in Rich Nations, Innocenti Research Centre, UNICEF, Florence, 2000
Amartya Sen, Mortality as an Indicator of Economic Success or Failure, International Children Development Centre, UNICEF, Florence, 1995.
Race discrimination leads to and compounds the
prevalence of poverty, which then denies these children
fundamental human rights to survival.
There is consistent evidence that minority groups
experience denial of their social and economic rights
as a consequence of government neglect or inaction.
Despite near universal enrolment in primary schools
in the Philippines, less than one-third of children of
the Manobos people attend school. Similar patterns
are evident in China, Vietnam and many Latin
American countries.
Often, equal treatment legislation exists, but is not
effectively implemented. Many countries have now
legislated against female genital mutilation, but cultural
Lesley Doyle / Save the Children
traditions outweigh the law; the practice continues
unabated, and each year millions of girls are subjected to this brutal assault. Pakistan and Jordan
prohibit the murder of children, yet in both countries, honour killings of girls continue.10 While
in most European countries there are laws to protect the rights of Gypsy and Traveller children to
education and healthcare, in practice these laws are implemented in arbitrary and unfair ways by
local authorities, resulting in hardship and unequal treatment.11 In a survey undertaken by Hart
and Scherer of the first 49 reports to the Committee on the Rights of the Child, 65 per cent of
governments claimed to provide education on the basis of equality of opportunity.12 But in
reality, equal rights of access to education for girls remains a distant goal. Girls represent twothirds of the 130 million children without access to either primary or secondary education.13
These disparities are particularly high in Africa, South Asia and the Middle East.14 Of the 960
million people who are illiterate, 700 million are women. The Pan-African Conference on the
Education of Girls in Ouagadougou in Burkina Faso in 1993 acknowledged that while the
education of girls was probably the single most important vehicle toward development and
economic progress, gender gaps continue to be high at all levels of the education system.
3. Internalised discrimination
Discrimination often takes place because of prejudices that are internalised, often unquestioned
or even unrecognised throughout society. It is often rooted in fear – fear of an unfamiliar people
who look different, have another language, culture, religion, and social behaviour, fear that
one ethnic group threatens the security, cultural identity, land or jobs of another group.
It can have its origins in superstition or religious or cultural taboos – for example, beliefs that
a child’s disability derives from a curse, or that certain ethnic groups practice rituals that threaten
other communities.
Pakistan: Honour killings of girls and women, ASA 33/18/99, Amnesty International, 1999.
Children of Minorities: Deprivation and discrimination, International Child Development Centre, UNIDEF, Florence, 1995.
Lukas Scherer and Stuart Hart, State Party Reports on the Education Articles of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, 1997.
Facts and figures, UNICEF, 1998, New York.
Educating Girls and Women, UNICEF, 1992.
Discriminatory behaviour may well be unconscious and lacking in malice, simply reflecting
assumptions widespread within society. Attitudes, learned in childhood and passed through
generations, can confer inferior status on certain groups of children. Often it is assumed that
disabled children lack the capacity for education, or that they are best cared for in institutions;
that poor children are less able or talented, that street children are dishonest and untrustworthy
and that girls lack intellect, rationality and competence. These widespread prevailing attitudes,
blinkered by prejudice, rob the individual child of a unique identity and render them invisible.
This process results in wide-ranging discriminatory practices that have a devastating impact on
the immediate lives and long-term outcomes for the children concerned.
4. The media
The media can, and often does, promote discrimination. It can reinforce traditional hostilities
towards some groups of children and engender and foster contempt and hatred towards others.
Very often, negative reinforcement occurs by rendering certain groups invisible. Disabled children
or those from minority groups are simply absent from the media, leaving them without role
models and depriving the wider population of positive images of these minority groups.
Thus, the media colludes with and affirms the low value society attaches to them. However, once
a group of otherwise invisible children is seen to pose a threat to the social order, they can rapidly
become highly visible through hostile representation in the media.15 Children are commonly
portrayed either as innocent victims or as demons, with very few images of their normal lives
being given. Demeaning and degrading images of girls perpetuate negative gender stereotypes.
At its most extreme, the media can be responsible for orchestrated campaigns to mobilise hatred
and dehumanise particular groups. There was devastating evidence of the force of such campaigns
in Rwanda and Yugoslavia in the 1990s.
Jenny Mathews / Save the Children
Most children grow up aware that, as children, they have inferior status.
But it is a status they leave behind once adult. For millions of children,
the discrimination perpetrated against them because they are young is
compounded by additional lifelong prejudice. To be born a girl,
disabled, into poverty or into a minority community will in all
probability condemn a child to a life of disadvantage. This
discrimination has a profound impact – lower school enrolment, higher
drop-out rates, poorer diet, more burdensome household chores, earlier
marriage, lack of control over sexuality and greater exposure to sexual
and physical violence may all result. Perhaps even more corrosive is
the impact on children’s self-esteem and self-confidence – the
internalisation of negative attitudes that diminishes their capacity
to challenge, or even acknowledge, the abuse they experience. They
themselves then transmit and reinforce these attitudes over generations.
15 Hodgkin and Newell, Article 2, Implementation Handbook for the Convention on the Rights of the Child, UNICEF, New York, 1998.
For example, girls in societies that place higher value on boys consistently suffer low self-esteem,
are more self-critical, experience higher levels of depression and anxiety and feel unable to exercise
control over their lives. The destructive impact of discrimination was eloquently expressed by girls
participating in the Listen to Girls Forum set up by the UNICEF/NGO Working Group
on Girls:
“In Nepal, girls have a very hard life, especially girls who are not in school. They work 18 hours a day.
They have not time for play and recreation. We have discrimination from birth. In our country parents’
preference is for sons, not girls. Girls are less educated than boys. They haven’t any choices or freedoms
compared with boys.”
(17-year-old from Nepal)
“My cousin’s daughter had been circumcised. She was not going to school because she lost her father, who they
were depending on. There was a boy who promised to marry her; the only thing he tried to get from her was
to make her pregnant. She was prey at 14 years. She suffered from blood shortage. She did not have the same
blood group as the family members, except the boy who made her pregnant. She could not deliver. After three
months she died and left an orphan baby who also died after four days. Still now we have not seen the boy
who made her pregnant. For how long should girls continue to die from early pregnancy?”
(17-year-old from Gambia)
“One of the problems is the inequality of men and women which has caused great damage to the integrity of
women. We must end the myth that boys must be taught to be strong, lead and dominate and that girls must
be taught to be delicate, lovely, serve and be pleasing. All these qualities should be the character traits of both
sexes. The world has to understand that if a boy washes dishes, his hands will not fall off and that girls have
sufficient intelligence to build computers and be future diplomats! Both sexes should have the same education,
the same options and the same responsibilities. We also have a serious problem with the negative and
degrading image which the media projects of women, showing her as an inferior being, a sexual object,
a consumer good.”
(18-year-old from Brazil)
A recent consultation carried out by Save the Children in Britain highlighted both the prevalence
of racism and prejudice and its damaging impact:16
“I think that we shouldn’t be getting any problems just because we have different coloured skin... when we
walk down the street we get picked on, just because you think we are different from you. But you’re wrong,
we are just the same, it’s just our beliefs and our colour that are different… You think you can get rid of
us… You think if you were us and we were you, how would you feel? You’d feel useless, you’d feel
abandoned from everyone and everything. You wouldn’t like it at all.”
16 We Have Rights Okay: Children’s views on the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, Save the Children, 1999.
Racism and Xenophobia
While discrimination occurs on many grounds, racism and xenophobia are perhaps its most
widespread and pernicious forms, and are of growing concern within the international
The context
Most countries have minority ethnic communities, and societies are becoming more ethnically
diverse through increased migration. These minority groups fall broadly into four categories:17
• Territorial minorities whose identity is linked to a specific geographic region, such as the
Kurds in Turkey and Iraq or the Kashmiris in India.
• Ethnic and cultural minorities who maintain their identity through language, religion,
national origin or racial characteristics, such as Gypsies and Jews in Western Europe and
Muslims in India.
• Immigrants and refugees who are identified as both temporary and outsiders by the
established population, even though in reality they often settle permanently within their
new community. Examples are Pakistanis and Indians in the UK and Algerians in France.
With the rise in ethnic conflicts throughout the world, the numbers of refugees have risen
dramatically in recent years with significant displaced populations from, amongst others,
Sri Lanka, Iraq, Bosnia, Nigeria, Eastern Europe and Somalia.
• Indigenous and tribal peoples, who are amongst the most vulnerable minority ethnic
groups because of their general poverty and marginalisation over a long history of
colonialism, oppression and exploitation. Examples are the Australian aborigines or the
Mayas of Guatemala.
However, the widespread existence of multiethnic communities has failed to produce formulae
for peaceful coexistence. The late 20th century witnessed growing ethnic conflict motivated by
a combination of religious, historical, linguistic, social or racial causes, compounded by
economic and territorial factors. Minority communities are vulnerable to poverty, racial
violence, direct and indirect discrimination and social
exclusion. Moreover, this vulnerability is often greater
for children, whose youth and powerlessness offers less
protection against the disadvantage conferred by
minority status. What limited research exists reveals
that minority children face substantial difficulties in
trying to reconcile living between two cultures. Their
experience of discrimination and consequent low social
status invariably places them at high risk of poorer
educational outcomes, ethnic violence, health problems,
James Brabazon / Save the Children
17 R Stavenhagen ‘Children and Families of Minority Groups’, Children of Minorities: Deprivation and Discrimination, UNICEF, Florence, 1995.
higher mortality and morbidity rates and
criminal activity. The scale of the problem,
coupled with its profoundly negative outcomes,
imposes an overwhelming moral imperative to
seek urgent solutions to tackle the racism and
xenophobia that blight the lives of so many
Education provides a valuable starting point.
On the one hand, education policy in many
countries promotes and reinforces discrimination Caroline Penn / Save the Children
against minority children and, as highlighted in this publication’s country reports, schools are
too often institutions in which racist attitudes flourish unchecked. On the other hand, given
the extent to which prejudice and ethnic hatreds are culturally learned from childhood,
education also provides a primary opportunity for promoting racial tolerance and respect for
the human rights of all people. It is then both the source of and a potential challenge to racism
and xenophobia.
The Convention provides a powerful framework for action in tackling racism in education
(see, for example, Articles 2, 14, 28, 29 and 30). But its implementation poses three profound
challenges to governments. How are the equal rights of minority children to education to be
secured? How will governments ensure that in providing that education, their right to respect
for their language, culture and religion is protected? And finally, in protecting those rights,
how will governments secure those children’s access to mainstream culture, so that they are
not excluded from employment, training and higher education?
Racism within education
To date, many governments are failing to fulfil their obligations to provide equal access to
education for children from minority groups.18 For example, in Vietnam and China, areas with
the largest minority ethnic communities have the lowest enrolment and school completion rates.
In Gujerat in India, some tribal groups have enrolment rates eight per cent below the average for
the area and 80 per cent of children from these groups drop
out of school compared with an overall completion rate of
50 per cent. Harijan literacy rates are half those of the rest
of the Indian population.19 The causes are complex – rooted
in both direct persecution and discriminatory practices
within schools, coupled with a failure by many countries to
provide education consistent with the culture and linguistic
needs of minority children.
Peter Fryer / Save the Children
18 Hodgkin and Newell, Article 28, Implementation Handbook for the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, UNICEF, 1998.
19 Children of Minorities:Deprivation and Discrimination, International Child Development Centre, UNICEF, Florence, 1995.
Both segregated and integrated schooling can compound
discrimination against minority groups. While segregated
education may provide opportunities for children to be
educated in their own language and in accordance with
their parents’ beliefs, it can also serve the cause of
inequality and perpetuation of prejudice, with schools for
minority children being too often characterised by poorer
teaching and fewer resources. In South Africa, for
example, the separate education systems sustained and
perpetuated the apartheid system. In Israel, there have
been two educational strategies – integration for Jewish
children and segregation for Arab children. This has led
to significant inequality for the Arab community; Arabs’
Julio Etchart / Save the Children
education is chronically underfunded, children are
disadvantaged in relation to jobs and higher education because of their weak command of
Hebrew, and Arab teachers are often inadequately trained.20
On the other hand, integration can serve as a strategy whereby the dominant culture imposes
its values on children: as a weapon in cultural repression. By forcing children to learn in the
national language and adopt its political, religious and social values, the state can erode, either
deliberately or by default, the culture of minority communities. In Kosovo, for example,
education in the Albanian language was not allocated any state funds, teaching aids in
Albanian were not published and the curriculum in the mainstream Serbian schools was highly
politicised in favour of the dominant culture.21 In Turkey, Kurds are punished for using their
language in schools and teachers are dismissed for permitting it to be spoken.22 In the UK,
state schools are required by law to hold religious assemblies, which must be wholly or mainly
of a Christian character.23 The religious syllabus, too, must reflect the fact that religious
traditions are mainly Christian, despite the fact that in some schools as many as 95 per cent
of the children come from Muslim families.
There has been increasing recognition that policies of assimilation that seek to promote the
desirability of cultural homogeneity are neither morally acceptable nor ultimately effective.
Diversity and difference, whether in religion, language or culture, should be celebrated, not
undermined. In some countries – for example, Italy, France and India – this objective is
sought through an insistence on secular education in which priority is given to no individual
set of beliefs. Others have sought to introduce multicultural education, although this is often
met with criticism both from the establishment – suspicious that it is being used to water
down the dominant culture – and minority groups, who often perceive it as a top-down
initiative that simply focuses on minority culture as an object of study. Bilingual education is
Sarah Graham Brown, ‘The Role of the Curriculum’, Education Rights of Minorities, UNICEF/MRG, 1994.
‘Education Policies and Ethnic Divisions’, draft paper by Innocenti Centre, UNICEF, forthcoming.
See note 20.
Education Act 1996, England and Wales.
now widely acknowledged to benefit children
whose first language is not the majority one,
but with 5,000 languages in the world, it poses
logistical problems with enormous resource
Using education to tackle racism
Protecting the rights of minority children to
education without discrimination, while also
Penny Tweeddie / Save the Children
creating school environments that promote
respect for the human rights of all children, is
a complex and challenging task. International human rights law provides a framework for
addressing these issues but offers no easy solutions. It requires that governments evolve
education systems that seek to promote social integration while respecting diversity of culture.
It requires that children are recognised as being subjects of rights and that their wishes and
feelings with regard to education must be given consideration. Strategies that could be
explored to promote non-discriminatory education for minority children include:
• Curriculum adaptation to make it more meaningful for minority children;
• Scrutiny of teaching materials to ensure that it does not contain derogatory
representations of minority children that will serve to perpetuate prejudices, but that it does
contain positive images of all cultures and ethnic groups and that their history and culture
is appropriately acknowledged;
• Promoting equality – development of school policies and practices that stress the
importance of treating all children with equal respect and that introduce sanctions for
discriminatory practices;
• Human rights teaching – introduction of human rights into the curriculum;
• Collection and analysis of disaggregated data to identify enrolment, drop-out and
attainment levels for minority children;
• Introduction of bilingual teaching for children of foreign backgrounds
• After-school or weekend classes to help minority children keep pace with peers;
• Improvements in teacher training to reduce prejudice towards minority cultures and
enhance their understanding of human rights;
• Recruitment and training of minority and indigenous teachers;
• Decentralisation of education structures to allow more local say over management and
educational content;
• Participation in decision making process – involvement and participation of minority
parents and children in decision-making in schools.
Combating Discrimination
Discrimination is a complex, deep-seated phenomenon that impacts on many groups of children
in the exercise of many of their rights. Any strategy to challenge discrimination must not focus on
changing the children who are discriminated against, but rather on changing the legal framework,
power structures, the attitudes of those who discriminate, the physical environment and the
balance of resources that perpetuate injustices.
First, governments need to introduce legislation establishing the general principle of nondiscrimination, rendering it unlawful to discriminate in, for example, education, employment,
housing, social security, social welfare, youth justice systems, play services and access to public
places. This should be proactive, not merely prohibiting discriminatory actions or behaviour but
obliging governments to introduce measures to ensure that the right to non-discrimination
becomes a reality. The legislation should also include effective measures for enforcement.
The second step is systematic analysis of existing legislation to identify ways in which it directly or
indirectly discriminates against children. The analysis should consider the implementation of each
right embodied in the Convention and its application in respect of all groups of children. Some
forms of discrimination will be obvious, such as the explicit exclusion of disabled children from
the right to education, or differential ages of marriage for boys and girls. Others may be less
obvious, such as provisions that deny adopted children access to information about their
biological parents. Once this analysis has been completed, it may be necessary to introduce
amending or new legislation to address all aspects of the law that currently serve to discriminate.
Such legal reform is necessary to send a formal message that traditions, customs or practices
contrary to the rights of all children will no longer be accepted. This can serve as a catalyst in
changing attitudes; but too often, it exists on the statute books with little impact on the daily
experiences of children. Legislation is only a deterrent if there are effective enforcement
mechanisms and if people understand that acts of discrimination will attract punishment.
Legislation alone, while important, is not sufficient. Governments need to follow up legal reform
with practical action to change attitudes and challenge all forms of discrimination. They should:
• Closely monitor programmes to identify discrimination;
• Scrutinise all policies, programmes, services and plans to ensure they do not directly or
indirectly discriminate against any group of children;
• Develop policy guidelines to raise awareness of the legislation and its practical application;
• Provide support to those people within local communities who are seeking to help the process
of change;
• Involve political, religious and community leaders in influencing attitudes and publicly
discouraging discrimination;
• Establish independent ombudsmen or children’s rights commissioners to monitor and
evaluate the effectiveness and account-ability of government programmes of action;
• Commission research on children’s experience of discrimination to ensure action is targeted.
The commitment to equal rights for all children will often necessitate
additional resources. There is little point in introducing new laws to protect
the rights of children if the facilities to translate them into action are not
available. For example, including disabled children in mainstream schools may
require help with transport, adaptations to buildings and additional teaching
resources. Additional teachers might be required to ensure that children in
penal institutions have access to education. The obligation in Article 2 to
respect and ensure all rights to all children, alongside Article 4, the obligation
to undertake all appropriate measures for the implementation of rights, means
that governments should scrutinise budgets to ensure that they are devoting the Jenny Mathews / Save the Children
maximum possible resources to protecting the equal rights of all children. In addition, governments
should identify the proportion of budgets being spent on particular groups of children in relation
to their representation within the population. Are children in rural communities receiving the same
levels of expenditure per head on their healthcare as urban children? Is spending on girls’ and boys’
education equal? Furthermore, where children have been disadvantaged, consideration should be
given to affirmative action schemes to enable them to make up lost ground.
South Africa’s focus on children
In South Africa, the government has a high commitment to social spending, on children in particular.
It has established a Children’s Budget initiative that focuses on the urgent need to analyse expenditure
for its effective impact on children and on the implementation of policy directives. This annual budget
tracks indicators across five sectors (health, education, welfare, justice and policing), disaggregated at
provincial level to identify equity in expenditure, access to services, redress to children in particularly
difficult circumstances and impact on socio-economic outcomes. They particularly want to assess
whether expenditure is effective at a provincial level.24
One of the difficulties faced by governments in tackling discrimination is lack of data.
The Committee on the Rights of the Child routinely presses governments to collect better
statistical data in order to identify how legislation and policy affect children’s lives. For example,
disaggregated statistics are needed to reveal whether more girls than boys are being immunised,
24 Living Guide, UNICEF, New York, 1999
or whether minority children are equally likely to receive immunisation. Only then can the
authorities introduce the necessary strategies to address inequalities.
All professionals working with children need training to understand the principle of nondiscrimination, the implications of any new legislation and the philosophy of respect for human
rights that underpins it. For example, to ensure that minority
Liba Taylor / Save the Children
children are provided with equal rights, professionals may need help
in understanding their culture or in acquiring the necessary skills to
teach children who are learning in their second language. They may
also require help in recognising how their current practices
discriminate against particular children and understand how to
change. In the UK, for example, Afro-Caribbean boys are up to five
times more likely than their white peers to be excluded from school
for the same offence, although few of the teachers involved
deliberately seek to discriminate.25
Public awareness and education campaigns are needed to challenge discrimination and encourage
changes in traditional attitudes, prejudices and misconceptions. Much of the discrimination
perpetrated against children derives from attitudes reinforced by the dominant ideology of the
country. Additionally, it can be rooted in superstitions and myths. Disability is viewed in many
cultures as a punishment, stigma or curse. HIV/AIDS produces fear, hostility and shunning.
These attitudes need to be tackled through the widespread dissemination of accurate information
in accessible formats. This information should not only challenge ill-founded and misleading
views, but seek to raise awareness of the unconscious ways in which language and behaviour can
discriminate, and of the damaging impact of discrimination on children’s psychological and
emotional wellbeing.
Raising awareness
UNICEF produces animated film comic books and teaching tools set in sub-Saharan Africa that are
designed to promote discussion on the situation of girls, including information on HIV/AIDS. This
project demonstrates that by helping children understand basic facts, the isolation and exclusion of
infected children diminishes.26
In Sweden, the introduction of anti-smacking legislation in 1979 was accompanied by a public
education campaign that distributed practical information to all parents on positive discipline as an
alternative to hitting children.
25 Exclusion from School: The Public Cost, Commission for Racial Equality, London, 1996.
26 UNICEF East and Southern Africa and South Asia Regional Offices.
Many forms of discrimination are deeply rooted in culture. Children begin to learn negative
attitudes towards other groups of children from a very early age. School, therefore, is a vital place
to begin to introduce better understanding and respect for others.27 Article 28 of the Convention
stresses the right to education on the basis of equality of opportunity. Article 29 promotes the
concept of schools that both practise respect for the rights of children and also create
opportunities for children themselves to learn to value human rights, tolerance, respect for
diversity and difference. But this is not the reality in most schools in most countries.
Peter Fryer / Save the Children
For many children, school is a place where they are actively
discriminated against and where their human rights are
blatantly disregarded. Girls too often experience school as
a place where teachers are mostly male, the culture is
aggressive and male-dominated, and lessons and text books
are filled with messages about the superiority of boys.28
Many children from minority communities are denied the
right to learn in or even speak their own language. These
experiences encourage children to disregard each others’
rights. There are a number of barriers to the development of respect for human rights in schools,
but the following recommendations would go some way to overcoming them.
• Human rights training. Teachers need training on the nature and implications of human rights
and how to challenge discrimination.
• Recognition of discrimination. Schools need to identify ways in which they directly or indirectly
discriminate against certain groups of children – for example, by failing to tackle bullying of girls,
by imposing the use of the majority language or humiliating less able pupils – and involve
children in the development of policies based on respect for the rights of all children.
• Multicultural education. Efforts need to be made to promote multicultural education in which
the cultural identity of all children in the school is recognised, respected and given equal worth.
• Human rights education needs to permeate the curriculum, backed up by resources for
teachers – for example, geography provides the opportunity to explore the issue of unequal access
to resources and biology can consider issues relating to genetic testing and the right to life of
disabled babies.
• Education materials which promote and celebrate difference. Education resources need to be
reviewed and amended to both remove images that promote or perpetuate negative stereotypes
and to promote the concept of equality and respect for difference.
• Children themselves need to be involved in the decision-making processes of the school.
Providing children with opportunities to practise democracy and experience themselves as subjects
of rights is an effective means of challenging prejudice and discriminatory practices.29
27 Thomas Hammarberg. A School for Children with Rights, UNICEF International Child Development Centre, 1997.
28 Challenges for Children and Women in the 1990s, UNIFEC, Regional Eastern and Southern Africa Office, Kenya, 1991.
29 Gerison Lansdown and Jessica Kingsley, Children’s Rights in Education: Progress in Implementing the Rights in the Convention: Factors Helping and
Hindering that Process, forthcoming
Child-centred schools
A primary school in a deprived area in the UK introduced a school council to discuss all aspects of
school policy, including recruitment of teachers, tackling bullying and developing a behaviour code for
all members of the school. It appointed “guardian angels” – children who volunteered to befriend or
protect children who were being bullied or shunned – and promoted an environment in which all
children felt cared for and of equal worth.30
The New Schools Programme in Colombia promotes an environment in which children acquire the
knowledge and skills for democratic citizenship. They were designed to address the needs of rural
children, for whom the demands of seasonal agricultural work impedes progress and frequently results
in children repeating grade levels. They introduced a more flexible curriculum with mixed-age
classrooms and encouraged children to work in small groups with other children, liberating the teacher
to function as a facilitator.31
A commitment to ending discrimination must involve the elimination of segregation within the
education system. In most countries in the world, disabled children, where they get an education at all,
do so in segregated schools. However, it is not only possible but positively beneficial to create inclusive
schools in which able-bodied and disabled children learn together. The Committee on the Rights of the
Child has stressed the importance of respecting the equal right of disabled children to education through
full inclusion in mainstream schools.32
Integrated schooling
In one primary school in Tanzania, more than ten per cent of the children are disabled or have
learning difficulties. Classmates help children navigate the campus, they read and write in Braille,
and specialist teachers work alongside subject teachers to prepare materials in Braille, which are
produced on site. One 17-year-old girl says: "I can do everything that you can do except cook, and
that is only because no one has bothered to teach me!" A 15-year-old with learning difficulties, who
arrived at the school with no knowledge or basic hygiene and who was unable to communicate, now
interacts with peers and makes bookshelves, beds and cupboards. These considerable achievements
are arrived at despite threadbare resources and inadequate equipment.33
Unless adults listen to children, they remain unaware of the extent and nature of any
discrimination they are suffering, and without that knowledge they are unable to help. Too often
adults wrongly assume that they understand children’s lives. For example, bullying of vulnerable
children – whether because they are of a different race or poor or disabled – exists in schools
throughout the world. Teachers underestimate its damaging impact and children continue to
suffer unheard.
Highfield Junior School, Changing our School: Promoting Positive Behaviour, ed. P Alderson, Institute of Education, London, 1996.
Roger Hart, Children’s Participation, UNICEF/Earthscan Publications, 1997.
Hodgkin and Newell, Article 23, Implementation Handbook for the Convention on the Rights of the Child, UNICEF, New York, 1998.
The State of the World’s Children, UNICEF, New York, 1999.
Jenny Mathews / Save the Children
Children should be consulted about how their rights are respected, their primary concerns and
difficulties. This consultation can be initiated by governments as part of a strategy to discover the
impact of current legislation or policy, or preparatory to introducing new legislation. It can be
undertaken by local authorities, municipalities, NGOs and schools to help develop child-friendly
policies and services.
Learning from children
A Save the Children project in Bangladesh worked with 100 girls living in slums in Dhaka to enhance
understanding about their lives. These girls had to prepare the family meals and identified their two
main difficulties as a lack of access to water, electricity and gas and harassment by men. The issues
were linked. The lack of facilities in the slums prevented them from performing their chores efficiently,
which led to abuse and physical punishment by male members of the family. The girls expressed
concern that the men failed to understand the problems they faced when preparing food without
basic facilities.34
In Wales, the Welsh Assembly is developing a Children and Young People Assembly Initiative – a
permanent forum through which children and young people will be consulted in the development of
policy. It hopes to move from a traditional representative democracy, which excludes children, to a
model of participative democracy in which the priorities and concerns of children can inform the
political process.
34 Learning from Experience: Girls’ rights, Save the Children, published on the CRIN website.
There is now a growing body of experience in involving children as partners in the development
of strategies to address violations of their rights.35 While there are no blueprints, there are some
important key messages:
• Be clear about aims and what it is possible to change;
• Be prepared to really listen – children may express themselves differently from adults but
that does not invalidate their views;
• Be prepared to act on what they say. It is not always possible to give children what they
want, but serious consideration of their views is imperative if there is to be a genuine
commitment to involving them;
• Remember that children are not all the same. Like adults, children are not a
homogenous group and their views will undoubtedly reflect as wide a range of concerns and
opinions as those raised by adults;
• Consult with young people on how best to involve them;
• Don’t expect children to participate in forums designed for adults – the method of
involvement must vary according to the age and experience of the children;
• Involve children at the earliest possible stage;
• Always give feedback about what has happened as a result of the consultation;
• Be prepared to make mistakes and get it wrong – and do better next time.
It is also important to enlist children as advocates on their own behalf – as peer counsellors to
tackle issues of bullying in schools, to represent each other when challenging discrimination in
schools, and to campaign to promote greater justice for children.
Children as advocates
Article 12 is an organisation in the UK run by and for children under the age of 18. It campaigns for
children to be heard – at home, in school, by local and national government and in court. It has
conducted a survey of children’s views as to how far their right to be heard is respected in the UK, and
has presented the report to the Committee on the Rights of the Child.36 Its members speak at
conferences, lobby politicians, respond to government consultation documents and support local
groups of children setting up their own networks.
In the Netherlands, a school planned to ban the wearing of headscarves for Muslim girls. The students
protested by putting scarves around their heads to show that learning could still take place. They won
their case. The school was worried about its image outside and whether white parents would continue
to send their children there. The pupils explained to the head the importance of acceptance of different
dress codes. They were seeking to promote the rights of all the children in the school.37
35 C. Willow, Hear! Hear! Hear!Children and Young People’s Participation in Local Government, Local Government Information Unit, London, 1997.
36 Respect! A report into how well Article 12 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child is put into practice across the UK, Article 12, 1999.
37 Davies and Kirkpatrick, The EURIDEM Project: A Review of Pupil Democracy in Europe, Children’s Rights Alliance for England, 2000.
Although the media is often guilty of promoting discriminatory attitudes, it can be an important
tool in challenging them. While governments in democratic societies cannot control the media,
they can ensure that it complies with laws that prohibit the promotion of racist or xenophobic
messages. The media can regulate its own output through codes of practice that aspire to respect
the human rights of all people. It can play a key role in exposing injustice, human rights
violations and discriminatory practices. It can challenge traditional stereotypes and promote
positive images of groups of children traditionally vulnerable to abuse and neglect.
The language used by the media to describe certain minority groups can be highly influential.
It is important to consult with minority and marginalised groups as to how language reinforces
and promotes prejudice and oppression, and to take a lead from them in developing a more
respectful language.
Howard Davies / Save the Children
Non-Discrimination: Realising
Discrimination blights the lives of millions of children, denying them fulfilment of their
fundamental rights. Some progress in tackling the problem is being made. The near universal
ratification of the Convention on the Rights of the Child has highlighted the scale of
discriminatory practices, raised awareness and understanding of its impact and helped in the
development of strategies for challenging its continuation. At an international level, the
importance attached to the issue is exemplified by the UN decision to hold a conference in
2001 on racism and xenophobia. The Amsterdam Treaty of the European Union incorporated
a new article on non-discrimination, and the Council of Europe has recently drafted an optional
protocol to create a free-standing equality right under the European Convention on Human
Rights. At a national level, many governments are reviewing legislation with a view to promoting
greater equality of opportunity. But it is not yet enough. Priority action is needed at every level –
international treaties and national legislation represent a start, but need to be rigorously
implemented and monitored. Local municipalities need to give serious consideration to
promoting equality. Every institution working with children, however small, must address itself
to protecting the rights of all children. And as individuals – professionals, members of local
communities, parents – we need to reflect on our own attitudes and assumptions about all
children, and on how consciously or unconsciously we perpetuate discrimination towards
vulnerable groups of children. Only through concerted commitment by all strata of society
will it be possible to tackle the scourge of discrimination and its destructive impact on children.
Appendix 1
Human rights instruments on discrimination
All human rights instruments include provisions that all the rights they embody must apply
without discrimination to all people within the jurisdiction. However, the universality of
discrimination and the importance attached to addressing it by the international community is
reflected in the number of human rights instruments that have been drafted explicitly to tackle
1948 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide
1957 Convention (No. 107) concerning Indigenous and Tribal Populations or Peoples (ILO)
1958 Convention (No. 111) concerning Discrimination in respect of Employment and
Occupation (ILO)
1960 Convention against Discrimination in Education (UNESCO)
1965 International Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Racial Discrimination (UN)
1973 Convention on the Suppression and Punishment of the Crime of Apartheid (UN)
1978 Declaration on Race and Racial Prejudice (UNESCO)
1979 Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women (UN)
1981 Declaration on the Elimination of all Forms of Intolerance and of Discrimination
based on Religion or Belief (UN)
1989 Convention (No. 169) concerning Indigenous and Tribal Peoples in
Independent Countries (ILO)
1989 Convention on the Rights of the Child (UN)
1992 Declaration on the Rights of Persons Belonging to National or Ethnic,
Religious or Linguistic Minorities (UN)
1993 Standard Rules on the Equalisation of Opportunities for Persons with Disabilities (UN)
Part II
Country Reports
Detail from ‘We Have Rights Okay’
Review of Children’s Rights
The Australian Government ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child in December
1990. However, this does not automatically integrate the Convention into Australian law, and
the CRC will not be strictly legally binding without an Act of Parliament to enshrine it in
national law. The government has so far chosen to ignore the obvious need for national
legislation and mechanisms to make the Convention effective, and the failure to do this
represents a broken promise by the government to guarantee Australia’s compliance with
the CRC.
Australia’s federal structure, with eight state and territory governments as well as the national
government, is a major factor in Australia’s approach to implementation of the Convention.
While the national government should be leading the way and ensuring uniform standards,
state governments also have a major role to play, because the provision of most children’s services
is the responsibility of states and territories.
Despite having decided against formally incorporating the CRC into national law, Australia has
already established a system of universal education that goes well beyond the minimum set by the
Convention. In addition to this, the existing social security system has long recognised the cost
of child-rearing and the desirability of protecting families with dependent children. Australia has
an advanced health system, and provides basic guarantees of access to this through Medicare.
There is also a children’s court and juvenile justice system, which deal with children’s offences
in markedly different ways to those of adults.
Australia’s long history of displacement, murder, exploitation, discrimination against indigenous
peoples, forced separation of indigenous children from their families, and the removal of
traditional lands has placed indigenous children in the most disadvantaged position. The legacy
of these practices continues to impact today on many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander
peoples. Furthermore, the Federal Government’s responses to the Royal Commission into deaths
in custody, the Stolen Generations and the amendments to the Native Title Act have received
national and international criticism.
One of the greatest concerns in relation to breaches of the Convention in Australia is the
continuation of mandatory sentencing laws. The issue of mandatory sentencing was placed
centre stage with the case of Johnno Warrambarrba, who had less than a week to go at Darwin’s
Dondale juvenile detention centre, where he had been sentenced for stealing about $90 worth
of paints and other products. Tragically, he died while still in custody, hanging from sheets in
his cell.
The Principle of Non-Discrimination
Racial and Ethnic Discrimination
The principal of non-discrimination in enshrined in both federal and state law. The Racial
Discrimination Act (RDA) makes racial discrimination illegal, and is effective across the whole
country. It aims to ensure that everyone is treated equally, regardless of race, colour, descent or
national or ethnic origin. Since the Act was passed in 1975, more than 10,500 complaints have
been made, over 3,500 from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and over 4,000 from
people of non-English speaking backgrounds. There is also anti-discrimination legislation operating
in all states and territories, and a law against offensive behaviour based on racial hatred – the
Racial Hatred Act 1995 – was added to the Racial Discrimination Act on 13 October 1995.
Despite this level of legislation, the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child has
raised concerns that Article 2 of the Convention is not being fully implemented in Australia.
In relation to discrimination, it is important to see Australia as a multi-cultural society. Four in
ten Australians are migrants or the children of migrants; one in four Australians was born
overseas; 13.7 per cent of Australians were born overseas in non-English speaking countries and
there are people from 160 countries living in Australia. Nationally, indigenous peoples constitute
2.1 per cent of the total Australian population.
The current approach taken by the Federal Government in Australia seems to rely on the notion
that all people should be treated identically, regardless of their differing circumstances. This
approach promotes the idea that the State is a neutral entity, free from systematic discrimination.
The rejection of an apology or treaty with the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples is
thus based on the view that everyone is Australian; to apologise would be to treat indigenous
peoples differently, and acknowledge that their position requires special measures.
The fact is that indigenous people have experienced historical patterns of racism and entrenched
disadvantage, and more than prohibition of racial discrimination is required to overcome the
resulting racial inequality. Remedial provisions should therefore aim to address the inequality
experienced by these sections of the population.
Children and young people form a high percentage of the indigenous population. The most
recent census (1996) recorded 98,146 indigenous people between the ages of 15 and 29,
comprising 27.8 per cent of the indigenous population; together with younger children, they
form over half the total indigenous population. Nationally, indigenous people constitute 2.1 per
cent of the total population, whereas the figures for the 15-24 age bracket and the 0-14 bracket
are 2.6 per cent and 3.9 per cent of the total population respectively.
The Northern Territory is the only state or territory where indigenous people are a sizeable
proportion of the population, accounting for 32 per cent of the youth population and 29 per cent
of the total population. In all other states the indigenous people represent 4 per cent or less of
both the youth and total population.
The disadvantages facing indigenous Australians continue, despite a much greater awareness of
their rights and despite international developments in this respect. The government does
recognise that these disadvantages have the potential to worsen, and that the disparities between
indigenous and non-indigenous Australians may well increase over the coming decades unless a
greater effort is made to reduce them now. The current Federal Government has commenced its
second term with a continuing commitment to address the problem, including a major effort to
improve the key areas of health, housing, education, employment and economic development. It
is acknowledged that unless changes are made in these areas, many indigenous Australians will
remain locked within welfare dependency, with limited opportunities to share the standard of
living of their fellow Australians. It must be said, however, that there have been ongoing attempts
by Federal Governments to address to these problems and allocate resources accordingly, but the
comparative disadvantages of indigenous peoples remain significant.
The issue of race relations and racism has been a constant theme in the media, and many people
believe that relations between the government and indigenous peoples are at an all-time low.
Indigenous people should be able to participate fully in decisions that affect them, but there is a
distinct lack of such participation in the formulation of legislation, amendments and policies.
The right to survival and development
In a recent study about health in Australia, it was reported that life expectancy for indigenous
Australians is at levels not seen in the non-indigenous population for 100 years. Furthermore, in
1997 15.3 per cent of all deaths of indigenous people occurred in the 15-34 age group. This
compares to only 3.5 per cent of deaths of non-indigenous people in the same age group. Death
rates for indigenous males and females in the 15-24 age group were two to three times higher
than for non-indigenous people in the same group.
According to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare report, ‘Australia’s Health 2000’,
despite reductions in infant and maternal mortality among indigenous Australians over the past
thirty years, the infant death rate in many parts of Australia is still between 3.1 and 3.5 times
higher than the norm for indigenous children. Low birth-weight babies, still births and neonatal
deaths are about twice as common among indigenous mothers as among the general population.
The right to education
Census figures showed that 73.7 per cent of indigenous 15 year-olds were in full-time education
in 1996. This compares with 91.5 per cent of all 15 year-olds. The disparity is even greater for
older age groups.
Fortunately, the data also indicated that indigenous involvement in the education system up until
year 10 has improved over the past three generations, and that indigenous people aged between
15 and 24 are better prepared for further education or work than in previous generations.
The Northern Territory Government’s decision in December 1998 to abolish bilingual education
programmes in Aboriginal schools has been a matter of great concern. In a Federal Government
Committee report, it was stated that it is totally inappropriate for any Aboriginal or Torres Strait
Islander child to begin school in a language other than his or her own, and that this is destructive
for both the language and the child. It was recommended in “A matter of survival” that
governments should ensure that bilingual or bicultural education be provided for all Aboriginal
and Torres Strait Islander children whose first language is not English, if their community
requests it.
The removal of bilingual education programmes means that education is no longer accessible on
an equal opportunity basis. Education should be available to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander
students in a way that reinforces rather than suppresses or contradicts their unique cultural
identity. Furthermore, Article 30 of the Convention stipulates that in those states in which
ethnic, religious or linguistic minorities or persons of indigenous origin exist, a child belonging
to such a minority or who is indigenous shall not be denied the right, in community with other
members of his or her group, to enjoy his or her own culture, to profess and practise his or her
own religion, or to use his or her own language. The failure to maintain bilingual programmes
may also be discriminatory in relation to other human rights such as native title, as the
maintenance of language is of primary significance in determining its existence.
The 1998 National Prisoner Census recorded that 18.8 per cent of prisoners were indigenous at
that time. Imprisonment rates for indigenous males are twelve times higher than the national rate
for males, and the rate for indigenous females is fourteen times higher than for all females. At the
time of the census, one in twenty young indigenous men were in prison.
One of the greatest problems in relation to breaches of the Convention concerns the mandatory
detention provisions in Western Australia and the Northern Territory, introduced in 1996.
In the Northern Territory, if a child is found guilty of more than one property offence he or she
receives mandatory imprisonment. Most serious of all, these provisions apply regardless of how
minor the second offence may be. At the end of 1996, the number of children aged 10-17 in
Juvenile Corrective Institutions was 68.8 per 100,000 in the Northern Territory, compared with
14.9 in Victoria. In Western Australia, children convicted for a third time must be sentenced to
a minimum twelve months’ imprisonment or detention. This “three strikes and you’re in”
legislation has attracted criticism from the president of the Western Australian Children’s Court.
The Northern Territory and Western Australian laws breach a number of international human
rights standards, including articles 40 and 37 of the CRC. Furthermore, the Convention requires
that sentences be reviewable by a higher court or an appeal court. However, although the Federal
Government has constitutional power to override mandatory sentencing laws, it has chosen not
to do so and is therefore in breach of its international obligations.
An agreement in relation to mandatory sentencing was reached in April 2000 between the
Northern Territory Chief Minister and the Prime Minister of Australia. The details of the
agreement, released in August 2000, were as follows:
• The police are required to divert juveniles from the justice system when they commit a minor
offence (under $100 and not an unlawful entry).
• A range of new community-based programmes will be launched, including drug and substance
abuse diversionary programmes. Juvenile Diversion Units are to be established in the Northern
Territory police force to administer these programmes.
• $250,000 will be allocated in the first year for Aboriginal interpreter services.
However, the fact remains that mandatory sentencing, although modified, remains in the
Northern Territory for theft over $100 and for any unlawful entry.
Australia has a reservation on Article 37 (c) of the Convention, which stipulates the right of
children deprived of liberty to be treated with humanity and to have their dignity respected. In
contravention of this Article, children who live in remote and rural areas, particularly those of
indigenous origin, are often remanded in detention centres hundreds of kilometres from their
homes, disrupting schooling and family relations. There have been widespread calls for this
reservation to be lifted.
In the northern state of Queensland, the Police Powers and Responsibility Act 2000 also raises
concerns. The Acts allows members of the general public to be moved on from a prescribed place
in the interests of public safety. This is interpreted to mean that the police can move a person on
if they consider that person’s presence to be causing ‘anxiety’ to somebody else. This law appears
to be directly affecting the rights of indigenous children; a report by the Youth Advocacy Centre
in Queensland indicated that 37 per cent of people asked to move on were indigenous children
and young people.
• Increased and targeted expenditure on education for indigenous children – although
public expenditure on education is higher per capita for indigenous than for nonindigenous people in the 3-24 age bracket, equity considerations require additional
expenditure on education.
• Increased and targeted expenditure on health for indigenous children – health
expenditure is eight per cent higher for indigenous people, but considering the comparative
disadvantage this figure needs to be increased dramatically.
• Further funding and programmes for indigenous people – the existing programmes are
clearly not sufficient to raise indigenous people to a position of equality within Australian
• National standards for juvenile justice – national standards for juvenile justice need
developing to reflect Australia’s international commitments and to ensure the protection
of rights, including a proper balance between rehabilitation, deterrence and due process.
• Uniform legislation on cautioning needs to be established across all Australian
• Abolition of mandatory imprisonment – mandatory imprisonment rules in the Northern
Territory and Western Australia must be abolished.
• Improved custodial facilities – children in custody should be held in juvenile facilities
within close proximity to their families.
• Uniform powers of the police – police powers in relation to children should be uniform,
and attention must be directed to the degree of police harassment of juveniles currently
• Culturally relevant curricula for Aboriginal children – the education of Aboriginal
children should be formally addressed by government and culturally relevant programmes
should be introduced.
• Provision of bilingual education – bilingual education should be provided for all
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children whose first language is not English, if it is
sought by the relevant community.
Review of Children’s Rights
Canada ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) on 31 December 1991.
Canada’s present position on the CRC is characterised foremost by the conflict between free-trade
globalisation, which tends towards cuts in government expenditure, and the very real needs of
Canadian people, especially Aboriginal groups, other minority ethnic groups and those living
below the poverty line. Government policy has tended to reflect this conflict in that, while it
continues to pursue multicultural and anti-poverty policies on the one hand, on the other hand it
receives criticism for not intervening on a large enough scale to make a significant difference to
minority or underprivileged groups.
The Principle of Non-Discrimination
The CRC principle of non-discrimination is practised in conjunction with section 15 of the
Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which both prohibits negative discrimination based
on sex, race, ethnicity, and origin, and concedes a need for affirmative action. The Canadian
context provides an environment where discrimination is recognised in both individual and group
terms; some communities enjoy special rights collectively.
In recent years, Canada’s compliance with non-discrimination has received mixed reviews.
According to its 1999 research, the Canadian Coalition on the Rights of Children (CCRC)
concluded that Aboriginal children, abused and neglected children, children with disabilities, and
refugee children are the ‘most vulnerable’ children in Canada. Visible minorities, lone-parent
families and recent immigrants also experience discrimination.
In terms of programmatic work, Save the Children Canada has found that child participation
is the key to implementing the CRC principle of non-discrimination. One example of this is
shown in Save the Children Canada’s Right Way programme, which facilitates youth-led rights
education workshops for children and youth in a number of institutional settings. The purpose
of the programme is to allow children and youth to practise the skills they need to speak out
about their rights in relation to their own experiences, and to foster pride in their differences.
A further example is Save the Children Canada’s Aboriginal Youth Consultation programme,
which was launched in the spring of 1999. Like the Right Way, this programme utilises the
principle of participation in its approach, and addresses discrimination against Aboriginal youth
and, specifically, those sexually exploited in the commercial sex trade in Canada. By bringing
together sexually exploited children in focus groups from all across Canada to talk about their
stories and frustrations, this programme assists them in two ways. First, it equips them to cope
better personally, given that they will undoubtedly continue to face discrimination in the future.
Secondly, the information that comes out of the consultations is collated, distributed and used for
public education, which should promote a shift in attitudes in the broader arena.
Racial and Ethnic Discrimination
Canada is often seen in a favourable light internationally for its pro-diversity policies. Since the
1960s, immigration policy has enabled people from around the world to emigrate to Canada
regardless of race or religion, and Canada’s multicultural policy has aimed to embrace ethnic and
racial diversity at home in a positive and dynamic way. And in terms of Aboriginal/nonAboriginal relations, the acknowledgement by the federal government in 1992 of the right of
Aboriginal peoples to ‘self-determine’ has been seen as a step forward for a nation attempting to
face up to its colonial past.
These positive images, however, do not always reflect local experience, and there is evidence of
systemic and overt discrimination in relation to ethnic minorities in Canada. This is because
dominant Canadian society continues to look upon ‘difference’ in terms of ‘tolerance’ and
‘accommodation’. In doing so, it fails to see diversity as a good thing in its own right.
Politically, the issue of discrimination tends to fall into in two policy areas: multicultural relations
and Aboriginal/non-Aboriginal relations. These two areas affect practices in both public and
private sectors in Canada, and as such represent important areas in which to assess Canada’s
compliance with the CRC.
The first area is marked by quickly changing demographics. Canada’s population of over
30 million people consists of more than 5 million who have immigrated to Canada. According
to Statistics Canada, over 95 per cent of those who arrived before 1961 came from European
countries, particularly the British Isles. In recent years, the majority of immigrants have come
from Asian countries. In 1996, 58 per cent of new Canadians had Asian and Oceanic origins,
the largest number from Eastern Asia. Correspondingly, the concept of ‘ethnicity’ in Canada is
a complex matter. Based on a 1996 Census survey, the most common individual response to the
question of ethnicity is ‘English’ – 59 per cent and ‘French’ – 23 per cent. However, at the same
time these figures show that 18 per cent of people in Canada fall outside official language status.
The same census reported that people of colour make up 11 per cent of the population.
Racial and ethnic status is especially complex in Canada’s urban population. Visible minority
communities, or people of colour (not including Aboriginal people), accounted for 21.6 per cent
of the population in Canadian cities in 1996. Canada’s largest city, Toronto, has a population
that exceeds 4 million, consisting of 1.4 million people of colour in 1996 and 1.5 million people
whose mother tongue was not English or French.
In the second area, Aboriginal peoples in Canada make up a smaller portion of society, but are
also increasing. Those of North American Indian, Inuit and Metis origins make up over 800,000,
or 3 per cent, of Canada’s population. The highest densities of Aboriginal peoples are found in
rural areas, especially in the provinces of Manitoba and Saskatchewan (both over 11 per cent).
Given that Aboriginal birth rates have been on the rise in comparison with Canada’s average, an
increasing percentage of Aboriginals are young people; currently, almost half are 19 or younger.
In Manitoba and Saskatchewan, Aboriginal children 14 and younger make up about one quarter
of all children that age. Based on Statistics Canada figures, approximately 500,000 Aboriginal
people in Canada are registered with ‘status’ under the Indian Act and out of these approximately
230,000 live on reserves.
“Multicultural” policy emerged in the 1970s as a response by the Canadian government to the
historical circumstances of diversity and to Quebec nationalist politics. It is from this complex
historical framework that minority groups in Canada gained both individual and institutional
support from federal government in terms of anti-discriminatory reform.
Multicultural policy focused mostly on issues of equity in the 1980s, but has more recently
supported programmes of civil action, citizenship and belonging. Meanwhile, federal spending on
multicultural programmes has been cut, and families with immigrant and visible minority status
are now more at risk of being poor relative to other Canadians than ever before. The Canadian
Council on Social Development (CCSD) has reported that Canada’s cities are particular areas of
social deprivation and that 30 per cent of immigrants residing in cities live below the low-income
cut off line (LICO).
This is in spite of the fact that in some places, the average recent immigrant has a higher level of
education than the average Canadian-born citizen. As the CCSD concludes, there are ‘concerns’
that recent immigrants (of mostly non-European origin) are ‘having greater difficulties in the
labour market than did previous immigrants’ (of mostly European origin), ‘and that the incomes
of families in this category may never reach the Canadian average’. Whether immigrants or
Canadian-born, people from visible minority groups have lower labour market earnings than their
non-visible minority counterparts, and women in these groups earn consistently less than men.
This means that children of visible minority and immigrant families have a harder time
realising their rights than other children. The problems of lower income are compounded by
discriminatory practices in a number of institutional contexts. For example, in housing, it
has been shown that African-Canadians are routinely denied equal access to adequate homes,
forcing children into lower-income housing. There have also been cases of ethnic friction and
misunderstanding in childcare and other services, which restrict their effectiveness.
The Indian Act (1876/1951) is a reflection of a kind of ethnic or cultural discrimination that is
fundamentally different from that experienced by other minority groups. It has been formally
recognised in Canada that Aboriginal people live with a legacy of discriminatory policies that date
from colonial times, in terms of resource allocation, economic policy, and social policy. In the
light of these blatant discriminatory practices the Indian Act grants “status” or “membership”
rights to Aboriginal peoples. These are essentially political rights and include the right to selfdetermine both membership of the Canadian state and intergovernmental relationships with it.
‘Member’ Aboriginal communities remain sceptical of state-run child welfare intervention.
The federal government has attempted to reduce this scepticism in relation to education policy
by according greater control to schools on a local basis, so that Aboriginal histories, languages and
values can be better reflected in school curricula; but progress in this area has varied dramatically
from province to province, and in any case does not seem to have achieved equality for Aboriginal
children. For example, a survey carried out in 1992 by the Canadian Education Association
found that 65.8 per cent of respondent schools with Aboriginal students in Ontario, British
Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba and the Northwest Territories offer courses with
Aboriginal content; but in spite of this, Aboriginal children still obtain lower overall levels of
educational achievement in comparison with other Canadian children.
A principle problem for Aboriginal children remains their poor economic status due, in large part,
to discrimination that denies their parents access to labour markets. In Canadian urban areas in
particular, well over half of Aboriginal people live in poverty. However, discrimination against
Aboriginal families and communities is a complex issue that extends beyond the scope of their
employment. A Statistics Canada 1991 survey found that 31 per cent of Aboriginal Canadians
have at least one mental or physical disability, which is more than twice the national average.
Though such alarming rates must be considered in the context of cultural bias about health and
pathology, they have been linked to various environmental conditions, including unsafe living
conditions, poverty and pollution; but as yet, the government has done little to tackle the
problem. Other difficulties include the disproportionate level of abuse and neglect of Aboriginal
children; this is perhaps reflected in the suicide rate for Aboriginal youth, which is five times the
national average.
Other Issues
In 1995, Canada was formally criticised by the executive director of the United Nations
Children’s Fund for its failure to provide “material assistance and support programmes,
particularly with regard to nutrition, clothing and housing” as stipulated by CRC article 27.
Many children in Canada continue to live in families that face a constant struggle to find the
basic material resources necessary for their development. Furthermore, their experiences and rights
under the law have been devalued in the 1990s; they have been discriminated against in that they
have been left off the agenda in federal government policy-making.
The now-famous declaration of Canada’s House of Commons on 24 November 1989 stands as a
reminder for Canadians on federal initiatives to child poverty:
That this house express its concern for the more than one million Canadian children living in poverty and
seek to achieve the goal of eliminating poverty among Canadian children by the year 2000.
In the year 2000, the reality is relatively shocking. According to Campaign 2000, child poverty
rose between 1989 and 1997 by 120 per cent. The CCSD has noted that the highest rates of
poverty have been found among children under six years of age living in cities. In Montréal, for
instance, over half (51 per cent) of the youth live below the poverty line.
According to the CCSD, the likelihood of living in poverty varies according to different types
of families. The highest rates of child poverty are found among families with single mothers –
almost half of poor children are in this category. These same children are also at greater risk of
poor health and low educational attainment. For example, in 1994, only 66 per cent of children
growing up in the poorest 25 per cent of Canadian families were likely to complete high school,
while those in the richest 25 per cent had a 77 per cent chance of doing so.
The Canadian government has chosen the free market orthodoxy of lower taxes, global
competitiveness and ‘free’ trade. Policies in this vein have been implemented despite Canadian
Centre for Social Justice figures that show that post-NAFTA (North American Free Trade
Agreement) Canada has become increasingly income-poor. Furthermore, economic growth in
the 1990s has not had a conclusive impact on child poverty. From the period 1991 to 1997,
while economic indicators showed strong growth, child poverty remained at the 20 per cent level.
The period from 1995 to 1997 is especially illuminating. While economic indicators showed
strong growth during this period, child poverty rose by 6.3 per cent. The Centre has also shown
that between 1989 and 1997, the percentage of low-income families with children grew from
30 to 35 per cent.
Nonetheless, notable child policy announcements have been made in 2000. First, the Prime
Minister formally recognised the existence of child poverty. He announced an increase in tax-free
child benefit for the working poor, and in parental leave benefits, and stated that the national
government would co-ordinate its efforts with provinces and territories to develop a
Plan for the National Children’s Agenda by December 2000.
• Sustainable efforts towards the institutional inclusion of minority groups – although
there are anti-discriminatory policies and practices in place, it is felt that these can be
widened and improved.
• Specific efforts to improve the situation for Aboriginal children. This should focus on
cultural participation, a key component for Aboriginal youth who, in many cases, require
the time and resources to practise collective healing.
• National and local government spending to combat poverty – non-discrimination can
only take place in an environment where less economic disparity exists than at present.
Governments should restore national and local social spending to increase the chances of
children breaking the cycle of poverty.
• Restoration of national standards for healthcare, childcare and family services – these
services were weakened in the 1990s and must be restored. The federal government has the
responsibility to lead provincial, territorial and local governments on child rights policy, if
not implement specific programmes.
Review of Children’s Rights
Denmark ratified the CRC on 19 July 1991, but following ratification, there was no review
of Danish legislation to examine how accurately it reflects the Articles of the Convention.
Although Danish law is regarded as being generally compatible with the CRC, Denmark has
a two-tier legal system under which the international agreements it becomes party to are not
automatically incorporated into law. In theory, International Human Rights obligations are
reflected in Danish law through the so-called construction and presumption rules; but this is
not necessarily the case. In November 1999 the government held a conference discussing the
need to change this arrangement in the Danish Constitution; the conference also debated adding
a reference to children’s rights in the Constitution.
Problems with Danish law as it stands are that it tends to focus on the interests of the family in
general, rather than on the best interests of the child specifically, and so it is not difficult to find
concrete instances of legislation in breach of the principles of the CRC. The Ministry of Justice
has repeatedly used the idea of the sacredness of the family, as expressed in Article 8 of the
European Human Rights Convention (EHRC), to justify its failure to initiate a review and
reform of Danish law that would guarantee the best interests of the child. As a response to this,
Red Barnet (Save the Children Denmark) has allied with the National Council for Children’s
Rights to prove that, from an international law point of view, there is no reason why Article 8 of
the EHRC should hinder the review and reform of Danish law.
Another problem relates to Article 40 of the CRC, which stipulates that a child who has broken
the law has the right to have the outcome of his or her case reviewed. Criminal cases in the higher
courts are not guaranteed a review in Denmark, and the Danish Government has made a
reservation about this right. Furthermore, convicted juveniles can be put in solitary confinement
for fourteen-day periods, repeated up to a limit of eight weeks. The rules regulating use of solitary
confinement within the Danish legal system are established by a parliamentary body called the
Rules Committee. Save the Children Denmark has lobbied hard on this issue, and succeeded in
obtaining a meeting with the Rules Committee in March 2000. In co-operation with a number
of other organisations, an open letter was sent to Parliament in May 2000 and the issue is now
under consideration. A reform of the jury system is also being considered by Parliament, but it
cannot be implemented until the reform of the judicial circuit structure is completed towards the
end of 2000.
Various bodies are involved in working towards review of the legal system. The Incorporation
Committee is looking at the possibility of incorporating the general UN Human Rights
Conventions into Danish Law; the Danish Co-operation Group on the CRC (of which Save
the Children Denmark is an active member) has written to the Ministry of Justice requesting
that the Committee look into incorporating the CRC into Danish law as well.
One of the biggest steps forward in the past year has been the new Development Strategy for the
year 2000 introduced by DANIDA, the Danish development organisation. This is a success for
Save the Children Denmark and three other organisations, which have for a long time lobbied
DANIDA to place children’s rights at the centre of its thinking. In the new strategy, children
are for the first time introduced as bearers of rights and are taken into consideration in all
development projects. Thus Denmark has finally progressed from a needs-based to a rights-based
approach in its development initiatives.
The Principle of Non-Discrimination
Denmark has a population of about 5.1 million inhabitants, of which 1,145,915 are under 18 years
of age. Of these, 99,145 are children with an ethnic background other than Danish. From a legal
point of view, all children living in Denmark should have the same rights and opportunities, but
in fact discrimination is rife.
The common thread in all the different types of discrimination identified is that they lead to
social and cultural exclusion. Members of excluded groups are at greater risk of becoming
involved in anti-social and criminal activity. Furthermore, the frustration of prolonged social
exclusion can result in attacks on the apparent symbols of the discrimination and exclusion, as
was seen in areas of London and other British cities in the early 1980s. The recent attack on a
club in Copenhagen with stones and bottles may be an instance of this. It is well documented
that young black men are frequently not allowed admission into these places. At the other end of
the social exclusion problem, well-qualified ethnic professionals such as doctors, dentists and
engineers often find it impossible to find a job in Denmark. They are forced to take a job in the
unskilled sector or to move to another country that is less discriminatory. In such an environment
of discrimination, Denmark is failing some of its most vulnerable children, and losing the rich
assets that such children could bring to the country in adult life.
Racial and Ethnic Discrimination
The international conventions that Denmark is party to imply that it grants protection against
racial discrimination, but in practice the government conspicuously fails to ensure efficient legal
protection against direct as well as indirect racial discrimination. All too often the responsibility is
passed on to local authorities, who also avoid addressing the problem.
Institutional racism and discrimination are part of the structural fabric of society in Denmark,
and are found in both the job market and the education system. They are also found in the
negative attitudes and stereotypes of people in the dominant populations, and can be encountered
anywhere – the street, pubs or restaurants, or on public transport. Prejudice against their linguistic
or socio-cultural situations limits the potential of ethnic minority children, and a recently
published report shows that one out of five people from an ethnic background has considered
leaving Denmark because of this cultural, personal and institutionalised discrimination.
Unemployment among people from an ethnic minority background is much higher than it
is for ethnic Danes. It has recently been reported that in more than a third of cases, employers
reject applicants who have a foreign-sounding name, even when the applicants are well
qualified. Discrimination of this kind is almost impossible to document.
An example of racial discrimination in the workplace is the ‘headscarf issue’. A typical instance
is that of Islam Amin, a 14 year-old girl, who in November 1998 was sent home from her
apprenticeship at a big department store in Odense because she was wearing a headscarf and
refused to take it off. Her employer explicitly stated that “We won’t accept girls who wear
headscarves”. The Act on Prohibition of Discrimination on Account of Race covers
apprenticeships and school, and Odense Council is bound by its provisions. But instead of
supporting Islam Amin, the Children and Adolescents’ Administration of Odense Council
has suggested that local employers keep it informed of their dress code, so that in future girls
wearing headscarves won’t be referred to it. Islam Amin has brought a legal action against
the department store.
Within the education system, discrimination is manifested in the teaching materials,
in teachers’ attitudes, and in the lack of respect for religious customs.
An example of discrimination in teaching materials can be found in the experience of Posseh
Sessay in 1997. Her English teacher set as a translation exercise a text about two hunters who
“encountered and shot down a new species: brown, walking on two legs, though it had four,
raising its forelegs crying out: ‘No Sir’ ”. Posseh protested, but was told she would get no
marks if she did not translate it.
Instead of dealing with the case, bodies such as the Ministry of Education and the Local
Education Authority tried to evade responsibility for it. The case has been brought before
the Parliamentary Ombudsman.
Children from foreign backgrounds who have no parents to look after them are clearly very
vulnerable. But when such children encounter, for example, border police and immigrations
officials, they experience severe discrimination and their interests are not protected. Officials in
such cases receive no training in conducting child-friendly interviews, and there are no proper
procedures in place for tracing the child’s family. Most serious of all is the failure to appoint
guardians or advisers for unaccompanied minors (unless it is known the child’s parents are
dead), from their initial identification, right through the proceedings, and even after they are
granted asylum in Denmark. In all other cases, if a child loses his or her parents, a guardian
has to be appointed according to the Danish law on Parental Responsibility and Contact
As for teachers and practitioners working with children, only those working with reception
classes are trained to deal with immigrant children (in psycho-social awareness for instance),
though it would no doubt be useful for all teachers and practitioners.
A first step towards dealing with discrimination in Denmark would be for people to accept that
they live in a multicultural society whose different cultures are equal. Ideally, an Ombudsman for
non-discrimination should be appointed to adjudicate in racial discrimination disputes. Such an
institution could have effectively and inexpensively dealt with the cases of Islam Amin and Posseh
Sessay, for example. The idea of having an Ombudsman in this role has been receiving coverage
in the Danish press recently, and it could well win a majority vote if presented to Parliament.
Save the Children Denmark makes a valuable contribution to protecting children from racial
discrimination, and has had particular impact in relation to separated children. It has initiated the
establishment of a Resource and Information Centre that, using the CRC as its reference point,
supports the rights of separated children, disseminates information about their situation, and
prevents misunderstandings and discrimination. In addition to this, since 1995 the organisation
has run three Children’s Houses for separated children. A report, “Statement of Good Practice”,
and an assessment of how Denmark lives up to its recommendations, has been published by Save
the Children Denmark in co-operation with the Separated Children in Europe Programme.
Other Issues
Most children in Denmark cope well with the demands of life; they develop independence and
reach their potential in terms of academic achievement. However, an estimated group of between
10 and 15 per cent are in danger of marginalisation. School attendance and academic
performance for this group is poor. They are far more likely than other children to experience
social problems that may continue long into adult life, and in some cases they can end up totally
isolated from mainstream society. Children from this group are indirectly discriminated against,
because a major factor in their situation is socio-economic inequality.
There are three categories of children within this group:
• Problem children, who have generally experienced severe abuse or neglect early in their lives
from either their close family or other carers. Few of these children recover and only after
intense psychological treatment;
• Threatened children, children and adolescents who have experienced some kind of abuse
at some stage, either by omission or commission, and who experience low levels of social
and cultural integration. If they get the right support they can emerge stronger – though they
can also develop more profound disturbances;
• Special needs children, who can experience temporary crises of different kinds because of
psycho-social problems.
It is vital for society to address the needs of these children, because the facts speak for themselves:
there is a relatively high suicide rate among young people in Denmark; violence between
youngsters is increasing; there is an increasing use of mind-altering substances; and 25 per cent
of children between the ages of 11 and 15 are frequently bullied.
Denmark’s handling of socio-economic discrimination against children is unsatisfactory. One of
the main facets of Danish social policy, embodied in social reforms of the 1970s, is the idea of
prevention. However, in reality, this preventive philosophy has had insufficient impact, which is
due mainly to the way children are viewed in Denmark. This applies to all levels of intervention.
In the current system, financial constraints, ideology and the rights of the parents invariably come
before the best interests of the child. In serious cases of child abuse or neglect, too often the child
does not get the vital intervention needed until he or she has become a problem child, by which
time the help given is too late.
Save the Children Denmark helps to relieve the problems associated with socio-economic
discrimination with its Children’s Holiday Programme. This programme, which has been
running for 51 years, gives children who need a break from their everyday lives the chance to
spend time with voluntary ‘Danish holiday families’ during holidays and at weekends.
The idea is to provide children with positive experiences that they can use to build up their
self-esteem and ability to ‘recover’.
Racial and Ethnic Discrimination
• Incorporation of the CRC and the International Convention on the Elimination of
all forms of Racial Discrimination, including the definition of direct and indirect
discrimination, into Danish legislation.
• Appointment of an Ombudsman for non-discrimination, with the authority to examine
complaints and offer assessments and solutions.
• Public campaigns to raise awareness about how discrimination affects victims and society.
• Screening of teaching materials for discriminatory attitudes.
• Appointment of guardians or advisers for unaccompanied minors as soon as they
are identified.
• Compulsory training in cultural awareness, anti-discriminatory procedure and childfriendly interviews for officials who deal with separated children.
Socio-economic Discrimination
• A challenge to traditional views – efforts should be made to change the view of children
as owned objects to that of individuals with rights.
• Prioritisation of the best interests of the child in all matters affecting children, directly
or indirectly.
• Powers to remove children from situations of abuse or neglect – when a child is
experiencing abuse or neglect, or when this is very likely to occur, it should be possible
for authorities to remove the child from this environment, compulsorily if necessary.
• Careful investigation and monitoring of social and political changes that influence
children and their situation.
Dominican Republic
Review of Children’s Rights
The Dominican Republic ratified the CRC on 8 August 1990 and it came into effect
on 11 July 1991. The ratification of the Convention has conferred on it the force of national
law and therefore its provisions may be directly invoked before any judicial or administrative
authority. The Dominican government finally submitted its initial report to the Committee on
the Rights of the Child in 1999, although it was actually due in 1993.
The Code for the Protection of Children and Young People continues to represent the main
legislation concerning children’s rights in the country. The Code embodies provisions relating
to new policies and the standards and procedures for caring for children and adolescents. It also
provides a protection system, which sets up co-operative links between the state institutions
and civil society. In addition the Code has established a legal-institutional framework with the
objective of monitoring and enforcing the provisions for the protection of children’s rights.
There are three institutions within the framework: the Governing Body, which supervises plans
and programmes for the welfare of children; provincial and regional offices; and national and
regional councils.
In the area of justice, the Commissioner for the Reform and Modernisation of Justice
continues to prioritise the support of special courts for children and adolescents. Recently, the
Commissioner’s office has initiated the Public Defence Programme to provide defence for
citizens who have problems with the law and who, because of their socio-economic situation,
cannot afford the services of a lawyer. Of the twelve officially appointed lawyers, two are assigned
to the juvenile courts and also deal with cases of unlawful detention of minors. An important step
in advancing children’s rights is Law 24-97 against Family Violence, which was promulgated on
27 January 1997. This law represents significant progress towards the protection of children’s
rights in the Dominican Republic. Its provisions seek to deal with violations committed in the
family context, which are traditionally treated as private and therefore ignored. This law brings
domestic and family violence into the social forum, and therefore combats the view that the
interests of the state stop when the family door is shut.
Principle of Non-Discrimination
Racial and Ethnic Discrimination
The ethnic composition of the Dominican Republic is approximately 75 per cent mulatto,
15 per cent white and ten per cent are black. About 40 per cent of the population is aged
fourteen and under. The Dominican Republic acceded to the International Convention on the
Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD) on 25 May 1983. The Dominican
Constitution also embodies anti-discrimination articles. These include Article 100, which
condemns any situations or privileges that stand in the way of equality between Dominicans,
stipulating that the only differences between them are those which derive from particular
talents or virtues, and Act 14-94, the Minors’ Code, which prohibits discrimination against
any Dominican.
However, ethnocentric habits, customs and patterns of behaviour and prejudice on grounds
of sex, race, ethnic group, disability and economic and social status continue to exist, and a major
problem is that the Dominican government refuses to acknowledge this. In its 1998 report to the
UN Committee against Racial Discrimination (CERD – the body in charge of monitoring the
implementation of the ICERD), the government blatantly stated that there is no racial prejudice
in the Dominican Republic, other than the possibility that there might be some individuals in the
country who discreetly support racial prejudice. According to the government, there is absolutely
no foundation for the belief that there is discrimination against Haitians living in the country. In
response to this, CERD in its 1999 Concluding Observations stated that no country could claim
the total absence of racial discrimination in its territory or be confident that will not appear in the
future. The UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR) came to similar
conclusions, stating that the Dominican Republic would not make any progress in the fight
against discrimination of all types until it began to acknowledge the problem.
The main area of concern in relation to ethnic discrimination arises in connection with the
Haitians living in the country – the majority of them illegally. There are 500,000 to 600,000
Haitian workers residing in the Dominican Republic, without any legal status and protection of
their economic, social and cultural rights. Thousands of them participate in the Dominican sugar
harvest every year, contracted by the State Sugar Council (CEA). The children of these workers
are in a particularly worrying situation because, due to the state’s very restrictive interpretation of
Article 11 of the Constitution, they are not allowed Dominican nationality even if they are born
there, on the grounds that they are born of foreigners in transit. This lack of status is passed from
one generation to another: children do not have documents because their parents have none.
Dominican Republic
Human rights groups who work on this issue have pointed out that there is a deliberate
government policy of prohibiting the registration of the children of Haitian immigrants.
The Dominican authorities impose on Haitian parents the burden of showing documents that
are not expressly required by Law No. 659 on Acts of Civil Status. For example, the offices of the
Civil Registry require that Haitian parents present an identity document in order to register their
children, even though the law does not set forth any such requirement. Although hospitals
usually provide birth certificates, they do not have any obligation to register births officially in the
civil registry offices, making it difficult for children to obtain identification and other papers.
Furthermore, Haitian children are rarely born in hospitals, and are therefore even less likely to
obtain identity cards. This situation clearly discriminates against children, who are denied their
right to a nationality. Furthermore, their ‘illegal status’ prevents these children from enjoying their
basic economic, social and cultural rights such as housing, education and health services.
Haitians have also been subject to forced deportation. For example, on 13 June 1991 the
President issued Decree 233, whereby all undocumented Haitians under 16 and over 60 years
of age were to be repatriated. This decree is still in force and may pose a latent threat to Haitian
workers. Decree 417, of 15 October 1990, whose objective was to legalise the status of Haitian
migrant workers, has not been adequately enforced and very few Haitians have been able to
obtain legal status.
The government has undertaken some research in the hope of finding ways to change
perceptions of Haitian nationals by the local population. The particular focus of the research
is the discrimination experienced by the children and adolescents who were born in the
Dominican Republic, who do not have birth certificates and who mainly live on sugar cane
plantations outside the official control of the State. The living conditions on these plantations,
in terms of housing, health, education, sanitation and nutrition, are often amongst the poorest
in the country. While this research is obviously much needed and very welcome, it is important
that it is backed up by strong effective policies and legislation and that these, in turn, are enforced
with vigour.
Discrimination in the Dominican Republic is also apparent against darker-skinned Dominicans.
The CESCR, in its 1996 Concluding Observation on the Dominican Republic, noted with
concern that black Dominicans are subject to police abuse and administrative discrimination.
Furthermore, groups representing blacks also claim that the state violates their cultural rights
by allowing the police and local communities to suppress Afro-American or African-identified
cultural practices. They also assert that discrimination of this kind is encouraged at public
schools where, for example, Afro-American clothes and hairstyles are not allowed. In addition,
according to some research, blacks only appear in two per cent of school textbooks and only
in very stereotyped roles. It goes without saying that the children of black Dominicans are
also subject to the discriminatory treatment experienced by their families.
Other Issues
According to various international organisations working in the country, disparity of wealth in
the Dominican Republic is a continuing problem. It is reported that 60 per cent of Dominican
families live in poverty and 63.9 per cent of these families cannot cover their basic needs.
According to the 1992 Survey on Income and Expenditures, poverty among children under 12
is about one-third greater than it is in the adult population. This socio-economic gap clearly puts
children from poor families at a disadvantage and prevents them from enjoying their rights.
Most of the poorer population work in the farming sector and need their children to help them
at busy times of the year, so children are only sent to school when they are not needed to work.
This makes it almost impossible for children to advance to higher levels and reach their full
potential. Children whose parents cannot afford their uniform or their books cannot attend
school at all.
Furthermore, 45 per cent of children under the age of 5 are malnourished, partly because families
cannot afford sufficient nutritional food. Gastrointestinal disease, malnutrition and pneumonia
are the three principal causes of child death. Many families do not have proper access to drinking
water, and children are often forced to walk many miles daily to gather water for the entire family.
The government has designed social development anti-poverty plans and programmes as part of
a strategy to eliminate and reduce regional disparities. However, no information is available as to
how these programmes are being implemented.
Gender discrimination occurs in various aspects of Dominican life, and is particularly prevalent in
schools. This is demonstrated by the gender imbalance in enrolment in primary schools, where
boys form the majority. The government is attempting to combat this bias through the Minors’
Code, as a result of which primary and secondary school textbooks are being revised, and media
campaigns against violence and gender discrimination are being implemented. The aim is to
eliminate sexist language and other forms of gender discrimination. However, no information is
available to indicate the effects of these measures so far.
The main form of religious discrimination in the Dominican Republic arises from a pro-Catholic
bias disadvantaging children from other religious traditions. Members of the national police are
obliged to attend Catholic mass, and the Catholic church receives preferential treatment from the
government in terms of public funds and tax exemptions.
In 1998, the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women expressed
concern about discrimination against single mothers. This discrimination is embodied in both
social security provisions and in land inheritance rights. Naturally, this discriminatory legislation
has a negative impact on children from single-parent families.
Dominican Republic
Language is another area in which minorities experience discrimination. Broadcasting in any
language other than Spanish is prohibited in the Dominican Republic, which gave rise to concern
in the 1993 Concluding Observations of the UN Human Rights Committee. The Committee
also observed that protection of the rights of ethnic, religious and linguistic minorities is
inadequate, a fact that again has a negative impact on the children of the country.
Implementation of the CRC
• Effective implementation of the law on family violence – the collection and analysis of
statistical information should be carried out in order to evaluate progress brought about by
this new legislation.
Racial and Ethnic Discrimination
• Acknowledgement of discrimination – the Dominican government must acknowledge
the existence of discrimination in the country; only then can a realistic start be made
on addressing the problem.
• Residence permits or naturalisation must be offered by the Dominican government to
illegally resident Haitians, in order to regularise the situation. Furthermore, the principle
of jus soli under Article 11 of the Constitution must be applied to the children of Haitian
residents without delay.
• Improvement in living conditions for Haitians living in the Bateyes (shanty towns).
The Dominican government should take urgent measures to ensure that the
Haitian population, especially the children, have access to economic, social and cultural
rights without discrimination.
• Protection and promotion of black Dominicans’ cultural rights on the part of the
Dominican government.
• Elimination of discriminatory attitudes against black Dominicans in schools –
children should learn in an environment that promotes equality and respect for each
others’ heritage.
Socio-economic Discrimination
• Reduction of socio-economic disparity – the Dominican government, in co-operation
with international agencies, donors and international non-governmental organisations,
should make all possible efforts to reduce the gap between poor and better-off families.
Discrimination is casting someone aside,
labelling or judging them based on superficial
facts such as their ethnic background, skin,
colour or gender.
Lisa, age 17
Toronto, Canada
Review of Children’s Rights
Egypt ratified the United Nation Convention on the Rights of the Child on 5 February 1990,
and the Convention came into effect on 2 September 1990. Since then, a number of provisions and
bodies have been established to implement the terms of the CRC, particularly over the last four years.
The first major development was the establishment of the Children’s Code on 28 March 1996.
This Code, placed within the framework of Act No. 12, incorporates the principles and
provisions of the CRC and brings national legislation into line with it. It assembles and develops
all the provisions concerning children that were originally laid out in earlier legislation and
contains sections concerning health care, social and cultural welfare, education, working mothers,
the welfare of disabled children and the treatment of child offenders.
A particularly welcome development took place on 28 December 1997, in the context of female
genital mutilation. The State Council, Egypt’s highest administrative court, upheld the Ministry
of Health ban on female circumcision, which a lower court had ruled illegal. The Council found
that: “circumcision of girls is not an individual right under Islamic law because there is nothing in
the Koran which authorises it and nothing in the Sunna… henceforth it is illegal for anyone to
carry out circumcision operations even if the girl or her parents agree to it”. However, female
genital mutilation remains legal if it is considered to be medically imperative, which leaves the
potential for arbitrary interpretation.
In 1998, the National Council for Childhood and Motherhood (NCCM) was established. Its
wide-ranging mandate, includes research, data-gathering and policy-making in relation to
mothers and children, and formulating a national plan for social and family care, health,
education, culture, information and social protection. The breadth of this mandate means that it
is now considered the principal body for the supervision and co-ordination of activities relating to
the implementation of the CRC in Egypt.
More recently, an additional mechanism for the protection of children’s rights has been created.
The General Administration for the Legal Protection of Children is a new supervisory body
established by the Ministry of Justice under Decree No. 2235 of 1997. It is made up of five
specialised directorates: the Directorate for Educational Measures; the Directorate for Legal Affairs
and Legislation; the Directorate for Training and Research; the Directorate for Co-operation with
Local Organisations and Associations; and the Directorate for Information, Statistics and
Communications. The General Administration has two primary functions. It is responsible for the
protection of children in terms of national strategy, in accordance with the Children’s Code and
the international agreements that Egypt is party to; it also has the role of monitoring legal action,
ensuring that appropriate legal assistance is given to children, and proposing legal and social
measures for protecting children at risk.
The Principle of Non-Discrimination
As far as domestic legislation is concerned, Egypt acceded to the International Convention on
the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination under the terms of Presidential Decree
No. 369 of 1967. Under Article 8 of the Egyptian Constitution, the State guarantees equality
of opportunity for all citizens, and Article 40 of the Constitution further stipulates that all
citizens are equal before the law and in their public rights and obligations, and that no
discrimination should be made among them on the grounds of sex, origin, language, religion
or belief. The Constitutional Court has made an additional point clear – that these prohibited
grounds for discrimination are by no means exhaustive, but are merely the most commonly
encountered in daily life. This establishes an important legal principle in suggesting that
discrimination is boundless: it occurs whenever differentiation, restriction, preference or
exclusion arbitrarily detract from the rights and freedoms of individuals. This can be by
denying that these rights exist, or by making it impossible for people to exercise them on
an equal footing, particularly in the political, social, economic, cultural and other fields
of public life.
With regard to children, the provisions of the Children’s Code apply to all Egyptian children
under the age of eighteen. In accordance with the principle of equality laid down in Article 40
of the Constitution, all discrimination against and preferential treatment of individual Egyptian
children is prohibited.
Racial and Ethnic Discrimination
Despite the level of legislation in place, particular groups are still affected to quite a large extent
by discriminatory practices. In 1993, the concluding observations of the Human Rights
Committee expressed concern about the restrictions suffered by various religious communities
or sects. The Committee was equally concerned at denials by the Egyptian authorities that
religious or other minorities even exist.
Egypt’s Christian minority certainly has legitimate cause for complaint about discriminatory
treatment, both under the law and in practice. In terms of the law, church construction and
repair are subject to discriminatory authorisation procedures, including the need for a presidential
decree to build new churches. Furthermore, Islamic law prohibits Egyptian Muslim women from
marrying non-Muslim men. Christians are under-represented in senior positions in government,
universities and military and security forces. Discrimination also became evident when the Arabic
daily newspaper al-Hayat (London) was banned, simply because it had published an article about
the situation of minorities in the region. Naturally, all these factors place children of Christian
families at a great disadvantage. What is worse is that Christians have also been the target of
violent attacks. In August and September 1999 security forces reportedly tortured at least 20
villagers, including children, in the course of a murder investigation in the predominantly Coptic
Christian village of al-Kushh in Upper Egypt.
Other Issues
In the past few years, an increasing number of Egyptians have come to live below the poverty
line. Patterns can definitely be seen which indicate that the inequality between rich and the poor
is growing, and, specifically, the inequality between urban and rural communities. However, in
both urban and rural areas, the largest concentration of poor households is in Upper Egypt.
Healthcare provides an illustration of this: the Ministry of Health budget is strikingly urbanoriented, with rural hospitals receiving only 3 per cent of the total budget, as opposed to the
58 per cent that is allocated to urban hospitals. The prevalence of neo-natal mortality is five times
higher in rural than in urban areas, and a further five times higher in rural Upper Egypt.
The right to education
Due to these socio-economic disparities, children from low-income households cannot
enjoy their basic rights. In the area of education, for example, poor families are very likely
to withdraw their children from school if they are struggling. If they can afford to send only
some of their children to school, they will tend to send the boys, on the basis that girls will
eventually marry into other families; an investment in their education is therefore not considered
cost effective. In general, expenditure on education is biased towards higher and university
education. This benefits the social classes that are already better off, at the expense
of providing basic education facilities for the whole population. Expenditure on primary
education accounts for less than one-third of total expenditure on education.
The principle of general equality between men and women is recognised in Articles 8, 11 and 40
of the Egyptian Constitution, which cover equal opportunities, equality before the law, the State’s
pledge to reconcile women’s duties towards their family with their work in society, and equality
between men and women in the political, social, cultural and economic fields. Furthermore, the
Education Act No. 139 of 1981 stipulates that all Egyptian children, both male and female, have
the right to basic education. The State therefore has an obligation to provide free education for a
period of eight academic years, if it is to conform to the relevant international conventions.
In practice, however, discrimination on the basis of gender is entrenched and widespread in
Egypt. Pregnant and nursing women, along with small children, are the most undernourished
groups in Egypt. The problem of a poor diet, low in nutrients, is exacerbated by traditional social
patterns, which dictate that men eat before women and children. The men therefore consume
the bulk of nutritious delicacies, such as meat or eggs, which many families can barely afford.
Children suffer specific gender-related discrimination in terms of their right to nationality.
Egyptian women do not have the right to pass their nationality on to their children, which
clearly discriminates against children born of Egyptian mothers and non-Egyptian fathers.
Children in this category do receive some rights to education, residence and so on, but this
does not amount to equal status.
The right to education
One of the most extensive forms of gender discrimination takes place in relation to education.
There is a considerable gap between boys and girls both in respect of enrolment rates and the
number of years of schooling that they receive (recorded as being 6.1 years for boys but only 3.3
years for girls). UNICEF has highlighted the problem of female enrolment which, while reaching
95 per cent in Cairo, drops to 65 per cent in urban Upper Egypt and even further
in rural Upper Egypt, to 57 per cent. In the latter case, male enrolment reaches 90 per cent,
giving an indication of the strength of gender bias. The Committee on the Rights of the Child, in
its 1993 Concluding Observations on Egypt, also noted that access to education
for girls is a particular problem, despite the Egyptian laws and regulations which guarantee
equality between the sexes. The 1999 Special Report on the right to education confirmed
the gender imbalance in net enrolment in primary school.
Various reasons for the gap in illiteracy rates between boys and girls can be identified:
• pupils frequently have to travel lengthy distances to attend schools in rural areas;
• families have insufficient money to spend on education;
• the content of the school textbooks does not always meet the needs of different students;
• in some areas, customs and traditions discourage families from educating their girls;
• marriages may be contracted at a young age;
• some families refuse to allow their daughters to be taught by male teachers.
The government has introduced a series of measures to combat this problem. Schools with girlonly classes for eight to fourteen-year-olds have been established, along with a number of small,
one-room primary schools. The aim of these small schools is to help girls to catch up on their
education, especially in poor areas, small villages and isolated hamlets far from public primary
schools, where they have often been deprived of all schooling. The government has also issued
directives to raise the maximum age for attendance at preparatory schools to eighteen.
The Committee on the Rights of the Child expressed concern over the very low number of
disabled children enrolled in schools. This is evidence of underlying discrimination, though
at the time of going to press no further details about the situation were available.
Recommendations and Action Points
The Principle of Non-discrimination
• An active approach to the elimination of discrimination against certain groups of
children is needed, in particular girls and children in rural areas.
Racial and Ethnic Discrimination
• Protection from discrimination for Egyptian Christians – the government should
change laws that discriminate against Egyptian Christians, including children, and ensure
that Christians are protected against any form of discriminatory treatment in practice.
Other Issues
• Reduction of the socio-economic gap between rich and poor in rural areas,
particularly in Upper Egypt – the Egyptian government should co-operate with
international agencies, donors and international non-governmental organisations to
achieve this.
• Elimination of obstacles to girls’ enrolment in schools should be adequately addressed.
• An increase in parental awareness should be promoted in relation to their daughters’
right to education.
• Protection against discrimination for children with disabilities – in particular, the
government should ensure that such children receive education, thus enabling them to
become integrated into society.
• Awareness in the families of disabled children should be raised in relation to their
specific needs.
This report was prepared by researchers working with the International Save the Children Alliance in London.
Save the Children Egypt has not been involved in the preparation of this report.
Detail from ‘Share a little starshine’
Drawing by Erin age 10, Australia
Review of Children’s Rights
Finland ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) on January 1990 and it
came into force in June 1991. The most significant legislative change was the 1995 Constitution
Act, which modernised and refined the Finnish system of fundamental rights and incorporated
the principles of the Convention.
The 1995 Constitution states that “children shall be treated equally as individuals and shall
be permitted to influence matters affecting them according to their degree of maturity”. Public
authorities are charged with supporting the family to safeguard the well-being and individual
development of each child, so that decisions concerning children are made on the basis that
the best interests of the child are paramount.
Finland has a history of actively including children in decision-making processes. During
the 1970s, school councils existed in every secondary and high school in Finland, with pupil
representatives who were chosen by election. Unfortunately this practice was discontinued at the
beginning of the 1990s, but recently there have been renewed efforts to involve children and
young people in decision-making processes. Youth Councils now exist in over 100 municipalities
and provide a voice for the concerns of young people in relation to issues that affect both them
and the wider community. In the year 2000 a national youth parliament was organised, in which
14-16 year olds from all over the country took part. The Speaker from the main national
parliament also presided over matters in the youth parliament. This activity was part of wider
efforts to strengthen young people’s participation in the democratic system, to ensure that they
grow up knowing the real value of freedom and democracy. This has been a significant step
forward in terms of promoting the role of children within society and advancing their
individual rights.
The Principle of Non-Discrimination
Defining the concept of discrimination within Finnish society is a challenge, as it is difficult
to identify forms of systematic discrimination against children on the basis of race, ethnicity or
religion. This can be explained in part by the fact that Finland is a more or less monocultural and
homogenous society, in which the white Finnish-speaking population form 93 per cent of the
total inhabitants. The small Swedish-speaking minority (six per cent) have the right to use their
mother tongue socially and up to the end of secondary education, and in all forms of tertiary
education there are quotas for Swedish-speaking students to ensure proportionate representation.
Population by language
These figures reveal the dominance of Swedish and Finnish as the official languages in Finland.
To a large extent, the homogeneity of society and the effective positive measures that are in place
account for the low levels of negative discrimination. In addition to these, the comprehensive
welfare state system that still operates in Scandinavia goes some way to addressing economic
disparity, which invariably is both a cause and result of discrimination.
Racial & Ethnic Discrimination
Less than two per cent of the total population in Finland have an ethnic background other than
Finnish or Swedish. Of these, approximately 2,000 are indigenous Sami people whose mother
tongue is Lappish. Sami live in the far north of the country, and the majority have abandoned
their traditional nomadic way of life.
Although the overall numbers of foreign people are increasing relatively fast, from 21,000 in 1990
to 84,000 in 1999, on the whole their numbers in relation to the total population are still low, as
can be seen from the table featuring the child population in Finland in 1999.
Foreign Children in Finland of ages 0-17 in 1999
Total population
Total of foreign origin
Former Yugoslavia
Former Soviet Union
584 ,763
As far as the state and the public authorities are concerned, it is easier to find cases of positive
discrimination rather than clear negative discrimination. For instance, the Romany population
now numbers around 10,000. State and local municipalities have tried to promote Romanies’
place in society by creating special curriculum materials for schools. This group also enjoys special
housing rights, the only group in Finland to do so.
Discrimination tends to be more covert. In adult life, discrimination is evident in access to labour
markets where nationality or ethnic origin can affect a candidate’s opportunities to secure work.
There is evidence to suggest that the government has a vested interest in keeping unemployment
levels at around ten per cent, thus ensuring that pressure remains on employees rather than
employers; a situation which impacts more significantly on the minorities than on the general
population. There is little evidence that political parties are ready to tackle the issue of covert
Clearer examples of prejudice and discrimination can be identified in relation to asylum seekers.
In 1999 Finland received 3,106 applications for asylum, 1,702 of which were from Slovakian
Romanies, although other places of origin included Poland and the Czech Republic. So far, none
has been granted asylum and it is likely that most will have to return to their country of origin.
As in many countries throughout Europe, asylum seekers in Finland are increasingly viewed in
a negative light. Prevailing public opinion is that Finnish policy towards asylum seekers does not
help this, as it is presently too harsh and inflexible. It is felt that Finland could grant asylum to
greater numbers of refugees. In addition to this, many NGOs argue that cultural diversity brings
many benefits with it and it is only through greater numbers of immigrants that common
attitudes towards different groups of people will be changed and intercultural acceptance and
harmony will be achieved. Critics argue that the current strict asylum policies are a form of
discrimination by the authorities.
Immigrant children, however, generally enjoy some special provisions that constitute positive
discrimination. In larger cities, for example, special provisions are made to increase cultural
integration and acceptance. Special classes are provided for children of immigrants, allowing
them to learn language skills, learn about Finnish culture and catch up with Finnish youngsters.
Further efforts are made by public authorities to assist the delicate balance between assimilation
and cultural heritage.
It is recognised that discrimination can manifest itself in many different ways and in Finland
discrimination tends to be covert. It is also acknowledged that more can be done to fight
discrimination within any society. However on the whole it is felt that discrimination against the
children of minorities is not a great problem within Finland.
Other Issues
Although the welfare state in Finland is comprehensive and helps to combat the problems of
unemployment and low income, hardship and poverty persist. Over 30,000 children live in
families with incomes below the poverty line (defined as having an income of less than half
average earnings). As in most countries, poor families struggle to improve their lives and change
their economic status. Low-income families can be stigmatised and often suffer from discrimination.
The latest statistics show clearly that although the general standard of living and incomes have
increasingly risen since the end of the Second World War in 1945, the overall number of people
on low incomes or living below the poverty line has also grown. This is particularly apparent after
the last period of economic decline, in 1990-92. Within three years the number of children living
below the poverty line increased rapidly from a total of 26,000 in 1994 to 38,000 in 1997.
The impact of globalisation is blamed for the increasing levels of poverty within the country. It is
felt that the government’s autonomy is constrained in the face of the highly competitive arena of
international trade. In encouraging a productive environment for economic growth, it is felt that
the government’s priorities are misplaced: greater emphasis is being placed on facilitating the work
of entrepreneurs and multinational corporations than is being placed on serving the needs of the
people and ensuring the well-being of communities in Finland. There is currently a real concern
that the needs of individuals and the people of Finland are being neglected, seriously
disadvantaging children from low-income families.
Save the Children Finland identifies economic pressures as one of the major influences affecting
children’s lives. There has been a sociological shift in the role of work; more people than ever are
working, and individuals are working increasingly longer hours. In order to maintain or increase
family prosperity and to offer children what are perceived as greater opportunities in life, both
parents are choosing to work. These changes in work patterns have taken place very quickly and
society has found it hard to adapt. Parents not only have less time to be parents but less time to
learn how to be parents. Children spend more time on their own, in groups or alone, and are
exposed less to the socialisation process that naturally occurs in intergenerational groups.
In general, only a small number of young people demonstrate manifestly bad behaviour or
antisocial attitudes, and it is only possible to show a correlation, rather than an actual causal
link, between work patterns and this phenomenon. However, further research would be useful
in identifying how parents can balance work demands, parenting needs and children’s rights.
It is feared that these problems may escalate if children are, metaphorically, abandoned due to
pressures of work; children of working parents will be at a disadvantage socially and emotionally.
Although some groups enjoy special educational provisions, it is thought that current Finnish
education models are too narrow. It is ironic that by providing consistent and good standards
throughout the country, the educational system can be seen as discriminating against
individuality. For instance, the emphasis of education is academic in its nature and there is
a need, especially from the mid-teenage years, to provide more vocational opportunities for
the less academically inclined. On a positive note, the state takes the views of schoolchildren
seriously and every four years a Youth Council is appointed by parliament, which is informed
by a national network of youth researchers. The Council reports to parliament on how life may
be improved for young people, and education is one of their key concerns.
• Children’s Ombudsman – although there are a number of bodies working on behalf
of children and young people, there is a need for one office to monitor and promote the
rights and interests of children throughout the country at administrative, socio-political
and legislative levels. An Ombudsman could bring currently existing efforts together and
provide a clear focus for children’s rights in Finland.
• Parliamentary Children’s Council – Save the Children Finland recommends the
establishment of a Parliamentary Children’s Council. This would be nominated by the
government and would work closely with the Ombudsman. One of its major remits
would be to carry out research concerning children and related issues. The Council
could then be used by the legislature to provide information during the framing of laws
so that children’s interests are kept paramount.
• Implementation of research findings – good research should lead to an improvement
in children’s living conditions. In Finland a great deal of high quality research goes on
continually in universities, public institutions and in children’s care organisations. The
problem is that the results are only very seldom put into action. There should be some
guarantees that when research is financed by public funds, it should also lead to results –
academic research alone is not enough.
• More flexible asylum policies – Finland should and could take more refugees in order to
make the country more multicultural. This is a basic prerequisite for diminishing ethnic
“There’s an illness plagues our nation
This plague is called discrimination
There’s no vaccine, no pill, no potion
How we’ll conquer this plague
I have no notion …”
Christine, age 17
Toronto, Canada
Review of Children’s Rights
France signed the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) on 26 January
1990, ratified it on 7 August 1990, and saw it come into force on 6 September 1990. Since then,
various mechanisms have been set up with a view to monitoring its implementation and
co-ordinating initiatives in aid of children. These are as follows:
• The government has appointed the Ministry for Family Affairs to co-ordinate ministerial
measures to implement the Convention.
• According to an act dated 27 January 1993, parliament should receive a government report
before 20 November each year, giving an overview of the implementation of the Convention.
As no report had been compiled since 1993, France made up for lost time by presenting a
five-year report in 1999.
• In 1997, the National Assembly set up a Committee of Inquiry to deal with children’s rights
in France. This committee gave its first report on 12 May 1998.
• The National Advisory Committee on Human Rights has taken up issues relating to children’s
rights with the aim of improving legislation.
The government’s five-year report, presented to Parliament in October 1999, gave an overview
of French initiatives that have occurred in the period, and broke these initiatives down into eight
sections. The first section was entitled ‘Measures for General Implementation’, and gave a
detailed account of new measures being taken to align French legislation with the CRC. The
seven other sections dealt with general principles, civil liberties and rights, health, education, and
special measures for protecting children (for example, children in emergency situations).
However, while this may seem positive, the report received heavy criticism from the French
branch of Defence for Children International (DCI), an NGO set up in 1979 to contribute to
the formulation of the CRC itself and to support its subsequent implementation. In its report of
1999 DCI criticised the government report for skirting around all the issues which constitute the
problem and for only dealing with the decisions taken by the public authorities. DCI also
complained that the government gave no response to the conclusions made by the Committee
of Experts who met in 1994 to discuss the issue of children’s rights.
The report of the National Assembly’s Committee of Inquiry (May 1998) made 17 proposals,
relating to the fact that the CRC does not create rights directly for children as legislation has to
be passed to make the rights active. The report recommended that the Court of Cassation
(the highest criminal and civil court) should make the CRC directly applicable, but this has not
yet occurred. In fact very few of the Inquiry’s proposals have been implemented. One exception
is the appointment of a ‘Children’s Defender’ in March 2000. This is an independent authority
charged with defending and promoting children’s rights, which is required to give a report to the
president and to parliament on an annual basis.
The Principle of Non-Discrimination
Racial and Ethnic Discrimination
A relatively high proportion of the French population – 20.6 per cent – belongs to ethnic
minority communities. These immigrants are directly or indirectly responsible for 40 per cent of
population growth since 1946, and most originate from Portugal, Algeria, Morocco, Italy, Spain,
Turkey and Tunisia. There are 4.7 million children who live in families with at least one
immigrant parent, and 77 per cent of these were born in France. Tension between various
nationalities is a persistent problem, and is more noticeable in the suburbs of large conurbations
where there are large concentrations of different groups and where living standards are among
the lowest.
Various government initiatives have been taken to combat discrimination within society. In 1999
the Ministry of the Interior established 92 Commissions Départementales D’Accès à la Citoyenneté
(CODAC – Departmental Committees for Access to Citizenship), which operate within the
prefectures. These are responsible for defending the rights of immigrants who have experienced
discrimination. Young people can now make complaints about racial discrimination directly to
these committees rather than to police stations, which was formerly their only option. Given that
many young immigrants wish to avoid dealing with the police, this offers a positive alternative.
Another initiative has been the formation of a Study Group on Discrimination, which was
established in September 1999. Its function is to examine the reasons for racism, the workings
of it and its effect on those that are discriminated against. From this research it is hoped that
new forms of combating racism can be found.
One of the responsibilities of the CODACs is to help implement another government initiative
announced by the Prime Minister in March 2000. This is the setting up of a free telephone
number (114) for people to call with reports of racial discrimination. The idea is for the problem
to be dealt with locally; action resulting from the calls is taken by the local prefecture committees.
The number is intentionally short to encourage children to make use of it.
Education is compulsory, unrestricted and free until the age of sixteen in France, and so in theory
everyone is guaranteed equality of opportunity. In practice, access to schools – and in particular to
a certain standard of education – differs considerably depending on a child’s situation; and racial
and ethnic discrimination occur on a fairly widespread basis. A child must attend a school that is,
in all likelihood, closest to his or her place of residence, which means that children from poor
neighbourhoods (where immigrants are most likely to live) go to schools where standards are
often lower than in better-off areas. This has given rise to the phenomenon of ‘school ghettos’
in France.
A certain level of discrimination is evident in local public services, such as prefectures and town
councils, which sometimes block foreign nationals’ children from their schooling if their parents’
papers are not in order or are being processed. Moreover, the schools themselves are sometimes
guilty of more overt examples of racism. For example, in 1999 a new school was founded in
Colombes, a suburb of Paris, and although near to both private and social housing it was
announced that only children from the private estates would be accepted, excluding children
from the Estienne d’Orves housing estate, a mainly multi-racial residential area. Children may
also experience discrimination within the school system: recent reports of segregation on ethnic
grounds, with schools organising classes so as to contain only black, Arabic or Asian children,
fortunately caused sufficient shock amongst parents for education authorities to change the policy.
Perhaps the most blatant example of racism is the widespread difficulty experienced by children of
an ethnic background in finding work placements from secondary school, especially those doing
vocational courses. These placements are often obligatory and determine whether pupils will
obtain their diplomas, and discrimination of this sort makes entering the job market particularly
difficult. Even if they manage to obtain the necessary qualifications, the problem of finding work
remains. Some resort to changing their names in order to get an interview, since names that
sound Arabic, for example, put employers off from even meeting the candidates.
To combat this particular kind of discrimination, the government has established sponsorship
schemes that provide stable, salaried employment, especially for young people of ethnic minority
communities. The young people receive voluntary sponsorship from organisations that are trusted
by employers – for example, local missions or ad hoc organisations set up by private parties.
While discrimination in the areas of leisure and cultural activity is in no sense formalised in
France, it does exist in people’s unwillingness to allow access to particular activities. The most
common example is that of nightclubs, to which young people of foreign origin are sometimes
refused entry. Shops that cater for leisure activities, such as sports, book or music stores, have
also been known to label all young black people as thieves and refuse entry on these grounds.
On a positive note, discrimination in sport is rare, and it is clear that problems of access arise
more from people’s economic status than from their origins.
Other Issues
The main form of discrimination against disabled children in France is covert, and exists mainly
in the failure to provide adequate leisure and cultural facilities. Although an increasing number
of cinemas and theatres provide facilities for disabled people, access to sport still remains difficult,
and few public facilities such as libraries make adequate provisions. This discrimination can
sometimes be judged to be more overt, however: there have been instances of, for example,
holiday centre operators failing to make their sites accessible for disabled users in order to
discourage their presence.
In the fields of education and health, the situation is more proactive and positive. French law
aims to guarantee payment for any healthcare required by disabled children, and also guarantees
accommodation in specialised establishments when necessary. Also, the aim of providing a full
and integrated education for disabled children has been part of government policy since 1975,
when a blueprint law affirmed the right of disabled children and young people to education in an
ordinary school environment as far as their health permits. This law was followed up in 1989 by
another that reaffirmed its principles, and in 1999 a bill was addressed to chief education officers
to remind them of their duties in this regard. Departmental co-ordination groups were also set up
in 1999 to facilitate initiatives to promote disabled children’s education.
Religious discrimination in France is found mainly in schools. As laid down in the 1946
Constitution, state schools in France are secular, and discrimination is generally of an antireligious nature.
The most common form of such discrimination is against Muslim girls. Head teachers are in
some instances reluctant to accept Muslim children into their classes, and find reasons to exclude
them if possible. The most commonly used excuse is that the girls break the rules by insisting on
wearing veils – in other words, by practising their religion: two girls from Flers dans l’Orne were
recently excluded on this basis. However, this exclusion is in contravention of a decree issued in
1989 which specified that pupils “have the right to express and manifest their religious beliefs
within schools in respect of pluralism and others”, as long as schooling itself is not affected.
However, some government measures are being taken to counter such prejudice. In 1994 the
Ministry for National Education appointed a mediator to deal with the issue of veils in schools
which, in 1998, severely criticized decisions to exclude pupils on this basis.
Discrimination towards girls is clearly decreasing, and girls now have many more opportunities
at school and in the professional arena; this was furthered by a blueprint law of 1989, which
stipulated a greater degree of equality between men and women. However, there are still many
areas of society that are male-dominated, and girls of foreign origin are particularly affected by
gender discrimination. In recognition of this ongoing prejudice, the Ministry of National
Education and women’s rights authorities have been collaborating to further equal opportunities.
In February 2000, they signed an ‘Agreement to promote equal opportunities between girls and
boys, men and women in the education system’. This aims to put into place positive measures
for eliminating gender discrimination throughout the education system.
• Direct applicability of the CRC – according to the Court of Cassation, the CRC
does not create direct rights for children unless the state passes bills to implement it.
The supreme authorities should therefore consider making the CRC directly applicable,
so that a right may be cited by a child or his representative before a court of law.
• Measures to ensure greater accountability in schools – schools are sometimes ‘tested’
for racial discrimination, and this has enabled numerous complaints to be lodged.
However, these complaints often come to nothing for lack of proof. Judicial authorities
should take initiatives to investigate and pursue such cases.
• An authority to monitor discriminatory policies should be set up, to work along the
same lines as the Children’s Defender. The authority would be independent, and present
an annual report to the president and to parliament, which would consider bills on the
basis of its recommendations.
• Collaboration between governmental authorities and NGOs – the authorities should
work with organisations such as SOS Racisme to combat discrimination within society.
• Restoration of an institute or centre for the promotion and implementation
of the CRC – Defence for Children International France deplores the fact that after the
Children’s Institute was disbanded, so too was the International Children’s and Families’
Centre. A replacement institute should be founded.
• Integration of disabled children – French authorities should make considerable efforts to
further the integration of children with physical disabilities, especially by giving them access
to leisure and cultural activities.
Detail from the children’s rights graffiti wall
Painting by the children of Vuyiseka School, Cape Town
Review of Children’s Rights
Greece became a signatory to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1992. The
government service primarily responsible for children’s and youth issues is part of the Ministry
of Education and Religious Affairs, and is titled the General Secretariat for Youth. In recent
years, this body has shown considerable interest in all the major children’s issues, such as health,
education, employment and social inclusion. In particular, there are signs of a new understanding
of younger children’s needs.
There are a number of other government institutions concerned with children’s rights.
The National Observatory for Children and Youths’ Rights was set up to promote research
into children’s issues, to evaluate Greek legislation in relation to children and to provide an annual
report and plan of action. The Inter-ministerial Committee on Youth has an umbrella role,
bringing together representatives across a range of government ministries such as Education,
Development, and Health and Welfare with the aim of co-ordinating their action on children’s
issues. The position in relation to the Citizens’ Ombudsman has not changed over the past year
in that there is still no children’s ombudsman. It is hoped that one will be appointed soon.
However, although the CRC has definitely influenced the practices of some organisations and
action groups, it is still not given a top priority among government bodies, other than those
dealing directly with children’s issues. In recent years (especially since 1996), some efforts have
been made by NGOs and other agencies to raise awareness among both policy makers and the
general public about the CRC, but it is difficult to say whether there has been substantial
progress over the past year; it would appear that little has changed.
The Principle of Non-Discrimination
Article 5(2) of the Greek Constitution stipulates that “All persons living within Greek territory
shall enjoy full protection of their life, honour and freedom, irrespective of their nationality, race
or language, or of religious or political belief.” The Greek Civil Code also guarantees civil rights
to foreign nationals on the same basis as Greek citizens.
In practice, however, there is widespread discrimination, and a failure to introduce and
implement adequate procedures to protect minorities, especially Roma. The co-ordinating
committee of immigrant and anti-racist organisations accuses the Greek government of being
autocratic and xenophobic in its treatment of immigrants. The procedures required for obtaining
work permits (white and green cards) are very difficult for many immigrants to carry out.
During the last decade, the number of individuals and groups migrating to Greece or seeking
asylum has increased, leading to a rise in discrimination and xenophobia; immigrants are often
used as scapegoats, and blamed for the ills of Greek society. However, at the same time there has
been a general increase in organisations and action groups attempting to combat these problems.
There are no directives applicable to all children from the range of ethnic and racial backgrounds
(asylum seekers and refugees, separated children in need of international protection, children of
illegal migrants, Roma); there are some good practices, but their application is fragmentary.
Most specialised services for children are currently provided by NGOs in co-operation with the
United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees or with European funds.
Racial and Ethnic Discrimination
Greece has a population of approximately 10,258,364 and there are around 250,000 Roma
(4.1 per cent of the population), who fall into four groups known as Gatze, Katsivel, Romi and
Sinti. Roma in Greece have their own distinct cultural tradition. The Roma family is patriarchal
and often extended. The young Roma obey, respect and trust the elders and the family hierarchy;
they respect their language and culture, and become socialised by participating in family and
community tasks. Gender roles are quite distinct. Young men prepare themselves for work and
trade from an early age, while young women undertake childcare and household duties. Marriage
is very important, and takes place between the ages of 15 and 18, resulting in a premature
transition from adolescence to adulthood.
No special welfare provisions are made for the Roma population and no government body deals
specifically with Roma issues, as they are considered citizens with equal rights and obligations.
As a result, policy does not reflect the reality of Roma marginalisation. They are underrepresented and deprioritised; accommodation needs, specialised health clinics and other services
are all neglected, and service providers for Roma children are inadequately trained in the issues
affecting them. However, over the last couple of years the government has made some efforts
towards achieving greater Roma inclusion, mainly in the three focal points of compulsory
education, provision of appropriate accommodation and suppression of criminality. There are
also development groups, networks (DROM, All Different All Equal) and NGOs that deal
specifically with Roma issues.
Save the Children Greece has been implementing programmes for Roma communities since
1980. The aims have been to obtain equal access for Romas to social welfare and other regional
services, to improve their social representation and increase their involvement in programme
implementation, and to encourage them to establish and maintain effective links with relevant
organisations and services. Attempts have also been made to respect, support and promote Roma
culture, both to increase awareness in society at large and to enhance the Roma community’s
sense of identity. Efforts are continuing to integrate Roma children into formal education, and to
provide them with culturally appropriate activities that have an educational and recreational focus.
The aim is to stimulate their interest in learning, and provide recreational activities otherwise not
available to them.
The right to health and health services
Although Roma children and their families theoretically have equal access to health and social
welfare services, in reality accessibility is often affected by language barriers, lack of trust on the
part of Roma towards service providers, and culturally inappropriate services. Strategies have been
implemented to increase service providers’ awareness and understanding of Roma culture and its
specific needs, which have had a measure of success in establishing a rapport and relationship of
trust. These strategies have also improved the co-ordination and networking of the relevant
The right to education
An estimated 80 per cent of Roma children and young people (up to 18 years of age) are
illiterate. Prejudice and discrimination by teachers, parents and non-Roma children are still
present in many schools, and there is a general reluctance on the part of teachers to accept Roma
children in the classroom.
The school curriculum offers no culturally appropriate teaching material, and multicultural
training for teachers is inadequate. There are not enough special introductory classes and school
support programmes (to provide, for example, ongoing support to children and their families),
and the formal education system is too inflexible. Many special schools set up to cater for the
needs of Roma children run the risk of creating ghettos, exacerbating the problem of social
exclusion and probably contributing to the problem of illiteracy.
In an attempt to deal with these issues, a holistic approach to education and training has been
adopted by many schools, teachers and organizations; seminars, debates and meetings are held to
discuss the educational needs and issues of Roma children. Education policy has proved effective,
to some extent, in building trust between Roma children and their families and mainstream
society. There has been a significant increase in participation by Roma children in various
educational and recreational activities, which has greatly enhanced their self-confidence and
sense of empowerment.
The right to play
Many Roma children in Greece are involved in earning money for their families, so their access
to recreation is very limited. A number of organisations promote recreational and cultural
activities. NGOs are particularly active, but although they often receive government support,
the governmental sector’s involvement still remains limited and fragmentary.
The issue of multiculturalism needs to be addressed by schools. Culturally appropriate events
need to be organised, with the aim of not only raising awareness among non-Roma children
and their families, but also teaching Roma about their history and culture. Such activities can
be used as tools to improve relations and understanding between Roma and mainstream society.
Other Issues
Greece is often perceived as a holiday paradise, but for its residents, the reality is somewhat
different. A large part of the country is based on agriculture and stock-farming. There are
many isolated villages, either mountainous or in remote areas and islands, which have
problems accessing services, goods and resources. Communication and transportation
difficulties, particularly during the winter, make things worse. Local populations are getting
older as a result of the movement of young residents to larger cities; the numbers of children
are very small, so the development of permanent structures for children is limited. Even then,
structures are usually located in central villages that are difficult to access because of the
underdeveloped road network. The main problem areas are health, welfare, and education.
Recreational and cultural opportunities are also very limited, despite the fact that most
children are directly involved in the family’s income generating activities and therefore
desperately need them.
The development of health, education, recreation and culture services in rural areas is a priority
for the Ministry of Health and Welfare and the General Secretariat of Youth. Prefectures are also
responsible for encouraging and supporting such initiatives. Nevertheless, these areas continue to
remain dependent on political changes and interests. Lack of appropriate structures cannot always
be blamed on political focus, but financial and other incentives affect what gets done. A recent
law amalgamating some rural communities into municipalities has created an ongoing debate
about the distribution of resources. There is no effective co-ordinated community action that
focuses on encouraging locals to participate actively in decision-making processes.
Medical staff and educators are generally not encouraged to offer their services to those in difficult
living and working conditions, and do not receive support if they do so. This leads many families
to turn to private medical services, often far away from where they live, where they are frequently
Save the Children has been involved in community development programmes that focus on
children in Western Evrytania (in central/western Greece) since the early 1970s.
The right to health and health services
Health services offer limited access to information and preventative medicine, and parents
have limited involvement in improving health and sanitary conditions. Save the Children
has been active in this area, and has focused on dental care. Following needs-assessment
research, a dental care programme was considered imperative. It worked on both treatment
and prevention, in co-operation with the local authorities, the schools and volunteer groups.
As a result, a dental clinic was established in one of the smaller villages giving a total of more
than 120 children access to free dental care. This effort was made possible by the voluntary
work of the dentists.
The right to education
The rural way of life, together with harsh living conditions, make it difficult for children to
attend school on a regular basis. These children’s experience bears no relation to that of the
modernised and highly advanced society that flourishes some hundreds of kilometres away.
Children often have to walk many hours to reach their school, after finishing their family
work responsibilities. The trip to school can also be hazardous, particularly during winter
when heavy snowfalls, landslides and flooding pose particular threats.
The right to play
In light of the above, it is not difficult to understand that recreational and cultural
opportunities are very limited and considered a luxury. However, when such initiatives
are undertaken – particularly by the private and volunteer sector – both children and
parents greet them with enthusiasm. Alternatively, children seek other less acceptable
avenues of recreation; for example, smoking, drinking, and the use of pornographic
Implementation of the CRC
• A Community Centre needs establishing to be the main point of reference for children’s
• Co-ordination needs to occur between all parties involved in the implementation of
the CRC.
Racial and Ethnic Discrimination
• Incentives for professionals to work with Roma children and children of isolated and
remote villages.
• Support structures for professionals who are already working under difficult conditions.
• Expenditure on the road network – the government needs to undertake major
expenditure to improve the road network and general living conditions.
• Community participation – this should be encouraged in the areas of policy and
decision-making, structural planning and implementation of programmes.
• Specialised services need establishing to cater for the real needs of the community and
families with children.
• Culturally appropriate social welfare – a more flexible approach needs to be taken to
social welfare provision, with the aim of supporting families more effectively.
• Dissemination of information – programmes need setting up for the dissemination of
information about issues such as substance abuse.
The Right to Education
• Culturally appropriate teaching material needs to be incorporated into the school
• A “visiting teacher” service needs setting up.
• Compulsory education – a co-ordinated effort needs to be made to ensure that the policy
of compulsory education is implemented.
• Positive discrimination within the education system – this is needed to redress
educational imbalance in certain groups, especially at post-primary level.
• Literacy and personal development courses need introducing for parents.
The Right to Play
• Governmental support and financial resources should be provided for children’s
recreational activities on an ongoing basis.
• Awareness-raising for governmental bodies and policy makers – these bodies need to
be made more aware of the importance of recreational and cultural initiatives, and their
impact on the quality of life of marginalised communities.
• Exchange of experience – groups from different cultural backgrounds should be
encouraged to share their differing experiences.
Review of Children’s Rights
The Guatemalan government signed the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child on
26 January 1990, and it was ratified on 10 May 1990. Along with other international
agreements, it has its own position in the country’s legal system, between the Constitution
and the Ordinary Laws.
Despite this, the situation regarding the implementation of the CRC is not encouraging.
Most children in Guatemala do not have the basic conditions to enable them to fully realise
their potential. Poverty and a lack of access to basic services and opportunities jeopardise their
present right to survival and development and endanger their future. Physical and verbal abuse
are common forms of discipline, many children are orphans or were separated from their
parents during the civil war (1970-90s), and most children of school age are not in school.
An increasing number of children are entering the workforce at an earlier age each year.
In The Progress of Nations 1999 (El Progresso de las Naciones) UNICEF produced a Child
Risk Measure (CRM) for the first time, which attempts to reflect the risks faced by children
around the world, taking into account under-five mortality rates, school enrolment rates, the
prevalence of malnutrition and AIDS. At 33, the CRM for Guatemala is the second highest in
South America. In El Salvador and Nicaragua it is 22, in Honduras 18 and in Costa Rica it is
less than five.
To compound this, there is a lack of knowledge and commitment regarding children’s rights.
The government has stated that it will legislate for children within social policy, mainly education
and health, and not as a separate issue. The major economic and political actors are adult and see
the world from an adult-centred viewpoint. Although children make up 53 per cent of the
population, they have no voice. Most children – especially the vulnerable – are invisible.
The Principle of Non-Discrimination
In 1992, the Guatemalan human rights leader Rigoberta Menchú was awarded the Nobel Peace
Prize. Despite this international recognition, the fact that the award had been given to a
“Guatemalan Indian” provoked a negative reaction from the most conservative sectors of
Guatemalan society, reflecting an entrenched racism among the elite. This racism is perpetuated
every day at all levels of society – in public policy, economic, political and social relationships –
and has created a system of legalised injustice for indigenous Americans.
This ethnic and racial discrimination has deep roots in a colonial past. The Spanish created a
segregated system based on the economic and political domination and exploitation of the
indigenous Mayan population. By the end of the colonial era, a policy of “civilising the Indians”
had evolved that prohibited the use of Mayan languages at school, changed the traditional form
of dress, eliminated the communal stewardship of lands and promoted the concept of private
property and obligatory taxes. The intellectual elite generally viewed the indigenous population as
racially and culturally inferior, and therefore not worthy of receiving civil rights. By the middle of
the 20th century, a new theory of “indigenism” emerged which aimed to assimilate the Mayans
into a homogeneous nation through an education system that promoted and preserved the
established order. In reality, “indigenism” continued to perpetrate the system of prosperity
enjoyed by a privileged few at the expense of the majority.
The “system” will go to any lengths to protect and perpetuate a political, social and economic
order based on racial superiority. In a society in which over half of the 12 million people are
Mayan, the violence and civil war of the 1970–90s left over a million Mayans displaced
internally. Over 300,000 Mayans sought refuge elsewhere and 200,000 were killed – the vast
majority of whom were civilians, peasants, women and children. Over 90 per cent of the human
rights violations that occurred were committed by the government’s army.
Racial and Ethnic Discrimination
Racial and ethnic discrimination in Guatemala is pervasive, structural and deeply rooted in
cultural values. It is so ingrained that prejudice is not even recognised as such; discrimination is
normal, and is seldom acknowledged or challenged. Prejudice is passed from one generation to
another and is reflected in the way people relate, or do not relate, to people of “other” groups.
Recently, in a study of racism in Guatemala from 1944–97, Ramón González-Ponciano noted
that there has been a shift in attitude in recent years. Although the general tendency of Ladinos
(non-indigenous people) to discriminate against Indians persists, he noted a remarkable difference
in the way that Indians are perceived. This shift in perception, however, has brought little change
to the general discriminatory mentality.
This discrimination has grave consequences. A recent report on the situation of education in
Guatemala indicated that most Mayan descendants are illiterate and lack access to basic services.
This inequality is blamed on political and economic structures and particularly social and cultural
values that advocate and maintain ethnic injustice, which have only recently been openly
Government action to fight discrimination has been limited, although there has been some recent
progress. The signing of the Peace Agreements on 29 December 1996 introduced the possibility
that traumas caused by the regressive modernisation of the state and the policy of extermination
of the Indian population could finally be tackled through the development of a multicultural
democracy. In addition, the 1985 Political Constitution mentioned the rights of indigenous
groups for the very first time. These rights were also discussed and defined in the Agreement
about the Identity and Rights of Indigenous People of 1995, an integral part of the Peace
Agreements. This states that Mayans, Garifunas and Xincas constitute the indigenous population
of Guatemala and that the Mayans are constituted by several social and cultural expressions of
a common root. In this way, the state has recognised its historical role in discrimination for the
first time.
Children are particularly vulnerable to the discrimination and negligence exercised by the state,
civil society and decision-makers. An important step in the fight against this discrimination was
the government’s recent effort to pass a progressive piece of national legislation called the
“Children and Youth Code”. This instrument sought to create a different kind of relationship
between adults and children based on rights and responsibilities and the integral protection of
children. It called upon government and society at all levels to adopt a collective co-responsibility
for, and commitment to, children’s present and future. In this new vision, children are subjects
with rights – actors, authors and protagonists in the creation of a more just and equitable world.
They also have the right to be consulted and heard in issues that affect them. Unfortunately,
however, the legislation sparked fierce controversy and Congress did not approve the Code.
The resolution was indefinitely postponed and the government made it clear that it will not be
re-addressed in the near future – a serious setback, which leaves 53 per cent of the population
within a legal structure of discrimination and without the legal right to development, survival,
participation and expression.
Save the Children Guatemala has noted encouraging signs elsewhere. Children now have
important and active roles in their families and communities, and act as ombudsmen for rights
and agents of development. They are creating new networks of solidarity and seem to share less
of the discriminatory attitudes, such as racism, sexism, ageism and elitism, that infect the adult
Indicators for education in Guatemala have shown little progress over the last few years.
Displacement, isolation and injustice have caused illiteracy, poverty, social insecurity and
environmental damage. There is an urgent need for a child-centred approach to education to
improve learning, promote self-esteem and strengthen ethnic identity. To achieve this, it is
essential to sensitise all sectors of society so that they recognise children’s fundamental right to
grow up and develop in a safe environment without risk to their health and security.
The educational situation is precarious, as reflected in statistics for primary schools. Although
funding for primary education for children between the ages of seven and twelve constitutes the
largest proportion of the current budget and expenditure for education, in 1996 there was an
enrolment rate of only 69 per cent. In rural areas it was lower, at 60 per cent. Based on these
figures, an estimated 800,000 children are outside the education system – a figure that
corresponds to the number of children in this age group in the Indian population.
Illiteracy rates in Guatemala are high – above 37 per cent for people over 15 years old. Of these,
23 per cent live in urban areas and 77 per cent in rural areas; 44 per cent are male and 56 per
cent women. Indian people constitute a high proportion of the illiterate population: 61 per cent
of illiterate people live in the Departments of El Quiché, Alta Verapaz, Huehuetenango, San
Marcos, Totonicapán, Baja Verapaz and Sololá – all of which have populations with a high
percentage of Indian people. The educational situation for the Mayan population, in particular,
is critical. By analysing human development indicators, it is also clear that Indian women are
more likely to be excluded from education than Indian men.
One of the government’s main targets is to reduce the illiteracy rate to 30 per cent through the
National Literacy Committee, with intensive action in those areas that have an illiteracy rate
greater than 50 per cent. It also aims to ensure that every child passing the official literacy test
enters post-literacy programmes, and hopes to increase literacy by co-ordinating government
efforts with the private and public sectors. These initiatives refer almost exclusively to literacy in
Spanish. Although it has been suggested that Indian people participate in discussions on
education reform, as yet there are no mechanisms to ensure this.
Fertility, life expectancy and mortality rates reflect clear differences for certain sectors of the
population in Guatemala. The five Departments in Guatemala with the highest proportion of
Indians in their population (Alta Verapaz, El Quiché, Totonicapán, Sololá and Huehuetenango)
have the highest fertility rates, which have long been associated with poverty. The infant mortality
rate (IMR) is very high for children born to uneducated (often Indian) women: according to the
National Institute of Statistics, the IMR is higher among Indians, 94 per 1,000 children born
alive, as compared with 69 in the Ladino population. In rural areas, where the majority of the
Indian population live, the IMR is 88 per 1,000 children born alive, compared with 60 in urban
areas. By analysing the IMR statistics by Department and assessing the particular risk to Indian
children, it becomes clear that it is a child’s ethnic group rather than their particular environment
that creates the greater risk – children who are Indian are in greater danger than those in rural
areas. However, an Indian child in a rural area is at the greatest risk.
Guatemala has the worst under-five mortality rate in Central America at 66 per 1,000 children
born alive. In rural areas, this increases to 74, compared with 55 in urban areas. Antenatal care
and the professional care of deliveries are key indicators for assessing access to basic health services
and general living conditions. In rural areas, traditional birth attendants, many of whom have no
training, take care of deliveries. An estimated 15 per cent of mothers in rural areas have no
antenatal care at all. In addition, life expectancy rates for the Indian population are lower than
those of Ladinos. The Ministry of Health has created the Integrated Health Care System, which
aims to improve both the extent and the quality of services. The government’s approach has been
mainly curative, rather than preventative, so far.
Other Issues
Two-thirds of the Guatemalan population live in rural areas. In the Departments where the
population is predominantly Indian (Alta and Baja Verapaz, Totonicapán, San Marcos and
Huehuetenango), around 80 per cent of people live in rural areas. According to the last
population census, 41.7 per cent were of Indian origin. In these areas, there is a high level of
poverty, as measured by the UBN (Unsatisfied Basic Needs) indicator. In Alta Verapaz, the UBN
is 85 per cent, followed by El Quiché at 79 per cent, Totonicapán at 73 per cent and Sololá at
66 per cent.
Social Investment Funds have been set aside by the government for the construction and
improvement of basic infrastructures in rural communities. So far, however, most of the money
spent has gone on other projects, including sports facilities for professional use (not for general
use by children) and equipment for the National Civil Police and Army.
• Promotion of a change in attitudes, policies, systems and structures across all sectors
of society to tackle discrimination.
• Implementation of the 1996 Peace Agreements – in particular, the Agreement about the
Identity and Rights of Indigenous People must be implemented.
• Greater funding and decentralisation of health programmes are needed, and a
preventative-based approach must be encouraged.
• Modernisation of the health service must be continued. The Ministry of Health must
respond to the needs of vulnerable groups.
• Integration of literacy campaigns with community development programmes.
• Educational reform – civil society, including NGOs, must be involved in discussions on
and implementation of educational reform.
• Identification of discriminatory economic, social, political and cultural structures is
needed in order to tackle them effectively. New policies must be formulated to fight
injustice and inequality.
• Controls on use of Social Investment Funds must be increased.
• Implementation of the CRC by NGOs – all NGOs, especially those working with
children, must use Guatemala’s ratification of the CRC to emphasise the importance of
children’s rights.
Detail from ‘Fun is more fun shared’’
by Emmanuelle age 8, Australia
Review of Children’s Rights
Honduras ratified the CRC on 24 July 1990. Since then the principles and rights of the CRC
have been enshrined in the Children’s and Adolescents’ Code, and the majority of municipalities
in Honduras have an Ombudsman for Children’s Rights. However, although the government has
improved the legal framework for children, on the ground the political status of children is still
very low and their rights are constrained by cultural and institutional limitations.
Article 7 of the CRC defines the right of the child to have a legal identity and nationality
immediately after birth, and the Honduras Constitution states that it is the duty of all Honduran
citizens to register their children at the National Citizen’s Registry. However, the provisions that
require parents to comply with this obligation are not very effective, and as a result there are
thousands of children who have never been registered. In April 2000, the country initiated a
campaign for parents and guardians to register their children. The facilities for this are being
provided by the Municipal Registry Offices and the procedures to be followed are being
publicised in the media. Significant progress is expected in giving many of these children a
legal name and nationality, and through that a sense of belonging to their country.
Official figures estimate that around 300,000 Honduran children work in the formal and nonformal sectors in order to supplement the family income. In addition, at least 154,000 children
are expected by their parents to stay at home and carry out domestic chores for no pay. Unable to
attend school, these children miss out on developing the skills necessary for adult life; the cost of
working as a child may be unemployment as an adult.
In April 2000, the Co-ordinator of Private Institutions for Children and their Rights initiated a
campaign about this issue, which resulted in the organisation of a network to eradicate the worst
types of children’s work. This network is made up of institutions seeking to protect working
children, and hopes to persuade the government to develop national, regional and local strategies
to gradually eradicate this problem.
The problem of children breaking the law is intimately connected to child poverty,
abandonment, abuse and exploitation. The issue is a sensitive one, as Honduras has been
sanctioned in the past for its treatment of young offenders – in particular, for the detention
of juveniles in adult prisons, which is a violation of Article 37(c) of the CRC. This resulted in
the adoption of protective measures for juveniles, such as:
the immediate release from prison of under-age young people
the protection of the life, physical integrity and dignity of young people
the guarantee of juvenile access to a defending attorney
investigations into abuse of juveniles by judicial officials, and punishment for
the responsible officers
• the creation of appropriate facilities for the confinement of juvenile offenders.
However, the adoption of these protective measures has resulted in a backlash from some sectors
of society and from some professional bodies. Members of the Supreme Court of Justice claim
that Honduras should resign from the CRC, and they intend to introduce to the National
Congress an initiative to lower the age of penal accountability from 18 to 14, arguing that this is
the solution for dealing with juvenile crime in a legal way. Such a move, if implemented, would
be a serious threat to children’s rights. To counter it, independent organisations with an interest
in the rights of children have formed the Children and Adolescents’ Consolidation. This body is
arguing that the Supreme Court’s proposal does not tackle the causes of delinquency, and thus
does nothing to deal with the legitimate anxieties about crime from some sectors of society.
Another issue that has come to the fore in Honduras over the past year is the safety and treatment
of street children. In October 1999, Amnesty International published a report called “Honduras,
Human Rights Violations against Children” which highlighted various cases of young people
who were brutally murdered, possibly with the involvement of Honduran security forces.
The fact that these crimes were not prevented or investigated, and that the responsible parties
were not punished, implies that the right to life of “street children” is not held in much regard
in Honduras. The actual number of children murdered in this way is likely to be higher than
the seven cases highlighted by Amnesty International.
The Principle of Non-Discrimination
The principle of non-discrimination is present in diverse instruments of Honduran legislation.
It is perhaps most relevant in relation to the many indigenous ethnic groups that live in
Honduras. In 1982, the political Constitution of Honduras recognized in Articles 173 and 346
the commitment of the Honduran government to preserve and stimulate indigenous cultures.
It also recognized its duty to protect the rights and interests of these groups, especially the land
and forests where they are settled.
In 1994, the National Congress of Honduras ratified ILO Convention 169 Concerning
Indigenous and Tribal Peoples in Independent Countries. According to this Convention, the
state and its institutions must guarantee the existence, development and preservation of its people,
and by 1996, the Honduran government had incorporated this into national law. This indicates
the recognition that Honduras is a nation in which people from different ethnic origins live
together and possess their own cultures and languages.
However, despite the progress Honduras has made in the legal and constitutional rights of its
citizens, it is important to note that Honduras has not ratified the Convention for the
Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, approved in 1965 by the United Nations.
Racial and Ethnic Discrimination
The country’s indigenous population is approximately 323,000, comprising the following groups:
Garifunas (approximately 150,000)
Chortis (approximately 5,000)
Xicaques or Tolupanes (approximately 25,000)
Misquitos (approximately 40,000)
Tawahkas (approximately 1,000)
Pech (approximately 2,500)
Lencas (approximately 100,000).
Twelve per cent of Honduran children are indigenous or belong to another ethnic minority
group. Mestizo children (children of mixed indigenous and Spanish origin) make up a large
proportion of this group. There are more girls than boys in the adolescent age ranges, who are
known for their hard work, strong religious beliefs and devotion to domestic chores. These girls
are often disadvantaged by traditional customs and patriarchal attitudes.
There are few independent and government institutions working with indigenous populations.
This situation is aggravated by the fact that many live in remote areas and difficult terrain,
making them difficult to access. However, some of these ethnic groups have succeeded in coming
together and conveying their problems and needs to the government in a unified manner.
The indigenous communities want the provision of proper schooling, but the education of their
children is inadequate for a variety of reasons. Insufficient resources are provided by the
government for schools and other training centres. It is not unusual for schools to comprise one
teacher and 80 students, or even for one school to serve many different communities. Once at
school, a child belonging to an ethnic minority has to deal with formidable obstacles. Lessons are
in Spanish, and the curriculum does not relate to indigenous culture in any way. Indigenous
children are also directly discriminated against by mestizo children. These factors combine to limit
severely indigenous children’s academic potential. As a result, many stay back a year or drop out
of school. In adult life, this restricts their ability to follow a trade and enjoy a decent standard
of living.
The poor educational provision for indigenous children also impacts on their sense of self and
their feelings of worth. Language is one of the most important ways in which people experience
their own culture. Being taught solely in Spanish and without any reference to their own culture
deprives them of the opportunity to develop pride in themselves and the history of their people.
The Ministry of Education has made some efforts to develop intercultural bilingual education
through its National Programme of Bilingual Education for the Native Ethnic Population of
Honduras, initiated in 1994. Some teachers have been trained in working with ethnic groups,
and texts and school materials designed for Misquitos, Tawhkas and Garifunas have been
published. However, the meaningful development of such schemes is being thwarted by lack
of resources.
Children in indigenous communities are exposed to many health problems. Poor drinking water
and precarious living conditions leave them exposed to illnesses such as the Chagas disease,
anaemia, dengue, and diarrhoea caused by infections and parasites. There is a high level of
malnutrition, which has a very detrimental effect on physical development and learning capacity.
In some groups this problem is extreme; for example, almost every Tolupan child is considered to
be malnourished.
Poor access to health services, and lack of staff and medicines at health services that are available,
exacerbate such health problems. Traditional medicines and treatments are the usual way of
responding to disease.
The health of adolescent girls is a matter for particular concern. Pregnancy is very common,
forcing them to drop out of school. Young indigenous mothers and children run a much higher
risk of death during childbirth than non-indigenous Hondurans. Adolescent girls are also subject
to higher levels of abuse than boys, owing to cultural and traditional thinking and practices.
This abuse can gravely affect mental and physical health. As in many societies around the world,
the abuser may be well known by the victim and may even be a family member, but the girls
often fear to reveal what is happening because of the negative reactions of the community.
In recent years, the indigenous population’s major demand has been for land tenancy, based on
their rights of historical occupation by themselves or their ancestors. For indigenous men, women
and children, the land is not only a place to settle, but a symbol of their identity, their solidarity,
their culture, their history and their relationship with the environment. In the struggle to achieve
land tenancy, many indigenous leaders from across the country have lost their lives.
This issue affects all the indigenous groups. Some are trying to reclaim lands that they claim their
ancestors were dispossessed of illegally, while others are requesting the communal legalization of
land that the state currently considers to be its own property. Some are campaigning for
warranties to protect their rights over land they already possess; these groups require protection
from unscrupulous individuals who exploit their ignorance of state laws to expropriate their lands.
For instance, some mestizos living close to the Tolupanes tribes marry native women to claim the
land belonging to the community.
The indigenous peoples have the right to remain on the land they currently occupy. Plans to
relocate indigenous peoples should be presented without pressure or deceit, and should only be
implemented if there is full and free consent.
Radio is the most popular form of communication media in Honduras, reaching all sectors of
society and the most distant locations. Radio allows the poor and the illiterate to keep informed
about issues that might affect them. However there are no radio broadcasts made in indigenous
tongues. The indigenous people feature in the media only when they become news by enduring
some new calamity such as an epidemic or a natural disaster.
It is important that the state recognizes the role that the media can play in giving parents and
children access to local and international material, especially when it relates to their health and
social well-being.
• Ratification of the International Convention on the Worst Forms of Racial
Discrimination – children’s groups and concerned individuals need to lobby government
to achieve this.
• Re-evaluation of Honduran national identity, to promote a sense of worth and pride in
racial diversity and indigenous culture.
• Publicity for the rights of indigenous peoples – both in the indigenous communities
and in society in general.
• Compliance with ILO Convention 169 – government and civilian organisations should
make efforts to meet the provisions against racial discrimination contained in national
legislation, in order to comply with ILO Convention 169.
• The survival of indigenous languages – measures must be taken to promote the
development and use of these languages.
• Strengthening of communication channels between the state and the indigenous
peoples – groups such as the joint working commissions need strengthening so that they
can become a more effective instrument of dialogue in the struggle to preserve the rights
of ethnic minority groups.
We can stop discrimination by being able to stop
prejudice, and we can stop that by being able to love
and respect each other.
Joclyn, age 14
Toronto, Canada
Review of Children’s Rights
The Icelandic government became a signatory to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child
(CRC) on 26 January 1990 and it ratified the CRC on 28 October 1992. In the last year, some
substantial legislation has been passed in order to further children's rights in Iceland. Many of the
new laws reinforce the principle of non-discrimination that is contained within the Icelandic
A number of changes have been brought into effect in relation to adoption. In 1999, a new law
covering adoption as a whole was passed, which states that children over 12 years of age cannot
be adopted against their will. Furthermore, children under the age of 12 should be consulted
about their adoption, as long as their age and maturity are taken into consideration. Icelandic
adoption law was amended further in May 2000 in respect of co-habiting homosexual couples,
making it possible for children of one of the partners to be step-adopted by the other partner.
The significance of this change is that it ensures that children in these families receive the same
rights to inheritance and social security as children who live with heterosexual parents.
On an international level, Icelandic children have now been protected against the international
trade in children through the government’s ratification of the Hague Convention on the
Protection of Children and Co-operation in Respect of Inter-Country Adoption. In conjunction
with this, reference was made to Article 11 of the CRC, which states an obligation of government
signatories “to combat illicit transfer and non-return of children abroad”.
The issue of immigration has been subject to a considerable amount of discussion. In March
1999, the Minister of Justice introduced a bill to parliament on the status and rights of
immigrants, but this was later withdrawn without being discussed. However, later in the year a
committee was established to examine the issues facing immigrants living in the city of Reykjavik,
which is to submit a report and policy suggestions in the autumn of 2000. The issue of
immigration finally made an appearance in parliament in spring 2000, when a resolution was
passed to establish a Centre for Immigrants in the west part of the country where the number
of foreigners totals 7 per cent of the population. The role of the Centre will be to serve as an
information and service centre for foreigners, as well as a forum for social activities.
Another positive development took place in 1999 in that Iceland ratified ILO Convention 138,
which stipulates the minimum age a child must be before he or she can work.
In addition to these indications of progress, however, there have been other developments which
may be of concern. In December 1998 parliament passed a bill establishing a centralised health
database. A genetic research company has been given the exclusive right to run and use this
database, which will contain details of the entire population, taken from local doctors and/or
from hospital(s). Any citizen who does not wish to have their information stored in this way must
make a formal request to this end. Children under the age of eighteen are automatically entered
onto the database unless their legal guardians request otherwise. On reaching the age of eighteen,
a young person may elect to discontinue his or her inclusion on the database, but information
that is already stored cannot be withdrawn. Save the Children Iceland questions whether this
legislation contravenes certain articles of the CRC, specifically Articles 3, 5 and 12.
The Principle of Non-Discrimination
Equal rights and access to services are guaranteed to all in Iceland. It is very difficult to find any
examples of systematic discrimination but discrimination probably exists. As Iceland becomes
more multicultural it may well be necessary to strengthen existing laws against discrimination, or
it may become necessary to introduce measures that implement positive discrimination.
Racial and Ethnic Discrimination
In December 1999 the census bureau found that there were 1,119 children under the age
of seventeen who were of non-Icelandic origin living in Iceland. The total number of people
who were of non-Icelandic origin was 7,271, and 3,051 of those were living in the capital,
Reykjavik. This group of people increased in number by 12 per cent between 1998 and 1999
and they make up 3 per cent of the total population. If Icelandic citizens born abroad (of either
Icelandic or non-Icelandic origin) are taken into account, the total for foreign-born people rises
to 14,927.
The largest groups of children under the age of seventeen come from Poland (137), Denmark
(191), the United States (104) and the former Yugoslavia (129). In 1998 there were 747 bilingual
children in compulsory schools and 572 bilingual children in kindergarten.
There has been no systematic collection of data regarding the issue of whether or not children
from different racial and/or ethnic backgrounds have been offered equal access to services and
opportunities: legally, equal access is guaranteed, but little is known about what happens in
practice. The assumption tends to be that these children are not generally discriminated against.
However, this assumption is not borne out particularly well in the one area in which a reasonable
level of information is available: that of education. The problem is essentially an overemphasis on
the teaching of Icelandic for non-Icelandic children, rather than the provision of education in
their mother tongue. Children like these begin their education in special departments where the
emphasis is on teaching them Icelandic. They then receive two extra hours’ tuition in Icelandic
per week and six hours practising with native Icelandic speakers. The idea is to bring their
linguistic skills to the same level as that of Icelandic children, irrespective of their other
educational needs.
According to information from the Head of Immigration Education in Iceland, the number of
different mother tongues spoken by children in compulsory schools is about 80; and in the last
five or six years, approximately 100 bilingual children have completed primary education (which
lasts for ten years, from six to sixteen). However, of this number, under 10 per cent have proceeded
on to and graduated from secondary education. In relation to the rest of the population (89 per
cent begin secondary education at the age of 16), this figure is low and has given rise to great
concern. It has been suggested that the emphasis on teaching them Icelandic is a large part of the
problem; these children need a certain level of knowledge in their own tongue in order for them
to benefit from education in general, and also to assist them in learning a second language.
Whereas the problem has been identified, the right of bilingual children to receive education in
their mother tongue has not yet been recognised, and government funds have therefore not been
allocated for it. However, where a municipality is willing to allocate such funds, the government
recommends that it does so.
Other Issues
In recent years, research carried out by the Institute for Social Sciences at the University of
Iceland has shown that in the years 1986–95, 10 per cent of families in Iceland were living below
the poverty line (defined as having an income of less than half the national average). While this is
a relative definition, it serves to identify families who struggle to live a “normal” life in Icelandic
society. Of this figure, 64 per cent of households included children. Further research in the period
1997–98 shows that the situation did improve, in that only 7 per cent of families were living in
poverty; but this figure is still too high. Of these families, 31 per cent had a single parent (usually
the mother) with dependent children.
Currently, information about children living in poverty is inadequate. The overall numbers of
poor children are not known, and no research has been undertaken to assess how poverty impacts
on their social integration, performance in school or access to leisure activities.
At the end of 1997, 3 per cent of Icelandic children were recognised by the State Institute for
Social Security as being in need of special care due to disabilities. These 2,233 children included
575 (0.8 per cent) who were disabled, 787 (1.1 per cent) who had long-term illness and 871
(1.2 per cent) who had developmental or behavioural problems. By 1998, the number of children
in the latter group had risen to 1,035.
A study performed by the Icelandic Red Cross Society identified children with developmental
and/or behavioural problems (such as Attention Deficit Disorder) as being particularly vulnerable
to discrimination within the school and social care system. These children are not recognised as
disabled, and very few extra resources are made available for their special needs. Likewise, their
parents receive insufficient support in dealing with their specific problems. The opinion of some
of the researchers is that this lack of support compounds the situation in the long run: these
children’s psychological disturbance is more likely to worsen as they enter adulthood, and is
therefore more likely to result in behavioural problems such as drug use or crime.
• Legislation to establish the legal status of refugees and immigrants should be passed as
soon as possible.
• Legislation to promote racial understanding and tolerance must be promoted to fight
discrimination in all its forms.
• Multicultural emphasis in the school curriculum – as Iceland becomes more
multicultural, teaching should change to reflect this. It should aim to promote racial
understanding, prevent discrimination and increase awareness of cultural differences.
• Racial awareness training for all public service workers – all public institutions should
have ethical codes covering the behaviour of staff when dealing with other racial and/or
ethnic groups.
• Research into racism needs to be undertaken to discover the depth and nature of racism
in Iceland.
• Mother-tongue education for bilingual children – bilingual children should be able to
receive tuition in their mother tongue, so that they can fully benefit from their education.
Special programmes should be set up to meet their specific needs.
• Research into effects of poverty on children – extensive research needs carrying out to
determine the social situation of children living below the poverty line, in terms of their
lifestyle, health, school performance and access to leisure activities.
• Government funding for poor children should be allocated to ensure that they have
equal access to resources and equal opportunities generally.
• Resources for children with behavioural and/or developmental problems should be
allocated to help them deal with their situation. Early intervention with such children is
needed to prevent them from developing greater problems when older.
• Review of centralised health database – the establishment of the health database should
be assessed in relation to Articles 3, 5 and 12 of the CRC.
Review of Children’s Rights
The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) was ratified and incorporated
in Italian law under Act 179 on 27 May 1991. The new legislation prioritised child welfare,
weaving it into the fabric of Italian political and socio-economic thinking. All institutions and
community organisations are now obliged to consider children’s issues and implement measures
to improve the quality of children’s lives and protect and promote their individual rights.
The Italian government submitted its initial report to the UN Committee on the Rights of the
Child in 1995 and received the Committee’s Concluding Observations in the same year. A key
concern revolved around the principle of non-discrimination. Insufficient measures had been
taken to meet the needs of children from vulnerable and disadvantaged groups, such as children
from poor families, of foreign and Roma origin and children born out of wedlock. Such children
tend to be stigmatised, drop out of school or be employed in clandestine work, illegal activities
and organised crime. The Committee stressed the need for equal distribution of resources at
central, regional and municipal levels to overcome economic and social disparities.
As the CRC is part of the Italian legal system, the Convention can now be applied directly by
Italian courts. In addition many national, regional and local institutions have committed
themselves to promote policies geared towards the protection and development of children.
In early 1995, a parliamentary resolution was passed to define a policy for child welfare.
Shortly afterwards a Ministerial Decree established a National Observatory on Children and
Adolescence to monitor the welfare of children and develop strategies and priorities for action.
A National Centre for Documentation was also set up to carry out research to support childfocused initiatives.
In 1997, children’s issues were further prioritised with Law No. 285/1997, providing for the
promotion of children’s rights and two National Plans of Action for Childhood and Adolescence.
In support of this, a national fund of $360 million was dedicated to child-focused initiatives in
regions where children are most disadvantaged. Regions where services for infants are insufficient,
concentrations of young people are large, juvenile crime rates are high and significant numbers of
children live under the poverty line were prioritised.
In the last year, children’s rights have received particular attention and have been prioritised in the
political arena. A third Plan of Action for 2000-2001 has been adopted, which sets out the Italian
government’s strategies for developing an appropriate policy on children’s rights to ensure proper
implementation of the Convention.
In support of this Save the Children Italy will prioritise the wide dissemination of the principles
and provisions of the CRC through public education and awareness campaigns and research and
advocacy work. At the same time they will lobby for the creation of a child ombudsman Difensore
Civico per l’Infanzia e l’Adolescenza at regional level to both protect and promote childrens rights.
Save the Children will also advocate for the formation of a National Children’s Rights Coalition
to contribute to the next Italian report to the UN committee on the Rights of the Child.
The Principle of Non-Discrimination
The principle of non-discrimination is enshrined in the Italian constitution under Article 3.
All citizens are vested with “equal status” and are “equal before the law, without distinction as
to sex, race, language, religion, political opinion and personal or social status”. According to
the Constitutional Court, the principle of non-discrimination applies equally to all nationals,
foreigners and stateless persons.
Racial and Ethnic Discrimination
The International Convention against Racial Discrimination (CERD) was ratified by the Italian
government in 1975 and incorporated into the constitution. Since then the government has
worked hard to implement the principle of non-discrimination. In response to increases in racial
incidents in the early 1990s, Law No. 205/1995 permits strict measures to tackle racial, ethnic
and religious discrimination. More recently, Immigration Decree 286/1998 further defines
discrimination and provides specific judicial recourse for victims of alleged discrimination.
Monitoring and information centres were also established providing legal assistance for victims
of discrimination.
Despite these efforts, the UN Committee on Racial Discrimination, responsible for monitoring
the implementation of CERD, expressed grave concern about the high levels of racial intolerance
in Italy in its Concluding Observations in 1999. The Committee observed that there are
persistent incidents that are not recognised by the authorities as racially motivated, and are
consequently not addressed. In part, this stems from the loose definition of discrimination.
Racist verbal insults, for example, are not covered under Decree 286/1998 making it difficult to
address such kinds of abuse. As a result, victims of verbal attacks tend not to report them, thus
compounding the problem. Individuals are generally not aware of their rights, or believe that
there are no effective means of redress, as processes are bureaucratic and lengthy.
Thus while there is a commitment to non-discrimination in Italy there are few effective
mechanisms to counter violations effectively. No systematic data is gathered on ethnic and racial
discrimination, making it difficult to assess its nature and extent across the country. The media
only report the most extreme cases; the more subtle and pervasive forms of discrimination,
resulting in institutionalised racism, are rarely identified.
Foreign children and those of foreign origin are at risk of discrimination on two counts – as
children and because they are foreign. Recognising this, the first governmental Plan of Action
for Children and Adolescents (1997/98) prioritised the needs of foreign children and those of
foreign origin. This is reinforced in the third Plan of Action for 2000-2001. According to the
Plan, particular attention is to be given to the protection and integration of foreign minors.
Despite these measures, children from a foreign background still have the highest rates of illiteracy
and increasingly come from single-parent or unemployed households.
To help address these disparities the National Observatory was set up in 1998 to monitor all
forms of discrimination against minors. Unfortunately this initiative was short-lived, lasting little
longer than a year, and the results of its work are still not available.
Of all minority groups in Italy, Roma and Gypsy children encounter a particularly worrying
level of hostility and prejudice. According to unofficial data, the Roma/Gypsy population in
Italy is estimated at 100,000. Of these, 70-75 per cent are of Italian origin and the remainder
of Slav origin. These estimates are very basic as there is little comprehensive, reliable or
up-to-date information available, making any assessment of the situation of Roma/Gypsy
children difficult.
Most Roma/Gypsies live in camps outside major cities where basic facilities are poor. Camp
environments tend to reinforce differences between the Roma and mainstream Italian society,
and lead not only to physical segregation of the Roma/Gypsies, but also to political, economic
and cultural isolation. Invariably Roma children have limited access to recreational and
educational facilities and are often involved in contributing to family income and caring for
younger siblings. Such differences can affect their rights and opportunities.
The right to survival and development
Alarming disparities exist between the mortality rates of Italian and foreign-born infants.
According to the 1996 government report on the conditions of minors in Italy, survival rates
of Italian-born infants in their first year of life are almost double those of infants of foreign origin.
Clearly there is critical need for pre- and post-natal care that is tailored to the needs of foreign
mothers, as well as increased access to existing public facilities, such as regular health checks and
day care facilities.
The right to education
Disparities are perhaps most evident in the realm of education. Under Article 34 of the Italian
Constitution, schools are open to all, and primary education is compulsory and free. The right to
education for children of foreign origin both legally and illegally resident in Italy is articulated in
the Circular of the Department of Social Affairs (4 October 1993). This is reinforced by the
Ministry of Education Circular No. 17/1994, the Immigration Legislation Law No. 40/1998,
and the Presidential Decree No. 1 of 29 January 1999, all of which stress the need to protect the
right to education of all foreign minors, regardless of residency status. Children without official
documentation or residency can register in schools; they are subject to reservations, but these do
not affect their right to obtain end-of-year qualifications.
Although Italian legislation appears to conform with the provisions of the CRC, closer
investigation of the education system reveals stark deficiencies in practice. Registration of
children under reservation can place children in an insecure position. The right to education is
so fundamental to a child’s development that it cannot be partially or conditionally given.
Problems also arise as a result of age differences between foreign and Roma/Gypsy children and
their Italian peers, and the corresponding grade that they are registered in. Many are registered in
grades that correspond to their assessed educational level and not their age. It is difficult to
comprehensively assess a child’s educational attainment, particularly when educational records
are not available, as is often the case. In 1986, statistics from the Local Education Authority of
Milan showed that only 30 per cent of foreign minors were enrolled in grades corresponding to
their age.
Additionally, schools require pre-registration of children in the January of the year they intend to
start school. While nothing legally prevents registration after this date it is in practice discouraged.
This affects Roma/Gypsy children in particular, who often move around with their families and
are not familiar with pre-registration requirements.
Italian school curricula endorse the principle of the equality of sexes, races, languages, religions
and political opinions. Since 1986, efforts have been made to promote the integration of foreign
and Roma/Gypsy children in schools. In particular, intercultural education has been introduced,
including additional hours of instruction for pupils experiencing problems, the equal distribution
of foreign pupils in classes to promote their social integration, and language and cultural training
for teachers. These initiatives have been well received and have had positive outcomes in helping
to eradicate stereotypes and intolerance. However, their adoption has been ad hoc and is far from
systematic or comprehensive; their effectiveness is thus constricted, as it is dependent on the
commitment of individual institutions.
Sadly, many foreign children or those of foreign origin are victims of overt forms of
discrimination from schoolmates. They are ridiculed because of their ethnic origin, the colour of
their skin or other physical features. In most of these cases, such behaviour goes unreported to
either teachers or parents and is therefore difficult to assess.
Statistics reveal that a large percentage of minors in the justice system (up to 50 per cent
in major cities such as Rome, Milan, Florence and Turin) are children of foreign origin.
A disproportionately high percentage of young people in detention are of either North African
or Roma/Gypsy origin. In the case of foreign minors, alternative measures to detention are
not considered effective. In the period from October 1991 to June 1996 inclusive, 35 per cent
of all reported juvenile offences involved foreign minors, most of whom were given custodial
sentences and put into detention.
In an attempt to redress some of these issues Save the Children Italy is committed to the
promotion of the rights of Roma/Gypsy children by supporting local partner organisations.
In doing so Save the Children will collaborate with official bodies and NGOs to monitor
discrimination against minors and develop appropriate startegies to combat it.
Other Issues
In terms of demographics, Italy can broadly be divided into two distinct regions: the north and
central region, where the population of children is generally lower than the national average; and
the south, which has a greater number of children than the national average.
Clear differences are apparent. It is estimated that 18-20 per cent of all minors in the south live
in poverty as compared to 5-8 per cent in the central and northern regions. Two thirds of
impoverished families live in southern Italy, where birth rates are high and family size is large.
In northern regions opposite trends prevail with negative fertility rates and small nuclear families.
Considerable economic and social disparities exist between the more industrialised north and the
mainly rural south. These disparities clearly impact on children’s lives in terms of access to
services and opportunities.
The right to survival and development
The 1997 governmental report on the condition of children and adolescents in Italy reveals that
being born in the south still involves a higher risk than being born in northern and central
regions. Clear differences in infant mortality in the first year of life are attributed to disparities
in the availability of health and family welfare programmes. This discrepancy is also identified
by the National Centre for the Documentation and Analysis of Childhood and Adolescence,
which reveals marked regional differences in the quantity and quality of services for infants.
The right to education
Similarly, the north-south divide is apparent in the education sector. While there is little
difference in primary education, where attendance rates are respectively 99 per cent and 98 per
cent, intermediate level attendance rates of 96-97 per cent in the north and 91 per cent in the
south begin to reveal disparities. School facilities and the quality of educational provision also
differ starkly between the two regions – insufficient classroom space, poor quality classroom
structures and double shifts are common features of education in the south.
The 1995 NGO alternative report for Italy, submitted to the UN Committee on the Rights of
the Child, highlighted these inequalities. The report maintained that the use of two or three
shifts in schools to accommodate the number of students occurs almost exclusively in the south.
The report also identified structural inadequacies in schools, and noted that drop-out rates and
numbers of pupils repeating a course or failing examinations are higher in the South.
Implementation of the CRC
• Independent monitoring and follow-up to the National Plans of Action for
Childhood and Adolescence need to be undertaken in co-operation with NGOs, together
with a more systematic approach to disseminating the principles and provisions of the CRC
to children and adults alike. The aim should be to increase public awareness and encourage
civil participation in promoting children’s rights.
• Creation of a children’s Ombudsman (Difensore Civico per l’infanzia e l’Adolescenza) at
the regional levels to both protect and promote children’s rights.
• Formation of a National Children’s Rights Coalition to contribute to the next Italian
report to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child.
Racial and Ethnic Discrimination
• Systematic collection of data, particularly on Roma/Gypsy children, should be carried
out with a view to ensuring adequate policy-making in the field of children’s rights.
• Simplification of legal procedures to regularise the status of foreign minors, minors of
foreign origin and Roma/Gypsies – special provisions should also be made for children
without original legal documents.
• Lifting of reservations on school registration for children whose status has not yet
been regularised.
• The education of foreign minors and Roma/Gypsy children – research results and
innovative approaches need to be effectively disseminated.
• Training and employment for members of foreign origin or Roma/Gypsy
communities – in particular, teachers and other personnel from these communities need
be trained and employed.
• Consultation – representatives from the various communities of origin should be consulted
in the development of legislation relating to children’s rights.
Review of Children’s Rights
Japan ratified the CRC on 21 September 1991. In May 1998, the UN Committee on the Rights
of the Child noted that Japan had taken some steps to ensure that Japanese legislation complied
with the Convention, but that these initiatives were not effective enough. In 1999 and 2000, the
Japanese government has made further initiatives to improve children’s lives. Responding to
increased public awareness of child abuse and sexual exploitation, it has introduced two new laws
designed to protect children.
The Law on Child Prostitution and Child Pornography came into force in November 1999.
During the following six months, 264 people were arrested, and the government maintains that
child pornography on the Internet, in bookstores and in video shops has significantly decreased.
The law applies to Japanese nationals overseas as well as within Japan, as it is believed that Japanese
paedophiles are active abroad, particularly in South-East Asia. The new law stresses the need for
international co-operation in investigating and preventing child prostitution and child pornography.
The Japanese government’s increased commitment to tackling the sexual exploitation of children
is further emphasized by its hosting of the Second World Congress against Commercial and
Other Forms of Sexual Exploitation of Children in Yokohama in 2001. The event should serve
as an excellent opportunity for both governmental and non-governmental organisations to raise
awareness about the issues and to start programmes that will help to resolve them.
The second new law introduced by the government is the Child Abuse Prevention Law, approved
in May 2000. It defines child abuse, and empowers Child Guidance Centres (the government
social welfare agencies that are in charge of issues relating to children) to conduct investigations in
homes and in other premises. Domestic child abuse in Japanese society has traditionally been seen
as a private family matter, but the new legislation demonstrates a recognition that this is not the
best response for children. Indeed, it could be argued that the law will not prove effective enough,
because it is mainly a compliation of existing instructions to the Child Guidance Centres via the
Ministry of Health and Welfare with few new initiatives. It would be more effective if it provided
the centres with the financial means and legal powers to suspend parental authority and to obtain
court warrants should the parents refuse investigation.
The well-being of children of illegal immigrants is another issue of concern in Japan. The usual
practice of the authorities when finding illegal immigrants has been to detain them and deport
them. This year, after coming under strong pressure from citizens’ groups, the Ministry of Justice
has made it clear that humanitarian considerations should be given to illegal residents “who have
close involvement in society”. Some of the children of these immigrants have lived most of their
lives in Japan and have little knowledge of their native language and culture. The Ministry
granted Special Residence Permits to several immigrant families who had outstayed the period
permitted on their visas. Though the granting of the permits is at the discretion of the Ministry of
Justice, and though no clear guidance about them has been published, the change of the
Ministry’s position is considered a big step forward in protecting the children’s best interests.
The Principle of Non-Discrimination
Japan is becoming increasingly multi-ethnic with an influx of immigrants, but it is still among the
most racially homogenous of countries. It is not uncommon for some Japanese people to feel
threatened by the idea of a society that exhibits a changing racial composition. The children of
minority populations suffer discrimination because of their different origins, and there are strong
pressures upon them to assimilate.
Racial and Ethnic Discrimination
The Ainu people, estimated to number 30,000–50,000, are an indigenous population from the
northern part of Japan. Because of assimilation policies pursued by the Japanese government in
the past, the Ainu were not only deprived of their ancestral land, but also of their language and
culture. They still suffer prejudice from the mainstream Japanese community. Both Ainu and
other Japanese children have few opportunities to learn about Ainu history and culture. Because
of their disadvantaged economic conditions, the percentage of Ainu children who go to upper
secondary schools and university is lower than the national average.
Because Korea was colonised by Japan until the end of the Second World War, there are
significant numbers of Korean nationals and people of Korean origin living in Japan. Their
population of approximately 550,000 accounts for almost 90 per cent of all people of foreign
extraction. Of this number, about 200,000 have become naturalised citizens.
When Korea was occupied by Japan, Koreans were forced to change their names to Japanese
names. The stigma of this historical legacy persists today, and many people still hide their Korean
origins by using Japanese names in everyday life, even though the names on their official
documents may be Korean. This habitual practice on the part of parents places an explicit or
implicit pressure on their children to hide their true origins, and this makes it difficult for the
children to develop self-esteem and pride in their Korean roots.
Discrimination occurs in relation to Korean children’s education, because they are generally
denied schooling in their own language. Public schools do not provide lessons in Korean language
or culture, with the exception of some token schools that have extra-curricular activities. Parents
who want to educate their children in their own language can send them to Korean schools, but
Korean schools cost more because they receive less funding from the government. An education
in Korean schools also has the effect of denying pupils access to higher education. This is a direct
effect of legislation: Korean schools are not accredited as schools prescribed in Article 1 of the
School Education Law. This means that graduates of Korean high schools are not eligible to take
entrance examinations to state-run universities, though private and other public universities may
allow it. The restriction also applies to graduates of other foreign schools in Japan such as those
educated at American and Chinese schools. In 1998, the UN Committee on the Rights of the
Child expressed particular concern about unequal access to higher education, but the government
has failed to redress the situation.
The number of immigrant children in Japan has been increasing. After Koreans, Chinese and
Brazilians are the two largest groups. Also increasing in number are the children who have one
Japanese and one foreign parent, because international marriages are now more common than in
the past.
The Ministry of Education claims that, regardless of their legal status, children of foreign
extraction are entitled to enrol in public primary and lower secondary schools with the same
rights as Japanese children, including the rights to free tuition and free textbooks. However, the
reality is that some local education boards do not allow children lacking proper visas to enrol.
In these cases, the children of illegal immigrants are deprived of their right to an education.
If both parents are working, a child may spend all day at home or in nearby parks.
At some schools, children of foreign origin are given special assistance in learning Japanese.
However, the intention and emphasis of this assistance is more on assimilation than on the
development of the child, and the children are being denied the opportunity of an education
in their own language.
Bullying is one of the most serious problems in the Japanese educational system. The peer
pressure on children to be the same as everyone else is extreme. Children of foreign origin, who
may be different in terms of language, culture, looks or just parental background, are often the
target of bullying.
Other issues
Illegitimate children are subject to several forms of discrimination. One form is explicitly
supported by the Civil Code, which states that the inheritance of an illegitimate child should be
half that of a legitimate child. This provision is a serious violation not just of Article 2 of the
CRC, but also of the Japanese Constitution. In 1996 the Legal Systems Council (a government
advisory body) recommended that this provision be amended, as did the UN Committee on the
Rights of the Child in 1998. Despite these recommendations, the Ministry of Justice has failed to
act. It cites unfavourable public opinion as the reason, but in the absence of any initiatives to raise
public awareness of how discriminatory the Civil Code is on this issue, public opinion is unlikely
to change very quickly. The Civil Code is also at fault in stipulating that a child’s birth status
should be entered in the record of its birth in the Family Register. This can only add to the
stigmatisation of illegitimacy still prevalent in Japanese society.
A child born outside of marriage to a Japanese father and a foreign mother suffers a very specific
form of discrimination that is sanctioned by Japanese law. According to the government’s
interpretation of the Nationality Law, the child of such parents will not be granted Japanese
nationality unless the father legally recognises his paternity before the birth. In the worst cases,
the mother’s state may also refuse to grant nationality, which results in the child being stateless.
Even though the Japanese Constitution bars discrimination based on gender, the Civil Code
stipulates different minimum ages for marriage. These minimum ages are sixteen years for girls
and eighteen years for boys. The government’s justification for the discrepancy is that girls and
boys are different in terms of psychological and physical development. This reflects the traditional
view that men should be more mature than women in order to be the head of the family.
The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child has raised special concerns about this issue.
According to statistics, more girls advance to higher education than boys. However, many girls
in higher education are studying at two-year junior colleges rather than at four-year universities.
The colleges offer a limited range of courses that is considered, in traditional thinking,
appropriate for women, because it mainly sticks to the humanities and home economics. It is
also the case that some school teachers and parents do not offer encouragement to girls who want
to take advanced mathematics and sciences at school, believing that such courses are unsuitable
for them. Girls who do choose natural sciences, engineering and other professional fields of study
are rather exceptional, though the gap with boys has been slowly narrowing. There are not
enough successful professional women who can act as role models, because women have long
been discriminated against in employment.
Buraku communities are similar to a caste group, historically created and associated with certain
kinds of occupations and positions. People from Buraku communities still experience
discrimination and are socially stigmatised in the areas of employment and marriage.
A smaller percentage of children from Buraku proceed to higher education than the national
average. One reason for this is that their economic status is lower, due to long-standing
discrimination in employment. Another reason is that the children lack role models within
professional and managerial fields, because the people in Buraku communities have been largely
engaged in manual jobs.
In spite of the global trend towards the inclusion of disabled children in society, exclusion and
segregation are still usual in education and welfare in Japan. Instead of making efforts to include
disabled children in mainstream education, the system tends to assign them to special institutions;
the policy of the Ministry of Education does not emphasise inclusion. If the parents of a disabled
child choose an ordinary school, the provision of special assistance is not assured. The current
education curricula are rigid, and competition among children is high. The number of children in
one classroom can be as many as forty. All these factors make it difficult for ordinary schools to
accommodate the special needs of children both with and without disabilities.
Implementation of the CRC
• Introduction of human rights issues into school curricula in order to make the
Convention more widely known and to help combat all forms of discrimination.
Racial and Ethnic Discrimination
• Enforcement of school enrolment rights – education boards should allow children of
foreign origin to enrol in public schools regardless of the children’s legal status, in line with
the official policy of the Ministry of Education.
• Greater appreciation of diversity in school curricula – school curricula should be
developed in a way that reduces the excessive emphasis on conformity in Japanese schools,
and that increases the appreciation of diversity in ethnicity, social background, disability
and related areas.
• Access to culturally appropriate education for minority children – these children should
be given access to education in their own language, culture and history.
• Access to higher education for graduates of Korean and other foreign schools – these
pupils should be eligible to take entrance examinations to state-run universities.
• Dissemination of the Convention in minority languages so that minority people can
become more aware of their rights.
Other Issues
• Amendment of inheritance rights within the Civil Code – children born both outside
and inside marriage should enjoy equal inheritance rights.
• Abolition of child’s birth status records – the practice of recording a child’s birth status
in the Family Register and in other legal documents should be abolished so that children
born outside of marriage are not stigmatised.
• Revision of the Nationality Law – this law should be revised to make recognition of
paternity apply retroactively to the time of a child’s birth, so that illegitimate children born
to a Japanese father and a foreign mother can acquire Japanese nationality.
• Encouragement of girls to enrol in four-year university courses – parents and teachers
should encourage girls to study non-traditional courses such as natural sciences and
• Amendment of minimum age for marriage – the Civil Code should be amended to set
the same minimum age for males and females to marry.
• Better inclusion policies for disabled children – government policy on children with
disabilities should be changed to promote inclusion and to reduce institutionalisation.
Awareness-raising campaigns should also be launched to reduce discrimination.
Detail from ‘Friends’
Drawing by Sara age 9, Australia
Review of Children’s Rights
After ratification in 1990, the CRC came into force in Jordan on 23 June 1991. The following
year a National Conference on Children was held which led to the adoption of a National Plan of
Action for Children over the period 1993-2000. The plan addressed issues of joint concern to the
many different groups that are concerned with children. It defined objectives, programmes and
operational procedures in the fields of health, education, the environment, culture, information
and the care of children with special needs.
One of the main achievements of the National Plan was the establishment of the National Task
Force for Children in 1995. Its aim was to intensify and co-ordinate the services for children
provided by official, private and international groups, thereby promoting the welfare of children
and helping to achieve the objectives of the Convention. To this end, the secretariat of the Task
Force established three units: research and database; information, education and communication;
and the national coalition for children.
The national coalition for children comprises 650 representatives, including members of NGOs,
international agencies and official institutions operating in various child-related fields, as well as
independent individuals concerned with child-related issues. Special committees have also been
set up within the national coalition.
Another important step in promoting children’s rights in Jordan is the Jordanian Children’s Act.
This has been drawn up by a committee comprising the National Task Force, the Ministry of
Social Development and other officials, in consultation with UNICEF and private and academic
institutions. The Act is now in the final stages of preparation. After the Department of Legislation
at the prime minister’s office has finished studying it, it will be submitted to the Council of
Ministers and the National Assembly for approval.
In 1997, important progress was made in the fight against domestic violence and sexual
exploitation with the establishment of the first Family Protection Division at the Directorate of
Public Security. This division is responsible for investigating and dealing with cases of violence
against women and children, and other forms of ill treatment. It can receive, hear and investigate
complaints from child victims of aggression, abuse and neglect without the approval of the child’s
guardian who, in some cases, might be the aggressor.
Jordan has always had reservations about Articles 14, 20 and 21 of the CRC, and these
reservations are yet to be withdrawn. Article 14 grants a child the right to choose his or her
religion, but this is incompatible with the principles of the Islamic Sharia. Articles 20 and 21
cause some difficulty because they relate to adoption, a practice that is prohibited by the Koran.
However, in place of adoption Islam advocates the equivalent system of kafalah, a form of
tutorship that conforms to the Sharia. In this way, children deprived of their natural parents
can be looked after and maintained with the care and attention that children with natural
parents receive, enjoying the same status even though they are not adopted.
Save the Children Jordan is committed to advancing children’s rights in Jordan. In conjunction
with other NGOs Save the Children provides awareness programmes, training in the CRC and
lectures and activities to local communities and children to disseminate more broadly its
principles and provisions.
The Principle of Non-Discrimination
Article 6.1 of the Jordanian Constitution stipulates that “Jordanians are equal before the law and
there shall be no discrimination between them in regard to their rights and obligations on
grounds of race, language and religion,” and thus embodies the principle of non-discrimination.
Although the Jordanian Constitution does not contain specific provisions concerning children,
its general provisions apply to children as well as adults. The National Charter, promulgated in
1991, also stipulates that all Jordanians are equal before the law regardless of gender. Reinforcing
this, the draft Jordanian Children’s Rights Act emphasises that there shall be no discrimination
between children on the grounds of race, language, religion or sex.
Racial and Ethnic Discrimination
Although Jordanian legislation does not distinguish between refugee children and other children,
the political and economic situation in Jordan impedes implementation of the CRC with regard
to refugee children. For example, rates of illiteracy and poverty among refugees are double those
in other sectors of society. Schools run by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency
(UNRWA) are unable to absorb all the refugee students, and public schools allegedly do not
accept refugee children. According to the government, the Palestinian refugee community is
experiencing all the problems that go with an acute shortage of health and educational services.
Specific examples of how, in practice, refugee children are being discriminated against include
the following:
• a lack of sports fields, parks and recreation areas for playing;
• barriers to psychological development and academic achievement because of widespread
poverty and unemployment among refugee families;
• pressure to enter the labour market in order to assist the family unit;
• high rates of disability due to poverty, lack of healthcare and marriage between relatives;
• overcrowded classrooms (most of the schools have to operate a two-shift system) and a
shortage of teachers;
• a lack of infrastructure within the refugee camps, such as connections to the sewage network;
• low standards of sanitation due to the increasing population density inside the camps;
• poor condition of housing units, some of which were constructed at the time of the first
influx of refugees and have not been repaired or renovated since.
Jordan has a number of other racial and ethnic minorities. The Constitution entitles them to the
same rights as other Jordanians, since they hold Jordanian nationality; and according to the
government, the children of minority groups are not deprived of any of their rights. They have
the right to speak their own language, and the government allows such languages to be taught
in private schools in addition to Arabic. For example, there are schools for the Circassian and
Armenian minorities. No information from sources other than the government is currently
available on the issue of children from minority groups.
There are still a few non-sedentary groups living in different parts of Jordan. Their main
occupation is livestock breeding. Because of their close links with a more traditional way of life,
they and their children tend to be less familiar with some of the benefits of a more developed
society. In 1990, the government promulgated a special legislative act, known as the Rural
Electrification Project, which resulted in 98 per cent of the population receiving access to
electricity, including the nomadic communities. The government also adopted a plan for a
comprehensive survey of the locations of nomadic communities. Under this plan, priority
was accorded to developing roads, schools, water services and electricity in those areas most
frequented by the nomadic groups.
Other Issues
In 2000, in its Concluding Observations on Jordan, the Committee on the Elimination
of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) expressed its concern about the Jordanian
Constitution. Although Article 6 recognises the principle of equality of all Jordanians before
the law, it does not contain a specific provision stating that there shall be no discrimination,
either de jure or de facto, on the grounds of gender. The Human Rights Committee shared the
same concerns in 1994, highlighting the fact that the Jordanian Constitution does not guarantee
the principle of non-discrimination on the basis of gender, and deploring the disparities in law
and practice relating to issues such as status within the family, inheritance rights, and the
acquisition of Jordanian nationality. These disparities are gradually being addressed and the
Legal Committee of the Jordanian National Commission for Women has made a series of
recommendations to amend existing legislation.
CEDAW also noted that Jordanian nationality law prevents a Jordanian woman with a foreign
husband from passing on her nationality to her children. This is an archaic situation at a time
when Jordan is making major strides forward in its economic and democratic development, and
when marriage between persons of different nationalities is increasingly common. Moves are
currently in place to amend the situation, but legislation such as this has created a legacy of
discriminatory attitudes.
The law relating to marriage discriminates against women in a number of ways. The Personal
Status Law stipulates that the minimum age for marriage is 15 for women and 16 for men, and a
bride’s marriage contract has to be administered by a guardian. Her husband is frequently chosen
for her. In addition to this, women, unlike men, must specifically request a special clause in their
marriage contract to obtain the right to divorce. This is being addressed through recent proposed
changes to legislation – Articles 4 and 14 of the Personal Status Act grant women the right to
choose a spouse freely and enter into marriage only with their free and full consent. However, the
reality is that custom and tradition limit a girl’s capacity to exercise these rights, particularly in
rural areas.
In the case of divorce, men are required to give financial support to their divorced wives for only
one year. When it comes to the inheritance a child may receive from his or her parents,
discrimination against the wife has a bearing on the size of the inheritance. A widow inherits an
eighth of her husband’s estate if there are children, and a quarter if not. By contrast, a widower
inherits a quarter of his wife’s estate if there are children, and half if there are none. The few
protections offered to women (and by implication to their children) in the Personal Status Law
are often not respected. For example, it seems that in many cases male family members manage
the inheritances of female family members in ways that further denies them access.
Although there has been progress in girls’ education, there are some disparities with boys when it
comes to school attendance and access. The 1999 Report of the Special Rapporteur on the Right
to Education confirmed a gender imbalance in net enrolment in primary school. The imbalance
has a number of causes. When parents cannot afford to send all their children to school, the girls’
schooling is often sacrificed for the sake of the boys’. This is because of the traditional view that a
man has to support the family unit with work, whereas the destiny of a woman lies in marriage.
Some families keep school-aged girls at home, particularly in rural areas; sometimes this is because
their village does not have a school, and they are unwilling or unable to send a female child to a
nearby village each day for classes.
A 1995 Ministry of Education study of textual reference to women in basic-level school curricula
found that women were portrayed almost exclusively as mothers and homemakers. In response to
these findings, the Department of Curriculum amended discriminatory references to women and
changed the portrayal of women to reflect a wide range of active roles within the electorate and as
There is discrimination in Jordan between legitimate and illegitimate children. A legitimate child
is registered under the name of his or her father after the child’s legitimacy has been established
by a contract of marriage. For a child born outside marriage, the birth is entered in a special
register under a pseudonym, unless one of the child’s parents agrees to register the child under
his or her name. This discrimination stigmatises the illegitimate child. Furthermore, a legitimate
child is entitled to inherit, but an illegitimate child has no such entitlement, which is a clear
violation of Article 2 of the CRC.
In order to combat problems of discrimination Save the Children Jordan places special emphasis
on early childhood development programmes so that a basis of equality can be created at the
outset. Children’s rights groups for children forms part of this initiative. In addition to this, Save
the Children also maintains a programme for parents which adopts a rights-based approach and
promotes the Convention. A key objective of the programme is to encourage anti-discriminatory
attitudes amongst parents starting in the home.
• Withdrawal of the Jordanian government’s reservations to the CRC as unnecessary,
particularly those related to the adoption provisions, because the CRC recognises the
kafalah of Islamic law as an equivalent alternative system.
• Publication of the CRC in the Official Gazette, because almost ten years have passed
since its ratification.
• Drafting of the Jordanian Children’s Act – the government should recognise the utmost
importance of drafting this Act in line with the principles and provisions of the CRC, and
should endeavour to make the new Act law as quickly as possible.
Racial and Ethnic Discrimination
• Government focus on the CRC – The government should make concerted efforts to
grant all children the rights set out in the CRC.
• Prioritisation and targeting of social services towards children belonging to the most
vulnerable groups, such as refugee children.
Other Issues
• Amendment of Article 6 of the Jordanian Constitution to guarantee equality with
regards to gender.
• Review of legislation in relation to the definition of the child and minimum age
requirements – the government should ensure that these conform to the principles of the
CRC and are gender neutral.
• Revision or enactment of civil and criminal legislation in relation to gender, in order
to prohibit gender-based discrimination.
• Public education campaigns to increase awareness of discriminatory attitudes towards
women and girls – the government should endeavour to raise awareness with such
campaigns, and should combat discrimination inherent in certain traditions and customs,
for example by gaining the support of religious leaders.
“Sometimes, the biggest challenge is just to
change attitudes, not just of schools but
of friends and families.
If I was talking to a young disabled girl today,
I would tell her not to let obstacles stand in her way.”
Caroline Millar, Northern Ireland
Caroline suffers from cerebral palsy
Republic of Korea
Review of Children’s Rights
The Republic of Korea signed the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child
(CRC) on 25 September 1990 and ratified it on 1 November 1991. On 8 November 1994 the
government made its first report to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, and received
a series of recommendations from the Committee. It presented its second report in May 2000.
The Korean Government still maintains three reservations first made when ratifying the
Convention: Article 9.3 about separation from parents; Article 21 (a), concerning adoption; and
Article 40.2 (b), regarding the administration of juvenile justice, as these provisions remain
incompatible with Korean law. Unfortunately there is no sign of these reservations being withdrawn.
However, in the period between the first report and the second, the Korean government has
taken a number of steps to work on the Committee’s recommendations. A number of new laws
relating to children, young people and families have been passed, but most significantly, the
Child Welfare Act of 1961 has been substantially amended. These amendments were passed in
December 1999 and came into effect on July 13, 2000, and constitute the biggest contribution
to extending children’s rights in Korea. Of its 43 Articles, the most improved aspects of the
Act are as follows:
• Article 3 now specifies that children have the right to grow up without any form of
discrimination based on sex, age, religion, race, social status, property and place of birth.
• Article 10 stipulates that to experience complete and harmonious personal development,
children should grow up in a stable environment, in which the child’s best interests should
be prioritised.
• Eleven new articles have been added to the Act on the subject of child abuse. Child
protection agencies have been established with legally defined responsibilities, thus creating
a safety network for threatened children; the law regulates the actions of central and local
government, NGOs, administrative bodies and police departments. An emergency “hotline” phone service has also been set up.
Articles 3 and 10 are particularly encouraging, since Article 2 of the CRC about nondiscrimination and Article 3 about the best interests of the child have thereby been enshrined
within Korean law.
The government worked on presenting its second report throughout 1999. To this end, it held
a public hearing on the topic of legal and systematic measures to promote children’s rights in
August 1999. The aim was to gather information and opinions from NGOs, academics and
government officials in order to strengthen co-operation between itself and these groups, not
simply for the sake of the report but to promote children’s rights in Korea generally.
The report itself described the government’s efforts to implement four aspects of the Convention
in particular: non-discrimination (Article 2); the best interests of the child (Article 3); survival,
development and protection (Article 6); and child participation (Article 12).
The Principle of Non-Discrimination
The Korean Constitution guarantees equal rights to all people by prohibiting discrimination
based on social status or any non-rational prejudices, and also prohibits discrimination of any sort
against children. The government emphasises this in its second report to the UN Committee on
the Rights of the Child. However, an understanding of discrimination and how it is manifested is
still at a relatively early stage within Korean society, and the existence of appropriate laws does not
necessarily mean that discrimination does not occur.
The principle problem in this respect is that Korea is largely homogenous in its ethnic make-up
with few immigrants, so ethnic discrimination is rarely visible. Moreover, because Korea is a
relatively closed society, it is still steeped in traditional attitudes; thus while ethnicity may not
present a major issue of discrimination, there are other areas such as illegitimacy and gender that
are more problematic and have their roots in deep-seated cultural values. In 1999, Save the
Children Korea held three workshops, attended by over twenty NGOs, to publicise the CRC and
discuss the nature of discrimination in Korean society. One of the major realisations that resulted
from these workshops was that conformity is a major prerequisite for acceptance in Korean
society, and that prejudice on the basis of difference is copied by children from their parents and
other adults. In the eyes of Korean children, being different is not viewed as natural or interesting
but as something to judge harshly and reject.
Racial and Ethnic Discrimination
Korea’s position in relation to racial discrimination can be seen as twofold: there is an actual
problem for the few people in Korean society who are not Korean nationals; and there is a
problem of attitude, which keeps Korea looking inwards rather than outwards.
As already mentioned, Korea is largely ethnically homogenous and therefore racial and ethnic
discrimination does not affect great numbers of people. However, Korea’s laws grant rights and
freedoms only to Korean nationals, and there is no separate Act within the Constitution that
deals with racial discrimination. Foreign nationals and their children, foreign travellers and
migrant labourers are not afforded the same rights as nationals, and discrimination does certainly
occur against these groups, however small their numbers may be.
Recently, discrimination against foreign labourers has become more of an issue in Korea, and
has received considerable attention in the media. Such labourers’ children are often poor, have
a different skin colour or language or religion and they may become the target of abuse.
Unfortunately there is little data to support the claim that they suffer discrimination in these
Republic of Korea
respects, but what is clear is that Korean law deprives them of their right to education; it is only
the efforts of NGOs that have provided them with some educational opportunities.
Some progress has been made in relation to the children of foreign fathers, who could not
previously gain Korean nationality. Article 781 of the Civil Law now enables them to register
under their mother’s name, and thus be eligible for Korean nationals’ rights, including education.
Children who are born to two foreigners, however, still cannot gain Korean nationality status.
The problem underlying racial discrimination is the deep-rooted and widely believed myth that
Korean society is comprised of only one race. However, the media, opinion makers, professionals
and NGOs have entered into a debate which centres on the idea that Korea will suffer in the long
run if it continues to resist the impact of globalisation (seen here as the ideas of acceptance and
celebration of difference, and the recognition that race, blood and appearances are no longer
relevant to the question of nationality). The concern is that Korea will become increasingly left
behind in the global context if it persists in holding onto the single race myth.
Other Issues
The most frequent form of discrimination found in Korea is bullying, or wangtta. A child may
be singled out for any number of reasons – being too good-looking, too ugly, too stupid or too
smart – and is then physically and psychologically attacked. These children can be physically hurt,
isolated and traumatised. It seems that anyone who is seen as different may suffer this kind of
abuse, underlining how conformity is seen as a good and difference a subject of rejection;
however, it is also apparent that disabled children are the most likely to encounter discrimination.
Children of unmarried mothers, illegitimate and adopted children all encounter a high degree
of prejudice in Korea. According to the Department of Child Health and Welfare (part of the
Ministry of Health and Welfare), adoption rates have fallen significantly. There is a tendency
for Korean children to be adopted by foreigners: in fact, only 38.8 per cent of adopted Korean
children actually live in Korea.
While the government is maintaining its reservation on the CRC’s stance on adoption, it has
made efforts to improve the situation for illegitimate children. The Civil Law now stipulates that
children born outside of a legal marriage should enjoy most of the rights of children born within
one; Article 1000 of the Civil Law ensures that illegitimate children are given equal rights to
property inheritance.
As in many Asian countries, there is a gender imbalance in the population of Korea with 110
males for every 100 females. This is because sons are more highly prized than daughters, an
attitude partly based on Confucian beliefs. The government has tried to address this situation
with the Medical Law of 1987, which makes it illegal to screen for the sex of the foetus. A further
revision of this law in 1994 increased the legal sanctions against those who violate it.
Discrimination against women in the workplace, and therefore against girls, was also recognised
by the government in 1987 in the Employment Law. This established women’s equal rights, and
has been followed up with positive discrimination schemes.
The Save the Children workshops identified a number of groups of children who suffer
discrimination in various ways, but unfortunately little further information is available to assess
the extent of the problems. These groups are:
• disabled children
• children of single parents, especially those with divorced parents
• orphans or children in care and/or in other institutions
• children who perform badly at school
• children from rural areas
• children other than the first-born son, who receives favouritism
• children forced to work
• children with poor or low-status parents
• Further promotion of the CRC has to be undertaken, with children and adults involved
at the same time. Children’s rights programmes should form part of this.
• Co-operation between government, NGOs, schools and other organisations is needed
to establish appropriate responsibilities and systems for the implementation of children’s
• Public education programmes – programmes are needed to counter societal prejudice and
• Comprehensive anti-discrimination laws need passing, which apply not only to Korean
nationals but to those of foreign origin.
• Expansion of the welfare system should take place to reduce regional and rural
• Integration of the CRC into the school curriculum – the CRC should form part of
teachers’ training.
• Participatory education needs to be established in favour of the more traditional systems
of rote learning.
• Systems for child protection need establishing through community networks.
• Integration of disabled children – attempts should be made to integrate disabled children
into the education system.
Republic of
Review of Children’s Rights
The Republic of Macedonia has been independent since 17 November 1991. Prior to this, it was
part of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, which ratified the Convention on the Rights
of the Child in 1989. The Government of Macedonia ratified the CRC in its own right in
November 1993, and the Macedonian Constitution now incorporates its basic principles.
In the last year, there have been major strides forward in the implementation of the CRC, but in
a context in which some problems have worsened. One of the most positive events of 1999 was
the appointment of a Children’s Ombudsman. Until now, complaints and petitions have tended
to come from children’s parents. Together with UNICEF, the new Ombudsman’s office is
working on an introductory campaign aimed at children themselves, to increase their
understanding of their rights and how they can take initiatives and voice their own opinions.
In January 2000, Macedonia received the first observations from the UN Committee on the
Rights of the Child. Soon after this, the Macedonian governmental representatives decided that
an inter-ministerial body should be formed to prepare a plan of action for the implementation of
the CRC. NGOs working with children are waiting for their role in the process to be defined.
The Ombudsman’s office is also working on a review of the existing laws that deal with children.
Although the Constitution mentions children in articles dealing with economic, social and
cultural rights, these articles do not refer to children specifically, and there is no national policy
on the subject or any other political commitment to it. For example, the first paragraph of
Article 42 states that “The Republic particularly protects motherhood, children and juveniles,”
but the other paragraphs of the same article refer only to employment rights. And while
Macedonia has a number of provisions in place for the protection of the child, these often fall
short in practice. One of these is the child subsidy, available to children from families of below
average income, as specified by the Law on Social Protection of Children. However, the
Ombudsman’s office has found that equal access to this financial help is not readily available.
Similarly, health insurance laws entitle children to healthcare, but only through their parents’
health insurance; if contributions are not paid, children’s health protection disappears. There is
a serious level of Government underfunding in these areas, due to the prolonged period of
transition that the economic and social structure is going through.
Specific problems that appear to have worsened over the last year are drug abuse, the use of
under-age workers in the sex industry, violence and sexual abuse. The age of drug abusers is
constantly going down, with some as young as nine or ten; an estimated third of the present
young population has taken drugs at least once. The Government has not appeared to take any
action on the issue, apart from a 1999 campaign by the Ministry of Youth and Sports which
had little effect.
In the sex industry, it is estimated that more than 2,000 female sex workers work in bars and
hotels, among them an unknown number of under-age girls, predominantly in the western part
of the country and mostly against their will. There is evidence that suggests some police officers
are involved, which may explain the silence surrounding the issue. Criminal law is not very
effective in dealing with child abuse and the exploitation of children within the sex industry; the
relevant social work and police departments are insufficiently trained and under-resourced.
Violence and abuse do get reported in the media, but few cases ever reach the courts, and when
they do, judges are lenient in sentencing. The tradition of absolute parental power over children
is rarely challenged. All this contributes to the violation of children’s rights as laid down in Article
19 of the CRC.
The Principle of Non-Discrimination
Historical events, migration (particularly in the 1970s and 1980s), and the natural population
growth of some ethnic groups (specifically the Albanian population) have all had a significant
impact on the Republic of Macedonia. The demographic structure has changed dramatically in
the last 20-30 years, particularly in western areas, but a consistent state policy on demographic
and population control has always been lacking.
According to the 1994 census, 66.5 per cent of the population is Macedonian and 22.9 per cent
Albanian, with Turks, Romanies, Serbs, Vlachs and others making up the remaining 10.6 per
cent. In 1997, 32.9 per cent of the population were nineteen years of age or younger; 24.8 per
cent were fourteen or under. Currently, Macedonia also has approximately 20,000 Kosovan
refugees, mostly of Roma origin, who left their homes once the crisis was over.
To a large extent, legislative regulations prohibit discrimination, especially with regard to gender,
ethnic origin and legitimacy of birth. However, some government policy, such as the “three-child
policy”, which allows parents social and health insurance advantages for their first three children
(part of the state’s policy to control the high birth rate within some groups, while at the same
time cutting government expenditure) have been described as discriminatory, and in
contravention of Article 2 of the CRC.
Racial and Ethnic Discrimination
A key problem with respect to racial and ethnic discrimination is inter-ethnic intolerance, largely
due to the absence of a consistent and systematic education policy. This has led to violent
physical conflict between young Macedonians and Albanians. In the first three months of 1999
alone, there were fourteen registered conflicts between high school students in Skopje and
Kumanovo, with many children suffering injury and trauma.
The data gathered in a 1994 questionnaire, “Inter-ethnic Tensions in the Republic of
Macedonia”, revealed some of the underlying problems. Of the sample of 1,200 individuals
from different nationalities (among them high school teachers, students and members of different
political parties), 54 per cent said they would not choose a Macedonian as a spouse, 23 per cent
that they would not choose an Albanian, and 62 per cent that they would not choose a spouse of
an orthodox religion (justifying this, in most cases, with reference to the possible practical
problems it might create).
According to the Constitution, all children in Macedonia have the right to primary and
secondary education in their own language. Classes are held in Macedonian, Albanian, Turkish
and Serbian. Pupils who are taught in a minority language learn Macedonian as a separate
subject, starting in the third grade. Members of Vlach and Romany nationalities are also
offered the option of studying their native language. Teachers of minority languages can receive
their training in that language. To increase the number of university students from minority
communities, the Government has established a “quota system” of positive discrimination,
which has been a success; a Law on Higher Education has been drafted, which proposes to
offer university education in other (including minority) languages.
Despite this high degree of institutionalised respect for pupils’ right to be taught in their mother
tongue, children are still used in political abuses of the system. In the Zhupa case, primary school
children of Macedonian/Muslim origin were pushed into a campaign for classes in Turkish,
although most of them didn’t speak a word of the language. There have also been cases of
Turkish and Roma children being persuaded (or even forced) to take classes in Albanian.
Sometimes, it is parents who deprive children of their right to education. This is especially the
case in poor or rural areas, and in Roma and Albanian communities where girls are traditionally
kept at home. Education is also threatened by low levels of financing in schools, and the resulting
lack of resources.
Romas in Macedonia have not experienced forced assimilation or violence as they have in other
Balkan countries. They have not attempted to integrate with other groups, and live mostly in
poor housing conditions in defined settlements in towns or villages. Their role in public life is not
proportionate to their number, mainly because of poor levels of education. Roma children have
the lowest primary school enrolment rates of all ethnic communities, accounting for an estimated
1.9 per cent of total school enrolment in 1991 and 1.7 per cent in 1992. They also have the
highest drop-out rates, with few making it into higher education. Their parents tend to have the
lowest literacy rate, which is directly related to their low standard of living and skill levels. Linked
to this, Romas tend also to have high unemployment rates; a reported 97 per cent have no regular
or temporary job, and 91.6 per cent are without qualifications. Some turn to crime as a result,
although in spite of economic deprivation, they tend to keep strong family ties and reject crime
and violence.
The poor level of education, especially among girls, translates into ignorance about childcare.
Infant and under-five mortality rates among the Roma have been declining faster than the
national rate in recent years, but they are still well above those of other ethnic groups. Acute
respiratory infections and diarrhoea are the major killers. Ailments caused by poor hygiene and
environmental sanitation are also common.
Other Issues
The state’s efforts to integrate children with disabilities into formal education and regular
recreation programmes are inadequate, and in fact such services have been shrinking over the last
ten to fifteen years. Specialised schools for children with disabilities do exist, but these have only
recently become better resourced (although not to sufficient levels), thanks to many foreign
donations and the work of NGOs. Staff training is often inadequate, which can result in false
diagnosis and consequently poor treatment of some children. Particularly poignant are the cases
of children with physical disabilities who could become fully integrated in the community if only
they were given the proper conditions.
Parents of disabled children have contacted Save the Children Macedonia for help and advice as
to their children’s rights under the law. Their position is made particularly difficult by general
social attitudes, which view disabled children as something to be ashamed of. Parents therefore
tend to keep them at home, isolated and with no hope of a better life.
Organised and decisive action by both state institutions and NGOs is needed to improve the
situation. However, in its last annual budget, the Government axed its financial support for
relevant organizations by 66 per cent, on the basis that they were not using their funding
properly. This decision has placed NGOs in an extremely difficult position; it also contravenes
the spirit of Article 35 of the Constitution, which obliges the state to create suitable conditions
for the social integration of disabled people. It also runs against the international conventions and
protocols signed by the Government (UN Resolution ARES-48769, European Convention on
Human Rights, European Social Declaration, Social Rights in Europe – NGO Action Package
and particularly Article 23 of the CRC).
Under the terms of the Macedonian Constitution, it is illegal to employ anyone under 15 years
of age, but the concept of protection for the working child is not fully developed in employment
law. While there is no official data, child labour is clearly being used in the grey market and in
illegal or small businesses. The perpetrators receive only mild punishments, if any, so children
remain vulnerable to exploitation. Small children are often seen selling goods on the streets and in
open markets, washing car windscreens at traffic lights, or begging in the big malls. They are sent
out by their parents and are beaten up when caught by the police. Most of them are of Roma
No adequate professional institution is dealing with this issue, although a growing number of
NGOs are active in the field. However, the Ombudsman’s office is urging the Ministry for
Labour and Social Policy to pay more attention to it, to increase implementation of the already
existing provisions, and to draft a law guaranteeing proper treatment of street children. Family
Law provides Centres for Social Work with wide authority over parents’ rights, which are able to
teach parents that they do not have the right to abuse their children or use them inappropriately.
Implementation of the CRC
• Protection from the current economic situation – children should be unaffected by and
protected from the unfavourable economic situation. The government should allocate
additional funding for the implementation of existing laws, in line with Articles 2, 3, 6 and
especially 4 of the CRC.
• Social security should be increased so that children can realise their potential.
Government focus should be on the development of children as active, dignified human
beings, not merely on their survival.
• Equal access to healthcare should be guaranteed for all children.
• Opportunities for free expression – children should have appropriate opportunities to
express their opinions freely, and be given attention and respect.
• Gathering, analysing and publishing data – the state should investigate the situation
of children and take appropriate action on the basis of their findings.
Racial and Ethnic Discrimination
• Integration of Romas – the government should make efforts to increase the participation
of Romas in the economic, social, cultural and political life of the state, and to provide
equal opportunities for their employment, education and healthcare.
• School attendance for Romas and girls should be made a priority, and embodied in
education law.
• Multiculturalism within the school curriculum must be prioritised, to strengthen the ties
between the different ethnicities that live in Macedonia.
• An alternative approach to the “three-child policy” – the state must find an alternative
approach to birth control, with education of women about health, contraception, quality
care for children and children’s rights as part of it.
• Registration of new-born babies needs to increase.
• Prohibition of corporal punishment by law should occur, especially in schools.
• Protection from anti-social and xenophobic behaviour – mechanisms should be
developed (including staff training) to protect children in these circumstances.
Disabled Children
• Integration of disabled children – efforts should be made to this end by both
governmental institutions and NGOs. Save the Children supports the initiative of the
parents of children with cerebral paralysis and their support group, which has included the
establishment of an institution for providing proper care at an early age.
Street Children
• Education of parents – preventive action should be taken with parents who abuse their
children or look after them inappropriately. This should take the form of education about
children’s rights, parents’ rights and parental responsibilities.
Every child has the right to play with friends.
Detail from ‘We Have Rights Okay’
Review of Children’s Rights
Mauritius ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child in July 1990. The rights of
children are legally protected under the Constitution, the Civil Code, the Labour Act, the
Criminal Code and the Child Protection Act. The government, international agencies and
NGOs work together to promote children’s welfare, and a number of changes have been made to
the legislative framework for the growth and protection of children. All these amendments reflect
a growing commitment to the implementation of the CRC and other international instruments,
such as the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women.
Under the aegis of the Ministry of Women, Family Welfare and Child Development, several
units have been created – such as the National Children’s Council and the Child Development
Unit – to offer a wide range of services to children in difficulties. The Child Development Unit
has been decentralised and provides a 24-hour service for children in distress. Children in need of
immediate help are accommodated in shelters, where they may receive counselling and legal
support. Some voluntary organisations also assist children in difficult circumstances, for example
the Society for Aid and SOS Children’s Village as well as Save the Children.
Free education from pre-primary to tertiary levels was introduced in 1991 to provide
the same educational opportunities for all Mauritian children, and it is compulsory between the
ages of 5 to 12. Mauritius has signed the International Labour Office (ILO) Convention and has
set the minimum age for work at 15. To improve access to leisure, cultural and artistic activities,
children’s clubs have been set up in deprived areas by the Ministry of Women.
The Mauritian Criminal Code punishes all sexual activity with children, forbids the seduction of
minors and imposes penalties for pimps. A public information and awareness campaign has been
launched by the Ministry of Women, and a hotline to report prostitution cases has been set up.
A Child Watch Network has been established to ensure surveillance and detection of such illicit
However, there is still a long way to go before the CRC is fully implemented. The education
system discriminates against children from poor and economically vulnerable families (see section
on discrimination), and child labour remains a problem. About 150 cases of child labour are
reported each year, but the real number is much higher, and the Labour Act does not provide
adequate disincentives.
Child abuse, prostitution and abandonment are ongoing problems. An alarming number of
children still suffer abuse from frustrated, stressed or alcoholic parents. Abandoned children are
often channelled into rehabilitation centres where they frequently develop delinquent tendencies.
There are not enough shelters and homes to deal with the issue, but adoption laws are stringent
and debar Mauritian couples from applying. A study on child prostitution has been carried out in
the last year but the findings, which are apparently alarming, are not generally available.
The government has a Master Plan for healthcare, but it needs tightening and upgrading,
especially in the areas of staff training and neo-natal wards. Information, Education and
Communication (IEC) campaigns are essential to help men and women understand childcare,
antenatal and postnatal care. There has been an increase in low birth-weight babies, and the risk
of disability in children is increasing. Further training for day care workers could enable early
detection of disabilities.
The current legislation for young offenders has not yet been revised, and the government failed to
bring the Juvenile Offender Act in line with the Convention when it passed the Child Protection
Act. In Mauritius there is no juvenile court and magistrates have no specialised training in dealing
with young offenders.
The Principle of Non-Discrimination
As a signatory to the Convention of the Rights of the Child, Mauritius is strongly committed
to the protection and welfare of children. Sections 3 and 16 of the Constitution prevent
discrimination on the grounds of race, caste, place of origin, political opinion, colour, creed
and sex. In theory, this should ensure the survival and protection of multiculturalism on
the island.
Racial and Ethnic Discrimination
Mauritius has a diverse ethnic, cultural, linguistic and religious population, largely the result of
the importation of labour during the French and British colonial periods. There are four main
ethnic groups: Hindu, Muslims, Chinese and Franco-Mauritians/Creole.
• The dominant group, the Hindus, are the descendants of contract labourers. The Hindu
community is complex and not at all homogeneous, being subdivided along caste, religious
and linguistic lines.
• The Muslim community makes up around 16 per cent of the total population and is
religiously and culturally well organised. The majority are Sunni, and are the descendants
of Urdu-speaking Indian labourers. However, they prefer to be referred to as Muslims
rather than Indians or Mauritians.
• The Chinese are numerically weak but economically stronger.
• The “general population” comprises those of European, African and mixed origins. The
general population forms a category of its own, but is far from being uniform and is highly
stratified in terms of social class, wealth and status. There are enormous disparities between
Franco-Mauritians and Creoles.
Class divisions exist side by side with other types of divisions. It is generally argued that Mauritian
society is divided vertically into classes and horizontally into ethnic, linguistic and religious
groups, some of which are further divided into castes and sub-castes.
A lack of research and data makes it difficult to identify racial discrimination against children.
Availability of statistics would significantly improve the development of policy.
Mauritius has often been praised for its harmonious inter-racial relationships despite its ethnic
fragmentation. However, class and/or ethnic tensions are on the increase. The underlying causes
appear to be economic deprivation, and consequent exclusion. These happen to be communityspecific, thus giving them ethnic connotations. The main minority group are working-class
Creoles, pejoratively called ‘Ti-Creoles’ (small Creoles), the descendants of slaves, who are not
keeping up with the rapid economic and social development of the country. The new labour and
professional skills required are difficult for Creoles to access, because of their underprivileged
position in terms of education, employment and housing facilities. This has led to the
development of the “Malaise Creole” syndrome: Creoles feel victimised and disadvantaged, and
that they do not receive enough support from the state. Exclusion does affect other communities
(apart from the traditional ruling class), but to a lesser extent. These other ethnic groups argue
that Creoles are responsible for their own plight, that they do not have the habit of saving and
that they have developed a culture of dependency. In fact, discrimination against Creoles has
historical origins going back to the colonial period. Unlike other groups, they have no true
economic or cultural roots of their own. Since they were uprooted from diverse parts of Africa,
they cannot retrieve any solid cultural landmarks on which to base their identity. They share no
common ethnic background, have formed no genuine ties to any nation and claim no “ancestral”
The education system is at the heart of much of the racial and cultural discrimination against
children in Mauritius. This manifests itself in many ways – in education policy, individuals’ and
teachers’ behaviour, and lack of infrastructure in deprived regions, among others.
One of the main problems is the Certificate for Primary Education, which pupils have to pass to
continue their education. Failing has long-term implications for a child’s prospects. Of the 40 per
cent of the 30,000 students who take the CPE and fail each year, only a small proportion go on
to basic pre-vocational or technical schools. The rest simply drop out. Over 6,000 children are
left without a future; even of those who pass, only 4,000 are admitted to the best schools. Private
tuition after school hours has become a deep-seated problem, with primary school teachers
offering after-school tuition to their best pupils and ignoring others. There are private institutions,
such as some Catholic schools, that help children who fail the CPE, but they lack the financial
support necessary to cope with the demand.
The Master Plan of 1991 agreed that improving standards in the “low-achieving schools” (those
with a pass rate of less than 30 per cent) was a matter of urgency. It also recognised that these
schools reflect the social problems of their localities. (The lowest pass rates occur in the most
deprived regions of the country, whose main inhabitants are Creoles.) Several measures were
introduced, but many primary schools still remain low achievers. The government has recently
decided to set up the ZEP (Zone d’Education Prioritaire), targeting 45 low-achieving schools.
Special attention is to be given to teacher training and the provision of additional resources.
Since safety nets and remedial support for dropouts are lacking, a nine-year schooling system has
been proposed, but has not yet been implemented. This would largely solve the dropout problem
by filling in the “waiting time” between school and entry into the labour market – the age at
which most delinquency occurs.
Lack of specialised teacher training is another major problem. Although many teachers in poorer
regions are aware that children may come from broken homes and are often underfed and
overworked at home, they do not know how to help them. Teachers have high expectations of
parents, but poorer parents are in no position to provide support and help for their children.
Furthermore, teachers contribute to these children’s low self-image by labelling them as stupid.
Studies reveal that teachers see Creoles, and sometimes Asians, as stupid, demotivated and not
worth bothering with.
A third significant area of discrimination is that of language. The education system demands
competence in the European colonial languages, English and French. Those who command a
European language are able to enter the professional sector and the modern business world; those
who do not, cannot. The problem has a number of facets. It is the poorer children who do not
speak European languages, and the means to teach them is often lacking in schools. Moreover,
the system fails to recognise that students with different cultural backgrounds respond differently
when cast in the same educational mould. It is difficult for a child from the lower socio-economic
group to make academic progress while trying to adapt to what may be an alien environment and
language. Creole, which everyone speaks and which provides a certain commonality, has no
official status and has for a long time been considered to pollute the other languages; and there is
resistance to its promotion as a national language. This may be because it is largely oral, but it
may have stayed oral because it was never given enough consideration. It continues to be rejected
as an academic language, even though language experts describe it as perfectly suitable.
Other Issues
Mauritius has a good distribution of healthcare services with twelve hospitals and about
twenty-six health centres and dispensaries which have been set up across the island. Each hospital
has a paediatric service, but there is still room for improvement and there are no specialised wards
for disabled children. Health services are free and accessible to all, but the level of service is low.
There are many well-equipped private clinics but they are expensive. Only the upper and middle
classes have recourse to these services, demonstrating the inequality in the system.
Nutrition is a problem in some areas. Undernourished children have been found in families
with an almost illiterate mother, or in which the parents are manual and Export Processing
Zone workers.
There is little scope for physically disabled children to enter mainstream life. There are a few
specialised institutions, but these are private; the fees and entry criteria debar the poorest from
The Government has created the Ministry of Sports and Leisure, and the Ministry of Arts,
Culture and Youth Development to cater for leisure and culture. Several NGOs are active in
this field, and institutions such as the African Cultural Centre, the Islamic Cultural Centre, the
Francois Mitterand Conservatoire de Musique, and the Chinese Cultural Centre all provide
valuable resources for different ethnic groups. However, accessibility to these institutions
remains the preserve of the middle and upper classes.
Academic performance, being so competitive, is often achieved at the expense of children’s
“right to leisure, play and participation in cultural and artistic activities” (Article 31 of the CRC).
Lack of leisure and sports infrastructure in deprived areas very often leads to delinquency,
alcoholism and association with drug dealers, as well as prostitution among adolescent girls;
problems most prevalent among the Creoles.
Implementation of the CRC
• Adoption of a multi-disciplinary policy perspective by the government.
• Campaigns at primary school level and in children’s clubs to give children a better
understanding of their rights and of the Protection Act.
• Research to assess children’s issues and provide concrete data, so the issues can be
addressed more professionally.
• Tougher sanctions against all forms of child abuse.
• Combat of child labour – the labour inspectorate should be better equipped to combat
child exploitation, and the government should provide social support for poor families to
discourage child labour.
• Sex education should be included in the school curriculum.
• Reform of the law and procedures concerning young delinquents.
• Greater emphasis on rehabilitation for young offenders, through reforms and aftercare
Racial and Ethnic Discrimination
• Promotion of multicultural education – every student should be given the opportunity
to learn about his own culture at school, and all children should be exposed to the different
cultural traditions in Mauritian society to promote respect, tolerance and intercultural
• Addressing the problem of the CPE – the problem of children who fail the CPE must
be addressed, with trained teachers helping children who have difficulty coping with their
academic assignments.
• Better facilities for slow learners and children with learning difficulties – Special
support units, counselling services and school social workers should be provided for these
groups, especially in deprived areas, and also for children with problems at home.
• A relevant school curriculum should be provided for all children, irrespective of colour,
creed, race or disability, along with vocational training.
• Codification of Mauritian Creole and Bhojpuri needs implementing to help eliminate
the language barrier.
• Social security for low-income families should be provided so that their children can
be educated.
• Youth clubs and sports for school dropouts need setting up.
Other Issues
• Visits to day care centres and pre-primary schools need to be carried out on a periodic
basis by health services.
• Better training and facilities for disabled children should be provided to decrease their
• Leisure activities for poorer children should be given more time and resources.
Review of Children’s Rights
Mexico signed the CRC in 1989, and in the past year, positive progress has been made towards
implementing it. On 29 February 2000, the Senate approved an amendment to Article 4 of the
Mexican Constitution, which states that:
“Children (boys and girls) have the right to satisfy their needs in nutrition, health, education, and
recreation for their own integral development. Parents, guardians and custodians have the obligation to
preserve these rights. The State will provide the necessary elements to propitiate respect for the dignity of
childhood and the exercise of their rights. The State will provide facilitation so that all may aid in the
realisation of the rights of the child.”
The amendment comes as an achievement for Save the Children and the 89 other NGOs
working together for legislative change in favour of children’s rights. Each of the 32 Mexican
states must now adopt similar amendments individually, so NGOs and legislators need to work
together to make the law as effective as possible in each state. In the Federal District (Mexico
City), the law has already been passed with the participation of the NGO coalition.
The past year has seen two other significant efforts to raise children’s profile. On 2 July 2000
the Federal Elections Institute (IFE) included children in the national elections by setting up
a Children and Youth Consultation, with 15,000 ballot boxes in various parts of the country.
Children and young people were asked for their opinions on education, healthcare and other
issues, and the results will be published within the year. Also, the Children’s Political Agenda
was drafted, sponsored by Save the Children Mexico and UNICEF. Children from different
parts of the country helped to create a needs agenda, expressing their opinions on issues
important to them. Both these efforts will bring much-needed attention to the rights and
needs of children in Mexico.
However, Mexico still has a long way to go before it is fully in line with the CRC.
The amendment to Article 4 commits the state to very little concrete action. Whereas the
CRC safeguards the right to health services, Article 4 only guarantees the right to health.
Article 28 of the CRC guarantees the right to compulsory and free primary education, and
the development of different forms of secondary education, while the Mexican law refers only
to the values and objectives of education. There is no mention of resources, or exactly how
the state will assist.
The Principle of Non-Discrimination
Mexico is a country of enormous diversity. In 1995, the 68 indigenous groups represented 11 per
cent of a total population of 91,158,290. The majority of Mexico’s population identifies itself as
mestizo, of mixed European and indigenous heritage, and a small percentage as white or other.
Children and young people under 19 make up 52 per cent of the indigenous population, a figure
that is likely to increase – the annual growth rate among these groups is 2.7 per cent, compared
to 2 per cent in the population at large. The central and southern states of Chiapas, Oaxaca,
Guerrero, Hidalgo, Yucatán, Campeche, Veracruz, and San Luis Potos’ are home to 80 per cent
of indigenous people; smaller groups live in Chihuahua, Durango, and Nayarit, but all states have
some inhabitants who identify themselves as indigenous.
Racial and Ethnic Discrimination
Ever since the Spanish colonial period, the indigenous people have been exploited; indigenous
groups have suffered from the confiscation of lands, and from attempts to integrate them into the
wider community (well intentioned or otherwise). This has resulted in a decrease in selfsustainability, in erosion of culture, and in loss of dignity. Furthermore, low levels of government
spending over the past 50 years have worsened the extreme poverty, malnutrition, and poor
quality of education experienced in indigenous communities, particularly in southern states. Even
in more developed states, the indigenous people are as poor as their counterparts in the south. For
example, in Chihuahua, where the general population has comparatively low levels of
marginalisation, the Tarahumara live at the same level of poverty as the Maya of Chiapas.
Discrimination against indigenous groups has caused many armed conflicts since colonisation.
Armed groups operate in several regions, the most well known being the EZLN (Zapatista
National Liberation Army) in Chiapas. Since its first demonstration of 1 January 1994, the
EZLN has waged an internationally recognised battle for indigenous rights. However, efforts to
reform Articles 4, 18, 26, 53, 73, 115 and 116 to give indigenous groups greater protection
against discrimination have been stalled. On 16 February 1996, the EZLN and the government
signed the San Andres Accords, a working document outlining general agreements to be finalised
through further talks. Attempts to finalise the agreement have failed. The EZLN has reiterated its
willingness to continue talks, while the government has responded by increasing the number of
patrols in the conflict zone. The conflict in Chiapas has cost thousands of lives, and there is
substantial evidence of child soldiers being used on both sides.
Save the Children Mexico includes racial and ethnic discrimination awareness training for
children at all its regional offices. Our work with indigenous populations focuses on rescuing
traditional relationships with the land, reinforcing family life, and emphasising the rights of
the child.
The right to education
The Mexican government is obliged to offer free primary and secondary education (a total of 9
years) to all children. In rural and indigenous areas, however, an adequate standard of education
and accessibility to it are often lacking. Federal regulation prohibits flexibility in the school
calendar to adapt to agricultural needs, and the uniform national curriculum ignores the reality
and needs of rural and indigenous children.
In 1990, more than 40 per cent of indigenous people over the age of 15 could not read or write.
This compares to only 10 per cent illiteracy among the general population. Some improvements
have been made in recent years; the government provides free text books in 47 indigenous
languages for the first four grades of primary school. However, bilingual/bicultural education is
still deficient, with poorly trained teachers (who give priority to Spanish language teaching), lack
of adequate teaching materials, and competing educational philosophies. In the 1995/96 school
year, there were 40,000 trained bilingual teachers attending to 930,000 indigenous children in
grades 1-6, which means that of more than 1,400,000 school age indigenous children, at least
470,000 remain without the necessary services.
The right to health and healthcare
As with education, access to health services is significantly inferior among the indigenous peoples,
despite the government’s legal obligation to provide comprehensive health services for the entire
population. Mortality rates among indigenous children are high, particularly among children
under 5, with a rate of 26 per cent compared to 20 per cent in the general population. The causes
are associated with poverty: malnutrition, infectious diseases, intestinal infections and cholera.
Malnutrition is the sixth leading cause of death among indigenous Mexicans, compared to
eleventh in Mexican society as a whole. More than half of indigenous children are malnourished.
There are an estimated 79.3 hospital beds and 96.3 doctors per 100,000 people on a national
level, but in areas with a 40 per cent or higher indigenous population, the proportion drops to
8.3 hospital beds and 13.8 doctors per 100,000.
Experimental programmes are under way to combine traditional indigenous treatments with
modern Western medicine. These programmes are helping to legitimise traditional practices
among the medical profession, and western medicine in the eyes of the indigenous, but they
remain small-scale projects serving few communities.
Other Issues
The situation for Mexican women and girls has improved enormously over the last 20 years,
as a result of changes in the law, improved access to services, and expanded job opportunities.
The National Women’s Commission was created in 1994 as the federal government body in
charge of promoting gender equality. Each state also has a Women’s Commission with the
same purpose. The national commission solicits NGO participation and expertise, and facilitates
government funding for NGO projects. However, women are still barred from full societal
participation and equality in many respects: access to education, certain types of employment,
income, and social status remain below that of men and boys, and more so for indigenous
women and girls. Although girls are included in the category of women, no attention is given
to their specific needs.
Each regional Save the Children office has various projects aimed at women and girls. In Sonora,
women in marginal communities are encouraged to form communal banks and learn basic
business skills. The regional office in Guanajuato provides gender and discrimination training
to community groups, local government agencies and NGOs. The Mothers as Educators
programme in Mexico City trains mothers of young children in early childhood development
and education, and also teaches mothers from marginal communities skills such as leadership,
conflict resolution, and empowerment.
Several states have implemented laws protecting women and children against family violence,
imposing penalties on men convicted of physical abuse. The Federal District recently enacted a
civil code regulating child support for children of divorced parents. Fathers are now obliged to
take responsibility for their children, whether they are working or not. But laws remain
protectionist and paternalistic; they provide only protection, not equality.
The right to education
Women in Mexican society are traditionally assigned the role of homemaker, so formal education
is not seen as necessary, or even desirable. However, there are signs of change; for younger
children, access to education is more equitable for girls and boys than in previous generations.
In 1995, 91.4 per cent of primary school age girls and 92.9 per cent of boys attended school.
Between the ages of 15 and 19, the difference was slightly greater – 40.9 per cent for girls and
42.9 per cent for boys.
In higher education, the difference becomes more striking. Of people with a university degree,
36 per cent are women and 64 per cent men. This disparity may be explained by cultural norms
in which women stay at home, while men have the responsibility of economically sustaining the
family. Girls are more inclined to study shorter technical degrees, such as nursing and secretarial
training, which allow them to work as well as fulfil their socially assigned role (54 per cent of
those with a technical education are girls, compared to 46 per cent boys.)
For indigenous children, the gender difference in school attendance is much greater. Girls of all
ages, with the exception of pre-school girls, have significantly lower attendance levels than boys.
Only 40.6 per cent of 14-year-old girls attend, compared to 58.2 per cent of boys. Again, this
is due in part to girls’ traditional role in the home. Girls from large families often have to
abandon their studies to care for younger siblings. Lack of education is most detrimental to
the 20.3 per cent of indigenous women who are monolingual, speaking only their indigenous
language. These women are statistically the most marginalised, as they are unable to act on their
own behalf in society at large.
The right to health and healthcare
There is little information available to compare health among children on the basis of gender.
It is believed, however, that socio-cultural factors cause higher rates of malnutrition amongst girls
than boys. Traditionally, men and boys eat first at mealtimes, to give them the strength to work
and earn a living for the family. Women eat next, then finally girls, as it is assumed that their
work in the home is less demanding. This naturally places girls at higher risk of malnutrition.
Sexual and reproductive healthcare for women has received more attention over the last decade.
Government and NGO programmes, stressing the importance of family planning, prenatal care
and breast-feeding, are helping to improve maternal and infant health. The average number of
births per mother was 2.9 in 1995, down from 3.6 in 1988 and a high of 7 in 1970, due in part
to education and the increased availability of contraceptives. For adolescents, however, the topic
is still more or less ignored. Sex education has been introduced as part of the national curriculum
for grades 5 and 6, but many schools still neglect it.
The right to play
An obvious area of discrimination against girls is their access to recreation. Traditional Mexican
society allows boys to play outdoors, while girls are expected to stay in the home and help out
with domestic chores and childrearing. A double standard exists that hinders girls from freely
expressing themselves in ways that boys are permitted to do. Girls learn from an early age that
their role is to serve others, and that their own needs should come last. The result of this
discrimination is psychological as well as physical, relegating girls and women to a culturally
accepted status of inferiority.
Racial and Ethnic Discrimination
• Anti-discrimination coalitions between government agencies and NGOs – the
government and NGOs must co-operate to reduce discrimination. Coalitions of this
sort should focus on the needs and rights of children.
• Implementation of Article 4 of the Mexican Constitution, which recognises the
existence and rights of the indigenous population. The government should do more
to reinforce indigenous people’s cultural respect and dignity.
• Stronger measures to end discrimination against indigenous children. In particular,
government and NGOs should ensure that indigenous girls receive formal education.
• Negotiation rather than force – the government must open itself up to negotiations
with groups working for indigenous rights, rather than use force. It should work with
national and international NGOs to end the conflicts in Chiapas and other states.
• Bilingual/bicultural teacher training and culturally appropriate teaching materials
should be improved and made available to more schools, to redress the disparities in
• Recognition of informal education – the educational system should do more
to recognise and strengthen the informal education provided in the homes of
indigenous families.
• Government prioritisation of healthcare in indigenous communities – the number
of clinics and doctors should be increased, and a higher priority be given to experimental
programmes bridging traditional and western medicine.
• Improved health education programmes in indigenous areas – these should have an
emphasis on nutrition, sanitation, and prevention of infectious diseases.
• Equal opportunities for girls in Mexican society – the government and NGOs
need to increase their efforts to change perceptions of gender inferiority. Girls must
be encouraged to seek leadership roles, and society must open the doors for them to
achieve leadership positions.
• Extension of successful anti-discrimination programmes – more communities would
benefit from this work by various NGOs, particularly in rural areas. These programmes
should increase their focus on girls.
• Prioritisation of protection against sexual abuse by government agencies and NGOs.
Efforts must be made to increase societal recognition that rape and incest are serious
• Recreation for girls – teachers, doctors, and others involved in child development
must stress the importance of recreation for girls. Girls should be encouraged to play
and express themselves as much as boys.
Review of Children’s Rights
The Netherlands ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) in 1995.
Since then, the government has made efforts to ensure that the CRC is widely disseminated
among the general public, and that Dutch legislation meets with its provisions. The first report to
the UN Committee for the Rights of the Child was submitted in May 1997.
On 8 June 1999, a delegation of the Children’s Rights Collective (KRC), the Dutch coalition of
children’s rights organisations, met with the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child prior to
the Committee making its recommendations. In the course of these talks, the KRC (of which
Save the Children Netherlands and Defence for Children International are members) presented
its report, “Children’s rights as a mirror of Dutch society: NGO report on the implementation of the
CRC ”. The four main issues presented by the KRC were as follows:
• The situation of refuge children and children without an official status or residence permit.
The KRC recommended that the Dutch government include the care of unaccompanied
juvenile asylum seekers in the new Law on Youth Care, and that the government should
treat refugee minors as children first and foremost, rather than as foreigners.
• Child maltreatment and youth relief programmes. It was recommended that legislation
be passed asserting children’s rights to appropriate care.
• Information on children’s rights. The KRC feels that this is not at an adequate level
and that a wide range of courses should be made available for all professionals working
with children.
• Children’s rights and international co-operation.
The Committee also talked with four young people who presented their own report. These
young people advocated the introduction of a children’s rights counsellor in every school in the
Netherlands; the setting up of a national youth parliament; improved accessibility to youth care
and relief programmes; and that maltreatment of children and child pornography should be
combated more vigorously.
Following this, on 4 and 5 October 1999, the Committee met with a delegation of the Dutch
government. The Committee’s most important recommendations were that:
• Information concerning children’s rights in the Netherlands should be more readily
available and disseminated.
• A national co-ordinating body should be set up to check implementation of the
Convention, possibly under the auspices of a Children’s Ombudsman.
• Human rights education and children’s rights education should be included in elementary
school curricula. Teachers should be trained how to discuss these matters with children and
to incorporate children’s opinions when decision-making.
• Government reports to the Committee should be compiled in consultation with young
people, and should always be translated into Dutch.
• The principle of youth participation should be taken seriously. This could be facilitated by
the establishment of a youth parliament and by ensuring greater youth representation on
local councils.
• There should be regular scheduled meetings between government and NGOs.
• Youth care waiting lists should be eliminated.
• The Dutch authorities should intensify their efforts to discourage “traditional” practices
such as the circumcision of girls.
• Asylum and refugee procedures should be overhauled, in such a way that prioritises the
child’s best interests.
• Children of foreign origin should receive supplementary education, if possible in their own
• The Netherlands should abandon the double delinquency principle in relation to sexual
abuse of children by Dutch citizens (extraterritorial legislation).
• The age at which people can be recruited into the armed forces should be raised from 17
to 18.
The Principle of Non-Discrimination
The Dutch government is committed to and pursues an anti-discrimination policy. Every child
has equal rights and, in principle, equal access to facilities and services; it is therefore difficult to
identify clear examples of institutionalised and/or systematic discrimination. Despite this,
discrimination does exist, and many young people, when asked, feel they are discriminated
against in comparison to adults. Moreover, many children belonging to minority ethnic
communities find that they are often disadvantaged because of their background. One can
therefore speak of legal equality for children whilst de facto inequality persists.
Young people in the Netherlands, although well provided for, often have a justifiable sense of
being negatively treated solely because of their age. Studies of social perceptions have shown that
young people in the Netherlands are often stereotyped as lazy, apathetic, and lacking a sense of
responsibility; they are seen as rebellious, increasingly xenophobic, and as having criminal
tendencies. The same studies have shown that the reality is very different – children generally
work hard, are interested in and co-operate with society and are no worse that adults in terms of
crime or xenophobia.
The negative perception of children and youngsters seems to spring from a tendency by
researchers, policy-makers and others to concentrate on incidents and problems involving a
minority. Social scientists often tend to research only problematic behaviour, such as drug use,
delinquency and dropping out. The situation is not helped by the fact that government policy in
relation to juveniles is generally reactive, and aims to deal with problems as they arise rather than
the overall situation.
Racial and Ethnic Discrimination
The Netherlands is a multicultural society and there are seven recognised population groups.
Most people of foreign origin either migrated from former colonies or were brought to the
country after the Second World War as labourers from the Mediterranean area. The largest
groups comprise people from Turkey, Morocco, Surinam and the Antilles. The generally poorer
socio-economic position of all these minority groups is a matter of current discussion, as is their
level of integration; however, discussion tends to focus not so much on discrimination as on
whether these groups are being given adequate opportunities to reach the same social level as
the majority.
Many children from ethnic minorities find themselves disadvantaged in comparison to their
Dutch peers. The skills of school-age children of foreign origin at the start of primary education
are far less developed than those of Dutch children, limiting their chances to progress in Dutch
society right from the start. Only to a very limited degree are primary schools successful in
redressing this disadvantage, and as a result most children of foreign origin are two years behind
their peers at the end of primary school. They often receive secondary-education advice that is
either pitched beyond or beneath their abilities. A disproportionate number of these children
leave school without a certificate.
There are various initiatives in place to try to improve the situation. It is now possible for children
of foreign descent to receive supplementary language lessons in their native language as part of
their regular primary school curriculum under the OALT (Education in Native Language)
Programme, the aim being to enable these children to keep in touch with their own cultural
background. The OALT programme is now obligatory in more than 200 municipalities, but its
implementation is not adequately monitored as yet.
The government is also supplying funds for additional facilities to primary schools with large
numbers of children of foreign origin, but it is too early to assess the impact of these resources.
Schools in areas with high number of immigrants tend to find it difficult to attract the best staff,
and so schools in these areas are not as good as they might be.
In addition to the evolution of a multicultural society in the Netherlands, it is important to
recognise that society is also divided in terms of status. Some communities are greatly advantaged
with access to all facilities and services in the country while other groups have limited access to
these resources or at worst suffer complete social and economic exclusion. This cuts across the
issue of ethnicity to some extent, as the children of Japanese workers, for example, may have
access to the very best of resources; whereas children of illegal sex workers have little or no status.
Children of illegal immigrants or asylum seekers may not have a legally recognised status and will
be denied access to all services.
In 1999 Defence for Children International completed an investigation into the position of such
children and found that the nature of their residency status affected them in a number of ways.
For instance, some children do not have adequate healthcare because their parents are unable to
insure against medical expenses and are unable to pay for medical treatment. Other children do
not go to school because their parents fear that the family’s residency status will become known.
Similarly, young people cannot undertake vocational training if they do not have legal residence
status; they cannot further their education because they are unable to pay the fees and are
ineligible for study grants. For children without an official status, it is often not until adolescence
that they realise that this means they have little or no future in the Netherlands. By that time
many have lost contact with their country and culture of origin, and are left with a very
disenfranchised view of the society in which they live.
Other Issues
Bullying is a growing area of concern for children and young people in the Netherlands. As a
form of discrimination, exercised by children against each other, it has a far-reaching impact on
all groups of children, causing both mental and physical suffering. As many as 60 per cent of all
children at elementary schools report being bullied at some time, and 8 per cent of this group is
bullied at least once a week. Studies carried out in 1997 show that bullying is as prevalent in
secondary school, where 40 per cent of children are being bullied. Many pupils (64 per cent in
elementary schools and 90 per cent in secondary schools) are so intimidated that they do not dare
tell their parents that they are victims of bullying.
A survey commissioned in October 1999 by the Ministry of Education among a representative
group of 354 school directors and 112 elementary school teachers revealed the following:
• Four out of ten teachers have observed serious forms of bullying in their classes.
• There are more bullies than victims; this indicates that bullying takes place in groups.
• According to teachers, about 7 out of 100 children are guilty of serious bullying.
Children with a disability of some sort or those that are chronically sick are the victims of
bullying more often than healthy children with no disability (10.8 per cent compared to 2.2 per
cent). Disabled and chronically sick children are more vulnerable and often more isolated as a
result of their condition. They are prone to feeling lonely, being called names and being
threatened on the basis of their difference. This affects them emotionally, creating anxiety and
social fear; as social fear itself is closely associated with the extent to which a child is bullied, it
follows that their fear actually increases the likelihood of this happening.
It is clear that if schools do not actively combat bullying, disabled and sick children are at greater
risk. Evidence also shows that some disabled children have chosen to go to “mytyl ” schools
(specialist schools for disabled and chronically sick children) merely to escape bullying. Many
children who have made the switch have a negative perception of their former schools, and about
10 per cent of these children clearly indicate that bullying was the reason for their move.
In 1997 the Dutch government launched a campaign to fight bullying. Through a process
of consultation the National School Protocol Against Bullying was drawn up. By signing the
protocol a school is committed to co-operating with parents and teachers, and to finding
appropriate and adequate measures to address the problem of bullying. A recent study by the
Ministry of Education showed that nearly 70 per cent of all schools now have some form
of anti-bullying policy. So far, however, it is difficult to assess their effectiveness, and the
persistent level of complaints indicates that bullying continues to have an impact on too many
children’s lives.
In 1998, the School Quality Act came into effect. This makes it compulsory for each school to
have an independent complaints committee. This committee can receive complaints about the
lack of anti-bullying provisions, but so far no such complaints have been received.
Other anti-bullying resources in place include:
• A free children’s helpline that children can phone for advice;
• A family education helpline that parents can call;
• Free help and advice from the school education information service.
Implementation of the CRC
• Implementation of the recommendations made by the UN Committee on the Rights
of the Child should be carried out as extensively and as soon as possible.
Racial and Ethnic Discrimination
• Government funding – further resources are needed to enable children of foreign origin to
keep up with the educational level of their peers.
• Financial incentives and status-improving measures to attract teachers are needed in
schools with mainly minority ethnic children, to combat the problem of understaffing.
• Monitoring of the OALT programme – this programme needs further implementation
and a higher degree of supervision.
• Action in favour of refugee/asylum seeking children – these children need to be treated
first and foremost as vulnerable minors rather than foreigners, and their best interests must
be taken into account.
• Anti-bullying policies should be made compulsory in schools.
• Strengthening of legal position for victims of bullying – schools’ legal responsibility for
bullying must be defined. Legislation should be passed to place bullying on the same level
as maltreatment and improper sexual acts, thereby recognising it is a crime.
• Independent counsellor/medical examiner in each school – although 94 per cent of
schools already have someone in this position, the remaining 6 per cent should appoint
one. This person should lodge complaints by parents or children concerning bullying (and
the policies to deal with it) with the complaints committee.
• Sanctions against bullying and bullies in school rules – these rules should be drawn up
in consultation with the pupils.
• Creation of a safe and confident atmosphere in class by teachers – giving assignments
on bullying and on proper association with classmates – perhaps initiated by group
conversations and role-playing.
• Training for teachers, school governors and school inspectors to spot bullying more
easily and to understand how to combat it.
• Assertiveness training for disabled children – these children need to become as selfreliant as possible.
• Awareness raising in schools – disability/chronic illness should be discussed regularly in
schools. Pupils’ talks on the subject, informative videos and educational programmes for
teachers could facilitate the process.
New Zealand
Review of Children’s Rights
The government of New Zealand ratified the United Nations Convention on the Rights
of the Child on 13 March 1993. Children under the age of 15 make up 23 per cent of
the population – about one million people.
Since the mid-1980s New Zealand governments have undertaken policies of “economic
rationalism” – policies that feature what has become the economic orthodoxy of most of
the world. One of the effects of these policies has been the widening of the gap between
rich and poor. The pressures of economic globalisation have played their part, but as the
Committee on the Rights of the Child noted in 1997:
The committee is concerned that the extensive economic reform process undertaken in
New Zealand since the mid-1980s has affected the budgetary resources available for support
services for children and their families and that all necessary measures to ensure the enjoyment
by children of their economic, social and cultural rights to the maximum extent of the State’s
resources have not been undertaken.
There is no sophisticated data concerning the reforms mentioned, but Save the Children
New Zealand considers these policies to have contributed significantly to the growth of
relative and absolute poverty. Particularly affected are families who were already at the
lower end of the socio-economic scale, especially Maori and Pacific Island families.
The government completed its First Report on time, and is currently completing its First
Periodic Report. Amongst the many positive observations in this report there are some
criticisms and briefly these are:
• The government failed to undertake a comprehensive review of laws, policies and
practices to identify any areas that did not comply with the CRC. Neither has it
incorporated the CRC into New Zealand domestic law, or set up an effective internal
process to monitor new laws and policies to ensure compliance with the CRC.
• The government has failed to set up an independent body to monitor compliance with
the CRC, either within or outside of government.
• New Zealand entered three reservations to the CRC – on immigration status, child
labour and the detention of juveniles and adults in the same institution. Although
there is a strong case for these to be withdrawn, at the time of writing the government
has not even reconsidered them.
• The government has failed to extend the principles and the workings of the CRC
to Tokelau.
• There is little evidence of any determined effort to implement the changes recommended by
the Committee on the Rights of the Child in its observations made on 24 January 1997 on
New Zealand’s First Report. For example, no global policy or plan of action to implement the
principles of the CRC has been developed, although the present government has made a
commitment to developing a Children’s Policy.
On a more positive note the following observations were made:
• It has been decided that the next five-year report to the Committee will be “as frank as
possible”, as the first has been criticised by the NGO community as somewhat selective and
• The courts have frequently referred to the CRC in reaching decisions affecting children.
• The Commissioner for Children is likely to be given greater powers and his position in
relation to the CRC formalised.
• The Ministry of Youth Affairs has consistently and effectively argued for other government
agencies to change their policies and practices to conform to the CRC.
• Many NGOs have adopted the CRC as a guide to formulating policy.
The Principle of Non-Discrimination
The Human Rights Act 1993 makes it unlawful to discriminate against any person on the
grounds of race, religion, ethnic origin, political opinion or philosophical belief, sex (including
pregnancy, breastfeeding or sexual orientation) disability, health status, and age if the person
discriminated against is over 16. It is also unlawful to discriminate against people in the areas of
education, employment, and in terms of access to goods and services.
However, the anti-discrimination laws do not currently apply to the actions of government
departments, which are covered by specific statutory provisions. This is currently being reviewed.
The laws do not prohibit positive discrimination, and there are various other exceptions and
The Human Rights Commission (and other complaint-handling bodies such as the
Ombudsmen, Police Complaints Authority, Privacy Commissioner) can receive complaints
which fall within their jurisdiction from any person, regardless of age.
Racial and Ethnic Discrimination
New Zealand is made up of people from a wide range of racial groups and cultural traditions.
There are significant numbers of Maori children (24.5 per cent) and children of Pacific Island
origin (34 per cent). Pacific Island people are drawn to New Zealand by work opportunities,
higher wages, educational opportunities and health facilities, and include people from Raratonga,
New Zealand
Samoa, Tonga, Fiji, Niue, and Tokelau. Asian people have been present in New Zealand from
the beginnings of European settlement, although as a result of changes in immigration policy,
there has been a large additional influx of Asian people over the last 20 years.
It is difficult to provide concrete examples of systematic discrimination against the Maori and
Pacific Island people. However in many areas these groups are at a disadvantage – they are
passively discriminated against in a very real way.
Maori infants have an infant mortality rate that is one and half times higher than that of the
general population. Pacific children have much higher rates of hospitalisation for pneumonia and
bronchial illnesses, meningococcal disease and acute rheumatic fever. Rates are also higher for
these diseases among Maoris. Pacific and Maori children exhibit high rates of hearing loss, mainly
from “glue ear”, compared to the population in general.
Fewer Maori and Pacific Island children take part in early childhood education than children
from other groups; they also achieve less well throughout school and are more likely to leave early.
School exclusions show a significant bias against Maoris – while they make up only 29 per cent of
the school population, they constitute 40 to 46 per cent of students who are excluded.
The generally poor socio-economic situation of Maori and Pacific Island people undoubtedly has
a big impact on their children. It is estimated that 45 per cent of Pacific children are in the lowest
10 per cent of households with the lowest income, and Maori and Pacific Island children are far
more likely to be living in one-parent families and/or large families. Housing statistics show that
42 per cent of Pacific children live in households with more than one family, 50 per cent live in a
house with more than six people, and 55.9 per cent live in rented accommodation. Household
income for Maori families is $10,000 per annum less than for other families; 80 per cent of
Pacific people earn less than $20,000 per annum, and their unemployment rate is double the
national average at 14.5 per cent. Unemployment amongst young Maoris is also double that of
other New Zealanders.
Youth suicide rates in New Zealand are in general very high at 22 per 100,000, but for Maori
people it is more than double this at 56 per 100,000, and these rates continue to increase. New
Zealand also has the highest rate of road deaths in the OECD for people aged 15-24, and the
Maori rate is three times the national figure.
Government response
The present government has set in place a Closing the Gaps strategy designed to improve health,
education and social prospects for young Maori and Pacific Island people. The Minister of Social
Services has stated that “Children are the responsibility of the whole community and we need to
nurture and look after them”. The government has made it clear that any government initiatives
will be made in partnership with Maori and Pacific Island cultural groups.
Other Issues
Over the last twenty years there has been a growing divide in New Zealand between rich and
poor. Figures released by the Treasury at the end of 1999 suggest that the gap between rich and
poor continues to increase. It is estimated that 33 per cent of New Zealand children live in
poverty. As noted, Maori and Pacific Island children seem to be most affected by changes in
economic policies and priorities, but to a certain extent the effect crosses racial lines.
The introduction of market principles of choice and devolution in education from 1989 onwards
has had a big impact. While there is now a wider range of educational opportunities available
to children, schools are competing for students and this has resulted in considerable variations
in quality between schools. Better-off parents are able to transport their children to take
advantage of benefits at more distant schools, while student numbers and standards in schools
in economically deprived neighbourhoods have fallen. Parents are drawn to schools that they
believe will enhance the prospects of academic success for their children, and schools have
become less tolerant of student misbehaviour. As a result, students who are troublesome or
seen as non-achievers are being excluded from the education system. The number of
students excluded from government schools has continued to increase despite legal changes
intended to give them greater rights.
Schools are being forced to channel more of their resources into marketing and promotion
in order to attract good quality students; the alternative is to face reducing rolls and a spiral
of decline. In tertiary education, the introduction of “user pays” principles has reinforced
disadvantage, as children of low-income families cannot afford it. All of these trends are having
a very real impact on children from low-income families or those with disabilities, which are
not being addressed by additional support policies.
Children and young people are excluded from participation in decision-making in many areas
including the school, the home and the community, although innovative initiatives have been
taken by some local authorities, notably Christchurch and Waitakere, to listen to and involve
children and young people.
There is currently a Bill before Parliament that, if passed, would introduce new powers to
institutionalise children with an intellectual disability. This has been criticised by the Human
Rights Commission as turning the clock back to a time when large numbers of people with
disabilities were housed in asylums.
New Zealand
• Incorporation of the CRC into statute law by the New Zealand government.
• Review of all existing laws, policies and practices by the government to identify any
areas of non-compliance with the principles of the CRC.
• An independent body should be given the task of monitoring government compliance
with the CRC, and reviewing all new legislation and policy initiatives to assess their impact
on children.
• Review of the three reservations to the CRC should be undertaken by the government,
with a view to either removing or modifying them.
• Recommendations of the Committee on the Rights of the Child’s First Report – the
government should either implement these recommendations or give reasons why it is not
prepared to do so.
• Participation of children in decision-making at all levels should be encouraged, and
laws, policies and practices that deny participation should be amended.
• Code of Ethics – NGOs should incorporate the relevant principles of the CRC into a
Code of Ethics or Guidelines for Practice.
• Funding for an alternative NGO report should be supplied by the government.
• Complaints to the Human Rights Commission – the Human Rights Commission
and other complaints-handling bodies should be published providing information about
the number and nature of complaints received from children and their outcome. It should
then review their procedures to identify the barriers that are inhibiting children from
making use of their organisation.
• Statistics – the statistics department and other government departments should be
required to collect disaggregated statistics in respect of children under 18, and should
provide data by which the level of poverty in New Zealand can be measured against that in
other OECD countries.
• Consultation with children and community groups – the Ministry of Foreign Affairs
and Trade should be required to consult widely with children and community groups
before completing reports to international human rights agencies on matters affecting
• Amendment of the Human Right Act – children under 16 should be given the same
protection from age discrimination as adults.
• Extension of child protection and youth justice laws – these laws should be extended
to apply to 17-year-olds.
The way I would stop discrimination is
I would get people to think before they speak
because everyone is equal.
You’re not better than anyone even if
you think you are.
Samantha, age 9
Toronto, Canada
Review of Children’s Rights
Norway ratified the CRC on 8 January 1991, and in June 2000 the Norwegian government
received the Concluding Observations of the Committee on the Rights of the Child. Overall the
response was favourable and the Committee commended Norway for its overall progress in
implementing the CRC, but some criticisms and suggestions were made, most of which were
based on recommendations made by Save the Children Norway and other members of the
CRC forum. Briefly summarised, they include the following:
• The Committee recommends the completion of the process of incorporating the principles
and provisions of the CRC into domestic legislation.
• Children’s views are “insufficiently heard and taken into consideration”, and children are
not sufficiently aware of their rights or of the opportunities that exist for their expression.
• The disparity in provisions for children in different municipalities is worrying, and efforts
need to be made to ensure equal standards, equal access to resources and equal rights in
all parts of the country.
• The Committee expressed concern about the “long waiting lists and delayed access to
mental health services and professionals for children because of an insufficient number
of psychologists and psychiatrists”.
• The provisions and principles of the CRC are not entirely respected with regard to asylumseeking children, in that they are not sufficiently involved in their own application process,
their views are not taken into consideration, the guardianship system does not work
properly, there are frequent delays in the processing of applications and child applicants are
not integrated into local education systems.
• The mandatory religious education in schools may be discriminatory, because there are
inadequate exemptions for children with other religious or secular beliefs.
Together with the CRC forum, Save the Children Norway will work to ensure that Norwegian
authorities follow up on the criticisms raised in the report of the UN Committee of the Rights
of the Child.
The Principle of Non-Discrimination
Racial and Ethnic Discrimination
Traditionally, Norway has been a relatively homogenous society with small numbers of Sami,
Kvens and Roma people. Over the past thirty years, however, Norway has become more
multicultural, and today just under 6 per cent of the population come from an immigrant
background. Oslo has become the immigrant centre of Norway; a recent survey shows that 40
per cent of immigrants live in the capital. The immigrant population is concentrated in certain
parts of the city, and the attendant socio-economic divisions within the city have thus acquired an
ethnic dimension.
There is relatively little systematic racist and/or ethnic discrimination against children in Norway.
However, children from minority ethnic backgrounds and their families are often pre-judged on
the basis of their ethnicity in a variety of environments – at day care, school, by child protection
authorities and by child and youth psychiatric services. This means that children are treated
differently at play as well as in decisions regarding support services, choice of school and course
of study.
Probably the most important initiative taken by the government to fight discrimination has been
the establishment of the Centre Against Ethnic Discrimination. The Centre is an administrative
unit established to strengthen protection against ethnic discrimination. It deals with complaints
from people who claim to have experienced discrimination, and can also make complaints
in its own right. Another government initiative is the “plan of action” against racism and
discrimination for the period 1998–2001. Furthermore, a committee has been established to
develop a law against ethnic discrimination as well as a new citizenship law.
The government also supports a number of voluntary organisations, which over the years
have made considerable efforts to map out discrimination and establish self-help initiatives.
These organisations have been important promoters of equality and human rights work related
to discrimination.
All children in Norway are entitled to education tailored to their specific needs, including
instruction in their mother tongue, and all young people in Norway are entitled to secondary
education from the ages of 16 to 18. Following legislation, the number of children with an
immigrant background in secondary education has increased – in 1994, 93 per cent of immigrant
youths began secondary school, compared with 97 per cent of those of Norwegian origin. However,
immigrant children are still considerably disadvantaged in terms of education. Many still drop out
of the system early; pupils who study Norwegian as a second language are separated from others and
are in a weaker position when seeking higher education or jobs. Moreover, access to, and amount of,
mother tongue instruction varies a great deal from county to county, and sometimes as few as 26
per cent of immigrant children receive such education. Day care and after-school care provision are
optional for parents and children, but immigrant families tend not to benefit from these services.
The government is making definite efforts to combat discrimination in schools. The plan of
action against racism and discrimination for the period 1998-2001 aims to establish a
multicultural perspective in school materials, and the development of positive attitudes in schools.
There is clear evidence to show that children from immigrant backgrounds are more likely to be
both involved in crime and be the victims of it. Of children who were involved in criminal
activities in 1998, 9 per cent were from an immigrant background, compared to 6 per cent of
children in Norway as a whole. Violent crimes statistics reveal that 13 per 1,000 are committed
by 14-17 year-olds of an ethnic background compared to only 2 per 1,000 committed by
Caucasians of the same age group. As a result of these differences young people with an
immigrant background are more readily associated with crime, and consequently experience a
disproportionately high frequency of police and security guard controls on the street and in
shopping malls. The figures for victims of crime, however, are just as imbalanced: 7.8 per cent of
non-Caucasian males between the ages of 15 and 24 are registered as victims of violent crimes,
compared to 1.2 per cent of Caucasian males from the same age group.
The Centre Against Ethnic Discrimination has noted that child protection services sometimes
discriminate against parents from minority communities. However, there is no evidence to
suggest that this discrimination is systematic.
In terms of statistics, 20 out of 1000 children of Norwegian-born parents receive child protection
services, while the corresponding number for children with immigrant backgrounds is 26 out of
1000 and for refugee children, 62 out of 1000. The difference is attributed to the more extensive
use by Norwegians of provisions like day care and support services, which diminishes their need
for protection services. It should also be noted that despite the higher figure for refugee children,
this still only represents 6 per cent of their number.
The evidence is that children and families of immigrant backgrounds are over-represented in
low-income groups in Norway. Low-income families have restricted choice and access to services
and opportunities, which impacts massively on the lives of children.
Percentage of population living in poverty 1996
Percentage living
in poverty
from Western
America and
population in
Source: Folkehelsa
Other Issues
There are no comprehensive statistics for children with disabilities in Norway, but in 1998
23.3 out of 1000 children received assistance grants on the basis of their disability. Legislation
pertaining to children and youth with disabilities emphasises integration, and aims to ensure that
children with disabilities have the same access to education and leisure activities as other children.
However, in practice, resources vary a great deal from county to county. This leads to different
levels of care for children with disabilities depending on where they live.
Day care
Day care is important in the development of social networks and for many disabled children it is
their only social arena outside the family. For some parents the high cost of this provision limits
their ability to take advantage of it; and in some groups, problems with physical access can
prevent children with disabilities from participating in play activities.
At school, pupils with disabilities or special educational needs often require resources that are
difficult to obtain. In many cases, disabled children have to compete with non-disabled children
for resources. Materials such as textbooks and computers are often delayed, which particularly
affects blind and visually impaired pupils. Also, long waiting periods for professional evaluation
often obstructs disabled children’s right to special education.
Access to leisure activities
Recent research undertaken by Rikets Tilstand of Antirasistsk Senter in 2000 shows that children
with disabilities are excluded from many leisure activities, and as a result do not enjoy the same
social experience as their peers.
Homosexual persons constitute approximately 5 per cent of the Norwegian population; those
between the ages of 15 and 25 years of age are especially vulnerable to discrimination.
Although general changes in the attitude of the heterosexual population means that it is easier
to be openly homosexual than before, many young lesbians and gays have poor health and
psychological difficulties. For instance, 25 per cent have attempted suicide at least once and of
these, 40 per cent actually intended to die. The percentage of young homosexuals who endure
harassment, persecution and gossip at school or work is much higher than for older homosexuals.
Suffering from bullying is reported by 15 per cent of primary school pupils in Norway – about
80-90,000 children. Younger and physically weaker pupils are the most vulnerable to bullying; in
junior secondary school (13-15 years of age) it is less frequent but more violent. Bullying may
take place at school or going to and from school. The greater the adult presence at recess, the
easier bullying is to control.
It is a fundamental democratic right for children to feel secure at school, and not to suffer violent
or degrading treatment from others. Save the Children Norway also believes that bullied children
have the right not to suffer further by having to change schools. Schools should take responsibility
for bullying within their own environment, and address the problem as far as possible before
resorting to moving pupils.
Poverty is one of the strongest factors resulting in exclusion within Norwegian society.
Differences in social status are increasing, and the difference between poor and rich children has
grown considerably. A child’s standard of living is strongly related to parents’ income and level of
education. Children are also affected by where they live – each county’s financial situation has a
great impact on the quality and extent of services available to children.
Poverty is defined as a family income of less than half the average family income, and affects
approximately 70,000 children and young people in Norway. Children in poverty are mostly the
children of parents on welfare, single parent families and immigrant families. Although the
number of children in poverty is low, and poverty in Norway is of a different character than
poverty in many other countries, the situation is still serious.
As a result of a proposal from Save the Children Norway, parliament has approved the
development of a parliamentary White Paper concerning socio-economic disparity with regard
to children and young people in Norway.
Racial and Ethnic Discrimination
• Further legislation and continuing efforts to implement existing legislation should be
made to prevent discrimination on the basis of race and ethnicity.
• Improved housing policies – poor housing for immigrant families is a problem that
should be addressed as a priority.
• Protection from and prevention of crime – specific measures should be taken to address
offending by young people, especially those from an immigrant background, and to protect
them from instances of crime.
• Reducing poverty among children of immigrants – efforts must be made to address the
economic disparity between children of Norwegian origin and those of other origins.
Other Issues
• Integration of disabled children – the authorities must continue their efforts to ensure
that children with disabilities are able to share time with other children, as emphasised in
the state party’s plan of action.
• Promotion of positive attitudes towards homosexuality – positive attitudes must be
developed in schools. Teachers, health workers and others who come into contact with
children need better information regarding homosexuality.
• Responsibility for bullying – the government should clarify how schools and their
headteachers should take responsibility for bullying.
• Schools’ action plans – all schools should develop an action plan to develop effective
strategies to combat and prevent bullying.
• Government White Paper on poverty – Save the Children Norway will endeavour to
ensure the approved parliamentary White Paper on poverty results in concrete initiatives
to address the problem.
Detail from ‘Friends’
Drawing by Sara age 9, Australia
Review of Children’s Rights
Romania ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child on the 28 September 1990, and
submitted its first report to the Committee on the Rights of the Child in March 1993. Romania
has also ratified other important international conventions and these give formal protection to
minorities. All international treaties ratified by the Romanian Parliament are integrated into
domestic law.
The Committee made a number of suggestions for Romanian implementation of the CRC, and
the National Committee for Child Protection was given responsibility for developing appropriate
strategies to do so. Many of these suggestions were of a structural nature, as the existing
framework for the implementation of the Convention was deemed inadequate. As a result, the
National Plan for Action in Favour of Children was launched, and an Ombudsman’s office was
also established. The Department for Child Protection continues to take overall responsibility
for examining government legislation and for ensuring its compliance with the CRC. It is also
involved in drafting new legislation in relation to children.
Thus on a legislative level, Romania is seen to be continuing its attempts to comply with the
Convention. However, in practice, it is often the case that NGOs take the burden of
responsibility for running appropriate campaigns, providing services and creating awareness,
and that little has changed in the past year to improve this situation. The problem of persistent
government underfunding, both of local and social services and of the work of NGOs, continues
to hamper ground-level implementation of the CRC.
The Principle of Non-Discrimination
Romanian legislation promotes equality between all citizens, “irrespective of race, nationality,
ethnic origin, mother tongue, religion, sex, political affiliation, fortune or origin” (Constitution of
Romania, Article, 4.2). There are also other provisions stating the rights of minorities.
The Education Law of July 1995 states that Romanian citizens have the right to equal access to
all levels and forms of education, irrespective of social and material conditions, sex, race,
nationality, and political or religious affiliation. It stipulates the right of national minority
communities to learn in their mother tongue, and that curricula and manuals must reflect their
history and traditions.
In relation to disability, a new law came into force at the end of 1999 (Emergency Ordinance
205/1999), which places disabled children in the protection of two government bodies: the
National Agency for Children’s Rights Protection and the State Secretary for Persons with
Racial and Ethnic Discrimination
Romania has been a nation of many different ethnicities for centuries: Hungarians, Germans,
Jews, Russians, Slovaks, Turks, Tatars, Serbs and Rromas have all made it their home, and on
the whole their presence has been tolerated; at least, ethnic discrimination or conflict has never
been witnessed in Romania on a national scale. However, certain groups have been viewed as
inferior over the course of history – Jews, Tatars and Rromas, for example – and during the
communist period people who did not possess Romanian nationhood had no specific rights.
Indeed, during this period most people of German and Jewish heritage chose, or were forced,
to leave the country.
In the 1990s, the situation changed somewhat. The democratic system encourages minorities of
all descriptions to ask for and/or demand their rights. Cultural and/or political groups have been
formed and many have been successful in claiming rights whilst citing international conventions.
All minorities have representatives in the parliament, as is stipulated in the Elections Law. These
elements of progress have to be balanced against the reality of serious ethnic conflict between the
Romanian and Hungarian inhabitants in Mures, in 1990, and confrontations between
Romanians and Rroma people in some villages on an ongoing basis.
The government has put in place some measures that positively discriminate for some sections
of the population and constitutional provisions offer protection to miniorities. However, there is
no special Ombudsman for combating discrimination, and as yet there is no anti-discrimination
law either.
The most visible form of discrimination in Romania today is the continued ill-treatment of the
Rroma population. This discrimination has its roots in attitudes forged a long time in the past.
The newer thinking about rights for all seems to have been interpreted by many people as rights
for all except the Rroma people. Problems faced by this group are social, educational, cultural and
material; poverty, inequalities of status and poor sense of identity all impact on Rroma children as
well as adults. The problem is not helped by the fact that the Rroma have little conception of
their own rights, especially the rights of the child.
Many Rroma people are faced with living conditions that have a negative impact on their health:
inadequate diet, lack of clean drinking water, poor standards of hygiene and ignorance about
basic sanitation and preventative health measures. Rroma children suffer from a cross-range of
illnesses, and many have a height-weight deficit that indicates inadequate nourishment
throughout much of their childhood. Geography plays a part in health problems as most health
facilities are based in urban areas and the Rroma people live in rural or semi-rural areas. Some
communities live as much as 10 kilometres from the most basic health services, and have
difficulties acquiring medicines because village health centres do not necessarily have pharmacies.
The problem is exacerbated by the attitude of some healthcare professionals, who are reluctant
to treat Rroma people precisely because of their standards of hygiene or behaviour. On the other
hand, Rroma people have a perhaps understandable mistrust of these professionals in return.
As yet, no government action has been taken to improve the situation.
Rroma children who drop out of school represent 25 per cent of the entire school population.
It is unusual for a Rroma child to continue his or her education after primary school and to
graduate from high school is extremely rare. About 50 per cent of the Rroma population are
In the search to find local solutions to the problem, it is often found that the strongest resistance
comes from within the schools themselves. Some teachers are openly racist, and do little to
encourage inter-ethnic communication between pupils. Moreover, if teachers are made
redundant, Rroma staff are generally the first to go. Physical violence between Rroma and nonRroma children is common, and Rroma children are isolated and marginalised. There is
little or no tuition in their mother tongue, so they also find it difficult to keep up and are
perceived as stupid and uneducable. Not surprisingly, Rroma children see school as a hostile
environment – a place to escape from and not a place of opportunity.
To bring about change in this situation, a shift must take place in the attitudes of the general
population. Fortunately, there are signs of a government response. The Ministry of National
Education has adopted various policies with the aim of improving Rromas’ education. The
Rromani language can now be studied if the children’s parents or teachers wish it. As many
Rroma people travel extensively, children are to be allowed to join school at any time of the
year in the hope of reducing gaps in their education. Rromas are being given greater access to
vocational schools, secondary schools and universities; and school inspectors of Rroma origin
are being appointed. This positive discrimination is to be welcomed but it is too early to tell how
effective it is.
On a local level, work with Rromas is still largely the preserve of NGOs. Save the Children
Romania initiated a National Plan of Action for Rroma children in October 1999, and has been
working with teachers to change attitudes towards Rroma pupils both among teaching staff and
other pupils. Save the Children has also organised kindergartens for Rroma children to increase
their access to education.
Recreation and leisure
Recreation and leisure opportunities are more or less nonexistent for Rroma children. Rroma
culture dictates that children should stay with their families and help look after their brothers
or sisters, do chores and/or work for money. While there are occasional opportunities for these
children to take part in extra-curricular activities organised by teachers, in general there are few
facilities that cater for them, and there are no Rroma cultural centres in Romania.
Other Issues
The communist period saw an official policy of non-discrimination between the sexes; however,
in reality, education and professional training for boys were considered a priority. There is more
awareness of this type of discrimination now, but it is not yet a major issue of public concern.
The main features of gender discrimination are as follows:
• On average girls stay longer in full-time education, but after graduating they find it more
difficult to find work. This is largely to do with the perception of women as child-bearers.
• If a girl transgresses the community’s written or unwritten rules she is punished more heavily
than a boy – if, for example, she becomes pregnant before marriage, or marries early without
consent. These “traditional” and discriminatory attitudes are strongest in small rural
The government has yet to take serious interest in this issue, and most anti-discrimination work is
being carried out by NGOs; for example, one NGO in Bucharest provides vocational courses and
a special advisory service for 18-year-old girls seeking work.
There is widespread discrimination against disabled children in Romania both in people’s
attitudes and in the lack of provision of facilities. Of the 60,000 disabled children in Romania,
too many are in special institutions, which supposedly cater for their needs but which often
simply hide them from view. Many have limited contact with their families and some
are abandoned altogether; statistical studies show that disabled children are more at risk of
abandonment than any other group. While disabled children receive double the monthly
allowance of other children, this is still too small to cater for their needs.
Specific areas for concern in relation to disabled children are as follows:
• Education: there has been much discussion concerning the integration of these children into
mainstream education but so far little real progress has been made.
• Health: special medical services for children with disabilities are undeveloped, too expensive
and do not cater adequately for their needs.
• Access: there are few examples of public buildings that have suitable access for wheelchair
users, and there are no services for children who are housebound.
The government has taken some recent action to begin to address the above problems, and a new
law came into force in 1999. A State Secretary for Persons with Disabilities has been appointed,
and at the local level every county has a Directorate of Children’s Rights Protection. This body is
charged with co-ordinating efforts to assist disabled children. However, as in other areas, NGOs
are carrying out much of the vital work on the ground. One NGO in particular is running
campaigns to change discriminatory attitudes towards disability, supporting schools that express
an interest in integrating disabled children and enabling communities to establish good
rehabilitation and integration practice.
The highest proportion of children to adults can be found in rural areas. These areas are also the
poorest in Romania and have been starved of investment funds for decades. As time has passed a
significant gap in all fields of society (for example, health, education, and housing) has developed
between urban and rural communities.
In terms of health there are very marked disparities between the two areas. In 1997, there were
360 inhabitants per doctor in urban areas and 1,475 in rural areas. Other health indicators, such
as infant mortality and birth rates, are given in the table below:
Main demographic indicators, by residential areas – 1998
Birth rate (%)
Fertility rate (%)
Mortality rate (%)
Infant mortality rate (%)
Life expectancy at birth
Population aged 0 – 15 (%)
Population aged 65 and over (%)
Source: National Commission for Statistics, 1999
Education in rural areas is still problematic. Although education reform has had some success in
recent years, the following problems remain:
• Many schools are run-down, even precarious, or are difficult to access.
• There is a shortage of qualified teaching staff due to low wage levels and the declining social
status of the occupation.
• The low number of pupils per teacher leads to the increase in unitary cost per pupil of
• There has been a drop in the number of compulsory school graduates, with irreversible
effects on the creation and development of human resources.
• There has been a decline in demands for high school and professional education in
rural areas.
The government has taken some initiatives to ameliorate the urban/rural divide. The education
ministry is developing priority education areas (ZEP), many of which are rural, and the health
ministry is also providing financial and housing incentives for doctors to live and work in the
country. Some work has been undertaken on basic rural infrastructure.
• Multicultural education must be developed as a priority. The aim must be to counter
entrenched attitudes towards minority communities and develop respect for difference in
the majority population.
• Revision of the school curriculum – the school curriculum should be changed from
kindergarten level upwards to provide multiculturally appropriate material for all minority
groups, including Rroma.
• Improved teacher training – teachers must receive adequate anti-discriminatory training
so that they in turn can counter entrenched prejudices and stereotypes.
• Co-operation between local authorities and NGOs is needed, to pool ideas and further
anti-discriminatory practices.
• Effective monitoring of discrimination – evaluation forms and questionnaires should be
used by Child Protection Departments and NGOs to monitor changes in attitude.
• National research needs to be carried out on an annual basis for at least the next five years
to assess progress of anti-discriminatory work.
• Reduction of rural poverty – the government must work to reduce the income gap
between urban and rural areas.
• Awareness raising for children – children need to be made aware of their rights and of
those of others.
Review of Children’s Rights
The Spanish parliament ratified the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child
(CRC) on 30 November 1990 and it came into legal force on 6 January 1991.
During the last year, substantial legislative progress has been taking shape at the highest level.
On 12 January 1999 the long awaited Law on the Penal Responsibility of Minors was published,
which will come into effect in January 2001. This is considered to be a very advanced legal text,
in that it takes into account the best interests of the child, legislates on a fundamentally
educational and social basis, and rigorously establishes minors’ rights within the judicial system.
However, there are serious doubts that its application can be effective unless sufficient financial
and human resources are made available, and appropriate policies are established for the treatment
of juvenile offenders.
Alongside this, the Criminal Procedure Law has recently been amended so that minors who have
suffered sexual abuse do not have to meet their abuser face to face; closed circuit television is used
instead. Despite this, work still needs to be done to establish specific formulas for regulating the
interrogation of minors.
Another positive development in the past year has been the establishment of a Children’s
Observatory. Its function is to carry out a thorough multidisciplinary evaluation of the situation
of children in Spain, and the progress and difficulties that are being encountered in implementing
the CRC. In addition, a Children’s Database has recently been drawn up, which contains details
of all the legislative information relating to the protection of minors. At the same time statistical
information is being collected relating to the protection of children. While developments such as
these are undoubtedly valuable, they should nevertheless be monitored carefully in order to assess
their efficiency.
Spain is thus making progress with the implementation of the CRC, but certain problems
remain. The number of child psychiatrists is statistically very low, and resources for mentally
disturbed children are not sufficiently specialised; in fact, the provision of human and financial
resources for children is generally still inadequate. Children are not made aware of the resources
available to them, and there is still no cross-sector framework that works on polices for children.
Principle of Non-Discrimination
Racial and Ethnic Discrimination
Gypsies have been part of the general population for more than five centuries and during that
time they have been the subject of every kind of persecution. A very high percentage of gypsies
live in a situation of social exclusion, and 40 per cent of the 700,000 gypsies are under the age
of 16. In spite of the progress of the last few decades, especially since the approval of the
Constitution in 1978, it is still very evident that most gypsies find themselves discriminated
against and in a situation of gross inequality. This is true for their children too.
Spain was traditionally a country that people emigrated from, but it is now a country that is
taking people in. Many immigrants are economic refugees in search of better living conditions,
and there are an increasing number of young Africans who are taking enormous risks to enter
Spain. Overall, this has led to a worrying increase in the number of foreign minors with no
official status. The tendency is for the authorities to disregard their rights as minors and treat
them simply as foreigners without papers, often criminalising them in the process. They are also
at a clear disadvantage in terms of their access to education, health, housing, and other facilities.
The right to education
In formal legal terms, every child has a right to an education in Spain and to experience the same
quality and quantity of instruction, and there are concrete measures in the Constitution to
eliminate inequalities children may experience in the education system. In reality, gypsy and
immigrant children have a very different education in comparison to the rest of the population;
it is likely to be shorter and of a far lower quality.
The educational problems of the gypsy population manifest themselves in high levels of
absenteeism, early drop-out rates and high failure rates. In 1994 the FOESSA Foundation’s
report, examining the social situation in Spain, established that 40 per cent of gypsy children
between the ages of 3 and 16 were not in full-time education. Whereas education authorities
claim that 90 per cent of Spanish children receive secondary education, for gypsy children
attendance rates peak at 80 per cent between the ages of 6 and 9, and tail off thereafter. Even for
pupils that are registered with schools, absenteeism is a significant problem for gypsy children,
with two out of three regularly failing to attend. Failure within schools for gypsy children is
therefore unsurprisingly high; one Schools Council report gives a figure of 65 per cent.
Mass schooling for gypsy children began in 1978 with “bridge schools”, which were intended to
prepare these children for integration into ordinary schools. Gypsy and immigrant children now
find themselves concentrated in certain schools and this concentration does not reflect the
numbers of these minorities living in the surrounding area of the school. Private schools and
special schools are, by law, required to take a certain number of minority students but in reality
very few of these children enjoy this kind of education; in fact, 90 per cent of gypsy children
attend public schools. The high concentration and the lack of alternative opportunities means
that there is a grave danger of “ghetto schools” being created, where the better teachers will not
want to work and the parents of middle income children will not want to send their children.
As far as immigrant children are concerned, the Teachers and Workers Commission Union is
aware that there are thousands of foreign children in Spain who do not attend school, some of
whom are registered on the census but many of whom are not. The Union estimates that 15,000
children of immigrant parents are not featured in any census and are also not attending school.
The foreign students who do study are concentrated in Catalonia and Madrid, where over 62 per
cent of the school population is from this minority. Approximately 30 per cent of the students are
from the European Union and 45 per cent are from Latin America and North Africa, particularly
Morocco. Most immigrant children’s education does not progress beyond primary school.
In the case of both gypsy children and immigrants, bureaucracy often stands in the way of their
completing a full education and receiving the attendant titles and scholarships. The problem is
partly due to the failure on the part of authorities to prioritise issues of these groups’ continued
attendance and performance at school. Further implementation of the law on General
Regulations of the Educational System would help, but is still far from being achieved: the
right to be different is not being recognised within schools, which still tend to concentrate on
encouraging the minorities to adapt to the majority position. Teachers are often inadequately
trained to cope with the demands of multicultural education, and remain uncertain as to how
to deal with a diversity of cultures, languages and customs.
In conclusion, the point must be made that school failure figures are undoubtedly related to the
economic situation of these minority groups, and that they will not improve until some of their
problems have been addressed. Scholarships, help with transport, the provision of food or school
materials and better support from teachers are just some of the measure that could be taken to
improve the situation.
As is the case with education, all children in Spain have a legal right to health care and an
adequate standard of living in accordance with the CRC. However, on examining the health of
the gypsy and immigrant children it is clear that they are far less healthy than children from the
majority groups. Médicos del Mundo-España (Doctors of the World – Spain) found that the
following medical problems were particularly affecting gypsy children:
• Congenital malformations
• Poor natal and post-natal care
• Low rates of immunisation – 40 per cent of gypsy children have received no vaccinations,
and of the remainder 50 per cent have not completed their vaccination programme
• Poor diet and hygiene
• Greater incidence of mental ill health, often due to problems with assimilation into the
wider community
• Physical and sexual abuse
• Non-attendance at health clinics
• Greater rates of drug abuse
• Larger numbers of children born to mothers who are under the age of consent.
For the children of immigrants, problems of cultural difference and bureaucracy affect their
healthcare. Health professionals are often ignorant of the issues that affect children from different
cultures due to inadequate training; they may not be able to understand the nature of particular
symptoms and are likely to be unaware of a child’s clinical history, while the immigrants may not
understand the prescriptions. Specific issues for health professionals include ignorance of which
animal proteins may be forbidden on religious grounds for certain groups, the climate of the
country of origin as a factor of illness, and attitudes towards circumcision and vaccinations.
Furthermore, if an immigrant has no papers, his or her child may find it difficult to get
healthcare. There have been instances of children being denied medicines, or of their parents
being forced to pay for them. However, it must be stressed that this situation has very much
improved in the recent past. A number of social organisations and legal bodies have insisted on
the introduction of proper procedures, which have guaranteed minors their rights in this respect,
and have given parents of these children the assurance that any information collected during
treatment will remain confidential.
General living conditions for gypsy and immigrant people remain unacceptably low. Gypsy
people occupy 95 per cent of the shanty towns and slums in major urban areas. For example, in
Madrid alone there are 1,600 slum residences with 5,000 inhabitants, most of whom are gypsies
or immigrants. Of these, 3,000 are minors. Those who progress to “normal” housing find
themselves concentrated in certain barrios (areas) where there is often a lack of and/or
interruption of basic services such as running water and electricity, and rubbish may pile up
uncollected. These places also provide havens for those who wish to exploit children as a source of
cheap labour. The basic right of decent housing is denied to these children who seem
to wait forever to be re-housed by the authorities.
Racial and Ethnic Discrimination
• Measures to favour the cultural development of gypsies and immigrants – laws should
be developed to compensate for these groups’ social disadvantages.
• Reliable and up-to-date studies are needed to analyse the situation of gypsy and
immigrant children.
• Better co-ordination of services and institutions responsible for the integration of
minorities is needed.
• Racism awareness programmes are required to inform the general population and
improve the social image of minority communities.
The Right to Education
• Improvement of the bureaucratic situation – the right to education of gypsy and
immigrant minors needs disentangling from their legal situation, which often blocks their
progress at present.
• Changes to the school curriculum – the curriculum should reflect the multicultural
diversity in Spain and include elements of the history and culture of gypsies and other
ethnic groups. Existing materials should be reviewed to remove any discriminatory content.
• Access to language instruction – children of immigrants should have access to special
language instruction so that they can fully participate in mainstream education as quickly
as possible.
• Adequate teacher training should be provided for teachers of gypsy and immigrant
children, and schools should be provided with appropriate resources.
• Breakdown of “ghetto” situation – attempts should be made to ensure that gypsy and
immigrant children are not all concentrated in the same establishments.
• Financial and other resources should be made available to children of ethnic minorities,
for example in the form of school materials, text books and access to school meals.
• School support and follow-up programmes should be established to encourage school
attendance amongst gypsy children from an early age, and their continuation into higher
levels of education.
The Right to Health and an Adequate Standard of Living
• Specialist health programmes need to be developed, which should work on the areas
of prevention, promotion, education and recovery, and which should encourage active
participation of minority communities. There should also be further programmes
for women.
• Training for health professionals in cultural awareness.
• Elimination of bureaucratic barriers to healthcare for immigrant children.
• Eradication of slums – resources must be found to eradicate slum living.
• Better re-housing facilities and programmes – re-housed families should be properly
prepared for their move and should receive adequate follow-up. New housing should
meet basic levels of sanitation and receive basic services.
• Combat social tendency to “ghettoise” minority communities – the practise of
concentrating minority communities in particular barrios or areas should be abolished.
I think children should rightfully be allowed
to voice their opinions …
Children have a lot of important things
to say but nobody will listen.
A child can be screaming out for help
but nobody can hear their inner voices.
Jennifer Hardie
Broughton High School, Edinburgh, Scotland
Review of Children’s Rights
The Swedish government signed the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child
(CRC) on 26 January 1990, and ratified it in June 1990 without reservation. However, although
some of the fundamental principles of the Convention are reflected in Swedish laws, the CRC has
not been fully incorporated into national law. It is also the case that legislative and administrative
measures will not ensure the Convention’s implementation unless there is sufficient political will
to do so. Evidence of this political will is, fortunately, relatively strong, and can be seen in a
number of measures.
In 1992 Swedish parliamentarians established an informal all-party network for the rights of the
child. Members of this network draft bills jointly or separately on different aspects of children’s
rights, and are also active when children’s rights are discussed in parliament. In 1993, the
Children’s Ombudsman was established to promote the CRC in municipalities and county
councils, amongst other things. Since then, however, work at municipal level has progressed
slowly, and much remains to be done before the CRC can be said to have had an impact in all
municipalities. By 1999, 40 per cent still did not have the CRC on their political agenda, and
only 23 per cent of municipalities have actually adopted a strategy for its implementation.
In March 1999, parliament adopted a National Strategy for the implementation of the CRC.
Its key provisions are:
• The CRC shall be central to all government decision-making in relation to children, and
analyses shall be carried out to monitor the legislation and its impact on children.
• The CRC shall be included in the training of professionals and state employees who come
into contact with children.
• Municipal and county councils should establish monitoring systems to ensure that local
government work furthers the best interests of the child.
• Child-focused statistics are to be researched.
• Children and young people should be actively involved in social and traffic planning.
A report concerning the progress of the National Strategy is to be presented to parliament in
the autumn of 2000.
In the year 2000, there have been a number of further developments:
• In April 2000, an investigative committee into child abuse suggested that policemen and
prosecutors who work with abused children should receive specialised training, and that
cases of this kind should only be investigated by properly qualified officers.
• In May 2000, the government presented a bill giving children of unemployed parents
access to kindergartens.
• A report presented by the National Board of Housing, Building and Planning in spring
2000 stated that children and young people should have the right to influence the planning
and building of new residential areas.
The Principle of Non-Discrimination
Racial and Ethnic Discrimination
Since the Second World War, Sweden has become a multicultural country. Whereas in 1930,
only 1 per cent of the population was born outside Sweden, in 1990 the figure was 9.2 per
cent and at the present time 25 per cent of all children have one or two parents born abroad.
In addition to groups of foreign origin, Sweden has very recently recognised five national
minorities: Samis, two different Finnish groups, Jews and Roma people.
The speed of change, from an essentially homogenous society to a multicultural one, has not
been without its problems. Injustices, tensions and discrimination against racial, ethnic, religious
and cultural minorities do exist. The government and institutions of state are legally opposed
to discrimination in all its forms, but many minorities experience racism and xenophobia.
Segregation in housing and schooling caused by the concentration of ethnic minorities in
relatively poor suburban areas has become an increasing problem; one of the results of this
seems to be occasional confrontations between poor, frustrated young suburban immigrants with
well-off young people from expensive areas. Children with foreign backgrounds are more likely
to leave school without qualifications, and to grow up in families with lower incomes, higher
levels of unemployment, higher rates of dependence on social welfare and inferior housing.
These inequalities are also reflected in the official crime statistics, which show a disproportionate
involvement on the part of young people of foreign origin. Worryingly, these problems have
grown worse in the 1990s, and the gap between children of foreign descent and other children
has widened.
Some government action is being taken to address the situation. As well as a Children’s
Ombudsman, a special Ombudsman against ethnic discrimination has been appointed. Racial
awareness projects are frequent in schools for teachers and practitioners working with children.
Recently, the government has also presented a ten-point plan of action to combat racism. Its aim
is to strengthen co-ordination between establishments coming into contact with minorities, and
to mobilise children in the fight against racism.
Neo-Nazi organisations present a particular problem, and the legal system does not do enough to
prevent the spread of white power music and racist propaganda via the Internet or in other forms.
However, government discussions are under way to tighten the legal situation, for example by
criminalising active participation in violent organisations.
A 1997 report found that children of foreign descent utilised between 30 and 100 per cent more
physical health services and 125 per cent more mental health services than children of Swedish
descent. It is likely that the marginalisation of these children’s parents and society’s limited ability
to help them are the reasons for this.
Roma children have more health problems than the child population in general. However, only
a partial picture of the situation is available as statistics do not record ethnic backgrounds in
Sweden. The following are thought to be particular problems for Roma children and young
• Poor dental health
• Hearing problems
• Impaired natural immunity
• Vaccination courses rarely completed
• Drug abuse.
It is hard to be specific about the reasons for this situation, although it seems probable that
poverty plays a big part, as does the relatively low educational attainment of many Roma parents.
Healthcare is free in Sweden, but users need to know how to get the help they need. Other causes
may be a well-founded fear of discrimination from some health service staff, lack of interpreters,
and lack of resources made available for the treatment of children from war zones.
The problem of inadequate interpretation services is fairly widespread. According to Swedish
law, interpretation should be made available “if needed” in contacts with all public authorities.
The right to an interpreter within the health service is not explicitly stated, but is generally
presupposed to exist. In reality, 23 per cent of health institutions report problems in finding
and financing interpreters.
Children of foreign descent are less likely to complete the nine years of education that are
compulsory in Sweden, and on average they achieve lower marks than children of Swedish
heritage. While 10 per cent of the general population do not move on from compulsory
schooling to further education because of gaps in their education or low marks, the corresponding
figure for children of foreign descent is double this at 20 per cent. The situation of Roma
children is especially difficult. Only a small percentage of Roma children gain sufficient grades to
enable them to qualify for further education. Interviews with teachers in Stockholm have shown
that approximately only 12 per cent of Roma boys and 20 per cent of Roma girls complete
secondary school.
The responsibility for a child’s education lies with the parents as well as the education authorities,
and schools are obliged to co-operate with parents and meet with them each term. However,
parents from minority groups are less likely to attend school for meetings with teachers; they
often need more information and repeated invitations before they turn up. They also often need
interpreters, but schools have been known not to inform parents of the option to use one as a way
of saving money. Alternatively, they may ask the child to translate, thereby placing too much
responsibility on his or her shoulders.
Young people of non-European descent are more likely to be exposed to violence, threats and
abuse than other members of society. Of this group, 17 per cent report being threatened and 6
per cent have been physically assaulted; 23 per cent have been subjected to verbal racist abuse and
20 per cent feel they have been unfairly treated by teachers on the basis of their origins.
According to a new law, the five minority national groups (Samis, two Finnish groups, Jews and
Romas) are entitled to special support for cultural activities, and the curriculum in schools is
obliged to take their cultures into account. In practice, the Ministry of Culture has been failing
to provide adequate financial resources for the implementation of this law. In particular, Roma
culture is suffering and Romas receive very limited financial support to maintain their cultural
In principle, asylum-seeking children have the same right to primary education as other children.
However, they do not have the right to kindergarten care and there are limitations on their access
to secondary school. In May 2000 the Swedish Ministry for Foreign Affairs suggested that all
asylum-seeking children and children with temporary residence permits (under the age of 18)
should be given the same rights of access to education as national children, other than the right
to attend private schools with state subsidies. There are currently about 200 children who have
been refused any kind of residency permit who are now hiding in the country, with no access
to education.
Asylum-seekers, refugee children and children in hiding all have the same rights to dental care
and healthcare as national children. However, lack of communication between different
authorities frequently means that medical and dental services are often unaware of asylum-seeking
families in their areas. There is also a lack of awareness about these groups’ special needs,
including their need for psychological assistance.
Other Issues
Marriage laws in Sweden are inconsistent in relation to young people of foreign origin. A young
person born in Sweden may not marry until the age of 18 without the permission of the county
administrative board, but a young person resident in Sweden who is also a citizen of another
country may marry under the age of 18 if this is possible in their country of origin.
This discrepancy should be annulled so that the minimum age for marriage is 18 for all residing
in Sweden.
There is a growing gap between the rich and poor in Sweden. In the 1980s, 17 per cent of
children lived in families who were experiencing financial difficulties, a figure that had risen to
28 per cent by the 1990s. According to current figures 7 per cent of children live in households
that are below the poverty line (defined as having an income of half the average or less). The
reason for the difference between the number of children in families with financial difficulties and
the number in families below the poverty line is that the extensive welfare system fills some of the
gap. However, the need for social welfare support has grown by 35 per cent in the last twenty
years. In 1998 one-third of single women with children received social welfare support, and of
these, 65 per cent were of foreign origin. This means that two and a half times as many children
with a foreign background live in a welfare-supported household than children of Swedish origin.
These children generally achieve less academically than their peers, leaving them at a disadvantage
in the jobs market; there is also the danger that they end up on welfare themselves, and are
therefore in a poverty trap from which it is difficult to escape.
Implementation of the CRC
• Independence of the Children’s Ombudsman – the Ombudsman should be appointed
by parliament rather than the government, as is done at present, in order to give it true
independence. The Ombudsman should be granted the right to be able to give evidence in
court proceedings.
• Review of the impact of cuts – the government should review the impact on children of
financial cuts in the municipalities’ budgets with a view to safeguarding their best interests,
especially those in vulnerable situations.
• Conformity to the CRC – all future legislation should at a very minimum conform to the
standards of the CRC. The government must take responsibility for ensuring its full
implementation, and great efforts must now be made to realise the CRC in all
municipalities and county councils as well.
The Principle of Non-discrimination
• Language and other educational support – all children should be guaranteed the support
they need to benefit from their education. Language support – in the child’s mother tongue
and in Swedish – is essential, as well as other forms of help.
• Romas’ right to education – the government should pay special attention to Roma
children’s right to education, as their situation is particularly difficult.
• Incorporation of the CRC into the school curriculum – the CRC should be
incorporated into the curricula of all schools. Special attention should be given to help
immigrant and disabled children understand their rights.
• Training in minority communities’ issues for teachers – knowledge about minority
communities, along with racism and how to deal with it, should be taught on a regular
basis to future teachers and practitioners.
• Implementation of Article 30 of the CRC – this Article stipulates the right of minority
communities to develop their own culture. The government should provide these
communities with the means to do so.
• Professional interpretation services should be provided by the government within
schools so that parents can communicate with teachers. Children should not be used
as interpreters for their parents.
• Education for all children – all children, including those in hiding and those without
full residency, should have exactly the same rights to education.
• Permanent residency for stateless children – the current waiting period of five years
before an application can be made should be reduced to one year and the process made
• Minimum age for marriage – 18 should be the minimum age at which anyone in
Sweden can get married without the permission of the county administrative board.
• Child-focused statistics need to be researched to enable better decision-making
concerning children.
United Kingdom
Review of Children’s Rights
The UK Government made its second report to the United Nations Committee on the Rights of
the Child in 1999. Although there was no government consultation with children in Northern
Ireland, Save the Children UK consulted children and young people on the government’s behalf
in England, Scotland and Wales.
England, Scotland and Wales (though not Northern Ireland) now have government posts with
responsibility for children’s issues, and bodies to protect the rights of children in care are being
established. Save the Children and others continue to press for an independent commissioner to
protect the rights of all children. The introduction of the Human Rights Act in October 2000
will allow cases under the European Convention on Human Rights to be brought in the UK
courts and should be a further tool to promote and protect children’s rights. In Northern Ireland,
a Human Rights Commission has been set up to monitor implementation of the Act and to draw
up a Bill of Rights.
On 18 March 1999, the Prime Minister Tony Blair announced the government’s commitment
to end child poverty within twenty years. The first edition of the Government’s poverty audit,
“Opportunity for All ”, was published in September 1999. By 2002, 1.2 million children will have
been lifted out of poverty. However, according to CASE paper 38, “How effective are the British
Government’s attempts to reduce child poverty? ” (Piachaud & Sutherland), child poverty will
remain extremely high by post-war British and European standards. More needs to be done for
children most at risk of exclusion, including children of ethnic minority groups, asylum seekers
and refugees.
The Principle of Non-Discrimination
Racial and Ethnic Discrimination
Recent steps by the UK Government have been welcomed by the UN Committee on Racial
Discrimination. However, the Committee expressed deep concerns about a number of issues,
including continued racist attacks, institutional racism in public institutions, access to legal
services for asylum seekers, unemployment among ethnic minority groups, racist bullying in
schools and school exclusions. It recommended that the UK Government develop an
interdepartmental strategy for combating racial discrimination. This followed the UN Committee
on the Rights of the Child’s review of the UK government’s performance in 1995–6, which
noted that children of certain minority ethnic groups are more likely to be placed in care and
expressed concern at the health status of different socio-economic groups and minority ethnic
groups. The lack of access to basic services and the provision of caravan sites for Gypsy and
Traveller families was also a concern.
Progress is being made, however. An action plan has been developed to tackle racism in public
institutions; race relations legislation has recently been extended to all public services, including
the police, and now encompasses indirect discrimination, defined as the collective failure of an
organisation to provide an appropriate and professional service to people because of their colour,
culture and ethnic origin. In Northern Ireland, a Race Relations Order was set up in 1997; an
Equality Commission and a Promoting Social Inclusion Initiative have also been established, and
public authorities are now obliged to promote equality in public sector delivery. In Scotland, an
Equality Unit is to assess government policy in terms of discrimination and parliamentarians have
met minority groups to identify ways of tackling racism.
Save the Children UK has been involved in a number of research and awareness-raising
programmes, including assisting the government with its report on the CRC. In 1999 it
published We Have Rights OK, the results of a consultation conducted with children.
Children as young as eight reported racist attacks, and while children felt they themselves
were perpetuating racism, they made it clear that it was the government’s responsibility to tackle
institutionalised racism in places such as schools and children’s homes.
Save the Children supported the National Black Youth Forum in producing a Black Youth
Charter and has pioneered awareness-raising work among younger children. It has also worked
with Gypsy and Traveller parents and children throughout the UK, and has found that this
group is consistently discriminated against by a range of community groups, public agencies,
individuals, private business and central government.
In Northern Ireland, the Commission for Racial Equality held a conference on the basis of a
report by Save the Children and others, which highlighted deficits in public service delivery.
Minority ethnic groups represent 6.5 per cent of the population in Britain. They are
disproportionately represented in deprived areas and are at greater risk of poverty than the
rest of the population. In “Minority Ethnic Issues in Social Exclusion and Neighbourhood Renewal ”
(2000), the Social Exclusion Unit reports that 56 per cent of minority ethnic people in England
live in the 44 most deprived local authorities of the country. A fifth of children living in
households below average income are in ethnic minority households. The Commission for
Racial Equality in Northern Ireland estimates that unemployment among Travellers in the
province is as high as 76 per cent.
The combined influence of gender, socio-economic status and ethnic group on educational
attainment is a highly complex one, making generalisations difficult. In 1998, 29 per cent of
Pakistani and black pupils and 33 per cent of Bangladeshi pupils reached 5 or more A to C
grades at GCSE level, compared to 47 per cent of white pupils and 54 per cent of Indian pupils.
However, there is variation within this general pattern and there are marked socio-economic and
gender differences.
United Kingdom
Black Caribbean, black African and other ethnic minority pupils are disproportionately
represented among those permanently excluded from school. Between 1994–5 and 1997–8,
African-Caribbean pupils in England were four to six times more likely to be excluded than
white pupils, although they were no more likely to be absent than others. Many of those who
were excluded tended to be of average or higher ability, although the schools saw them as
underachieving. Despite fairly regular attendance at primary school, there is a low level of
participation at secondary school among Traveller children in Northern Ireland and non-existent
participation at tertiary level.
Studies undertaken by the Policy Studies Institute reveal that Pakistani and Bangladeshi people in
Britain are one and a half times more likely, and African-Caribbean people a third more likely, to
suffer ill health than white people. The situation for Indian, African, Asian and Chinese people
was similar to that of white people. While minority ethnic groups are at greater risk of suffering
specific conditions, such as diabetes, hypertension and sickle cell disease, much of the variation in
health between and within different ethnic groups is related to socio-economic status.
The links between poverty and ill-health are well documented:
• In 1993–5, the infant mortality rate for social class V was 70 per cent higher than
for social class I.
• Children from social class V are four times as likely to die in accidents as those
from social class I.
In Northern Ireland, the death rate for Traveller children under the age of 10 is ten times that of
non-Traveller children. In Britain, infant mortality is 100 per cent higher for African-Caribbean
and Pakistani children than for white children. However, despite high levels of economic
deprivation, infant mortality is lower among members of the Bangladeshi population and
declining at a faster rate. The inadequacy of statistical data in this area makes it difficult to assess
causes behind ethnic inequalities.
Health services do not always reach people from minority ethnic communities or meet their
needs. Language can act as a barrier to health services; for example, Chinese people often cannot
understand the language spoken by their doctors. Save the Children’s programme experience
indicates that Gypsy and Traveller families experience difficulties in registering with GPs from
roadside camps.
The UK Government has entered a reservation to the CRC regarding nationality and
immigration, but states that this does not prevent it from protecting the rights of children
who are asylum seekers or refugees. However, the UN Committee on the Rights of the
Child considered the reservation to be incompatible with the principles and provisions of
the Convention.
Of particular concern is the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999, which came into force in
April 2000. The Audit Commission, which has made a range of recommendations to assist
implementation of the new scheme, has pointed out that the overwhelmingly negative press
coverage of asylum seekers can inflame public opinion, make fair treatment less likely and, at
worst, encourage violence. Save the Children UK is also concerned that the Act provides minimal
support for asylum seekers, disperses them around the country and thus widens the gulf between
their children and the rest of the population.
“Here I am nothing – I’m just some refugee”
Afghan boy.
“If we hadn’t any problems, we would never come here.
People say go back to your own country, we can’t”
Kosovan boy.
The UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination has recommended that the UK
Government take the lead in sending out positive messages about asylum seekers, that it should
ensure that asylum seekers’ basic rights are protected and that they have access to basic services.
Save the Children UK has published a training and resource pack “In Safe Hands” to help
teachers and schools support young refugee children and their families, and has conducted a study
into levels of support for separated children across Europe. In addition, a three-year project will
assess the needs of separated children seeking asylum and how these can best be met. A recent
report, “Supporting Unaccompanied Children in the Asylum Process” (Save the Children, 1998),
demonstrated that the quality of legal advice available to children is variable and inadequate.
Under the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999, an asylum seeker receives a mixture of vouchers
plus £10 in cash per person each week. The voucher scheme was opposed by a range of children’s
organisations on the grounds that it would increase social exclusion.
• The level of support is lower than that of the safety net social security benefit and made more
so because shops are unable to give change to people paying by voucher.
• Asylum seekers do not have freedom to spend their money where they would like and are
made easily identifiable by their use of vouchers.
The Refugee Council points out that young refugees are a diverse group with a range of needs but
that significant proportions have barriers to education, including interrupted education in their
country of origin and having suffered trauma and other major changes in their lives.
According to Refugee Council figures in 1999, 2,000 refugee children did not have a place in a
school. With asylum seekers dispersed around the country, the danger is that children end up in
areas that cannot properly cater for their educational needs, in schools that cannot deal with their
United Kingdom
particular learning difficulties or that are reluctant to accept them because of the demands on
overstretched services. Schools can play a crucial role in promoting the well-being of refugee
children but teachers themselves need support to do this.
Poverty, stress, deprivation and limited access to primary healthcare combine to create special
health needs among refugees, particularly children, yet they are seldom included in health
interventions. Evidence suggests that many refugee families are vulnerable to poor nutrition
because of poverty, difficulty adapting to new conditions, being accommodated in bed and
breakfast accommodation without adequate cooking facilities and lack of access to cash and
transport. There is also some evidence of difficulty accessing health services, with some doctors
reluctant to accept asylum seekers.
“Now I do not have my mother and father – this country is like a parent”
Afghan boy
Separated children seeking asylum (those without parents or normal guardians to protect them)
are the responsibility of social services until the age of 18, when, instead of being entitled to the
support available to other care leavers, they are transferred to the National Asylum Support
Service and can be dispersed to another part of the country. Many separated children do not
receive the same care routinely offered by local authorities to other children in need. Local
authorities report difficulties finding adequate resources, as there is a shortfall between the
government grant and the cost of service provision.
Entitlement to homelessness assistance is removed under the 1999 Act. Instead, asylum seekers
are provided with accommodation by the National Asylum Support Service. A refusal of
accommodation by an asylum seeker on the terms offered leads to the loss of accommodation
assistance: accommodation is provided on a no-choice basis. Dispersal can lead to children,
accompanied or not, being isolated from their cultural roots, which is traditionally provided
through close-knit communities. Asylum seekers’ housing is not subject to any of the security
of tenure provisions under housing legislation; an asylum seeker can be forced to leave
accommodation without a court order. Furthermore, the housing offered need only be
“adequate”, while housing offered to other families must be "suitable".
The 1999 Act enables immigration officers to detain asylum seekers compulsorily, including
children, in detention centres. Between 10 May and 2 July 2000, 36 children were detained with
their parents in the detention centre at Oakington, Cambridge. The Refugee Council estimates
that 135 under-18s in detention were referred to its Panel of Advisers between January 1997 and
July 2000.
Racial and Ethnic Discrimination
• Ongoing race awareness training for teachers, developed in consultation with young
• Equal opportunities strategies in schools – all schools should have strategies that are
regularly monitored and implemented. This includes strategies to deal with racist bullying.
• Co-operation between health and other services – health services should work closely
with other services, with the community and with service users.
Immigration Status
• Withdrawal of reservation to CRC – the government should withdraw its reservation on
immigration and asylum matters.
• Positive messages about asylum seekers – the government should take the lead in
sending out positive messages about asylum seekers and protecting them from racial
• Increase in level of support for asylum seekers – the government should provide the
same level of cash support for children seeking asylum as provided for other families in the
UK. Children of asylum seekers should be entitled to the integrated child credit when
introduced in 2003.
• A cross-departmental government unit should implement a strategy to tackle social
exclusion among children who are asylum seekers or refugees.
• Full assessments of the needs of separated children should be carried out by Social
Services departments under the Children Act, and sufficient resources should be allocated
to these needs. Separated children should be entitled to the same leaving-care support as
other children.
• Children should not be detained. Where there is a dispute over age, the child should be
given the benefit of the doubt and be supported by Social Services.
Review of Children’s Rights
The United States signed the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) in February
1995, and in recent years has made some progress towards promoting the rights of children
through executive, legislative and court action. For example, on 5 July 2000 President Clinton
joined eight other nations to sign a United Nations agreement to ban child soldiers. The current
administration has also advocated on behalf of children by promoting universal childcare and
after-school care legislation. The State Children’s Health Insurance Program has, in theory,
provided access to medical care for millions of low-income children. However, despite all these
advances, the CRC has never been forwarded to Congress for ratification as a result of the
Congressional leaders’ promise to block the debate.
Opposition to the Convention comes from legislators who argue that it would strip the family
of its right to make decisions about raising and disciplining children. In addition, there is
controversy over Article 6 – the right to life, survival and development – between those who
believe in “the right to choose” and those who oppose it. Others disagree with the Convention
because they do not want the United States to relinquish its sovereignty to the United Nations,
which is viewed as the “global patriarch” of a new era.
Despite opposition from some legislative members, the US has the advantage of having two
other legislative branches, the executive and the courts, which can continue to move the
situation forward. Even without a national policy, public citizen advocates for children’s
rights continue to lobby for a framework against which they can measure the status of
children’s rights and assess progress, even if those gains are incremental changes in legislation.
The Principle of Non-Discrimination
Racial and Ethnic Discrimination
The US Census recognizes five categories of race – American Indian/Alaskan Native, Asian,
Black/African American, Native Hawaiian/Other Pacific Islander and White. There are also two
categories for data on ethnicity: Hispanic and Latino and Not Hispanic or Latino. These
classifications were developed to provide consistent data on race and ethnicity throughout the
federal government in order to enforce civil rights laws. Racial and ethnic groups have equal
protection under the law.
Racial Segregation
Separate and Equal (Plessy v. Ferguson, 1898) was the law of the land until the 1954 Brown v.
Topeka, Kansas Board of Education case. In this Supreme Court case, Chief Justice Warren
concluded that “segregation of… children in the public schools… solely on the basis of race,
pursuant to state laws permitting or requiring such segregation, denies… children the equal
protection of the laws guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment”. The Chief Justice’s decision
forced desegregation in the 17 states that had enforced school segregation with sanction of law.
The fight for the rights of all children to receive an education regardless of their state residence or
ethnic status continues at several levels. One important strategy of the government and public
advocates has been to collect and publicise academic achievement scores by racial and ethnic
breakdown as a way of monitoring progress. The National Assessment of Educational Progress
has measured the progress of 9, 13 and 17-year-olds in reading, mathematics and science since
the early 1970s. Their report, released on 24 August 2000, states that racial achievement gaps are
not as large as they were thirty years ago, before the federal government targeted billions of dollars
to improve educational opportunities for minority students; but that the significant strides
towards educational parity between blacks and whites came to a halt a decade ago and, in fact,
the gap has been widening since 1988. Improving skill levels of students from minority groups
remains a significant challenge, and federal and state governments must continue to work to
ensure that all students have access to quality schools, teachers and curricula.
Linguistic and cultural freedom
Article 30 of the CRC stipulates that states should not deny minority children the right to enjoy
religious, linguistic and cultural freedom. In the US children have the right to learn in their native
tongue according to the Bilingual Education Act of 1968; this was backed up by the Lau v.
Nichols case in 1974, which confirmed that Asian American and other minority language
children must have access to bilingual education. The court concluded: “There is no equality of
treatment merely by providing students with the same facilities, textbooks, teachers and
curriculum, for students who do not understand English are effectively foreclosed from any
meaningful education.” Despite initial debate about how to achieve bilingual education, it was
generally believed to be beneficial as long as it was not used as a reason for segregation, as was the
case for Hispanic students in the early 20th century (Haro, Carlos 1981). Recently, however,
bilingual education has become a controversial issue. “English only” propositions, such as
California’s Proposition 227 which was passed on 2 June 1998 by a 61 per cent vote, marked the
worst setback for bilingual education since the First World War. The political ripples reached other
states and the US Congress, which passed a similar bill. House Resolution 3892 weakens the
Bilingual Education Act and imposes arbitrary time limits on programmes for English learners.
However, litigation continues to challenge English-only efforts. The San Jose School District in
California was found exempt from the law and the San Francisco School Board has vowed to
resist Proposition 227. Meanwhile the debate continues, as some cite its success in test scores;
others point out that these results have more to do with the influx of $50 million dollars for the
English-only initiative and increasing numbers of after-school and Saturday native language
classes to comply with Proposition 227.
Corporal punishment
Corporal punishment affects all US children, but the Center for Effective Discipline in
Columbus, Ohio, reports that ethnic minority children receive a disproportionate amount of
beatings. Schools are the only institutions in the US in which striking another person is legally
sanctioned. In 1997, 457,754 children were subjected to corporal punishment according to the
US Department of Education Office of Civil Rights. Black students were struck twice as often as
they should have been statistically – they received 39.5 per cent of beatings, yet they made up
only 17.5 per cent of the population. The good news is that 27 states have now banned corporal
punishment, and there is pressure on the 12 remaining states to follow suit.
One in every five children in the US is an immigrant or has immigrant parents. Most of these
children live in families that do not need government assistance. However, many of the children
who are in need, and are eligible for assistance from the state, do not receive it. Non-citizen
parents often fear that applying for benefits on behalf of their citizen children will jeopardize their
chances of staying in the US, as it is still necessary for immigrants to the US to demonstrate that
they are not likely to become a “public charge”. Under the 1996 Immigration Law it became
clear that legal residents who accepted certain public assistance benefits could jeopardize their
immigration status on this basis. Within a year, 125,000 legal immigrant children lost food stamp
benefits and another 700,000 citizen children were living in households where immigrant adults
lost food stamps. In 1998, food stamps were restored to immigrant children who arrived legally in
the US prior to 22 August 1996. But since the parents remained ineligible, these families had
fewer food stamps than other families of comparable size and income. As time elapses, the
number of children entering the US who are not eligible for food stamps grows (CDF, 2000).
Over the past hundred years, the United States has built the most advanced healthcare system in
the world. Unfortunately, not all children have benefited equally from the medical, public health
and public policy achievements of the 20th century. Of the 75 million children living in the
United States, 11.6 million have no health insurance. Uninsured children are the least likely to
have routine access to a physician or to a regular source of healthcare. They are also more likely to
be sick as newborns, are less likely to be immunised on time, and are less likely to receive medical
treatment when they are injured or sick (CDF, 2000). Immunisation rates are higher for White
children than for Black and Hispanic children. In 1996, 79 per cent of White two-year-olds had
received the appropriate number of vaccinations for diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis, polio, measles
and Hib compared with 74 per cent of Black two-year-olds and 71 per cent of Hispanic twoyear-olds (CDF, 2000).
The Center for Disease Control study of Northwest American Indians and Alaskan Natives in
Idaho, Oregon and Washington reports that infant mortality rates among these groups still
exceed those of other ethnic groups, despite a dramatic two-thirds decline between 1985 and
1996 (Save the Children’s Mother’s Day Report, 2000). Although major work needs to be
done on behalf of children from minority racial and ethnic backgrounds, scientific and medical
breakthroughs in this century such as the elimination of smallpox and the near banishment of
measles, rubella, cholera and polio indicate clearly that, with national commitment, advances in
medical technology and the availability of new therapeutic drugs and techniques, millions of
children who have devastating illnesses can be saved.
Save the Children’s Mother’s Day Report 2000 indicates that in the US, children are twice as likely
as adults to be poor, and Black and Hispanic children are twice as likely as White children to be
poor. More than half of the 9.2 million children considered vulnerable to poor life outcomes are
living in neighbourhoods where poverty rates are above 20 per cent, and more than 1.1 million
live in urban neighbourhoods of extreme poverty where more than 40 per cent of the households
live below the poverty line (Kids Count 2000). The good news is that during the recent period of
economic growth, from 1993 to 1998, the number of poor children fell by 2.3 million.
In 1998, Amnesty International reported that at every stage in the judicial process (arrest,
detention, prosecution, adjudication and transfer to adult court) ethnic minority children are
over-represented. Black youths are more than twice as likely as Whites to be held in a detention
facility and are detained for an average of two weeks longer for the same offence. Nearly 70 per
cent of youths in secure confinement facilities and more than 75 per cent of youths newly
admitted to state prisons are from minority ethnic groups. Forty-six states or territories identified
a problem with minority over-representation, and many have started to address this problem.
Homicide continues to be the leading cause of death among Black males between 15 and 24 – in
fact, their firearm death rate is nearly five times that of White males of the same age. Thirty-one
more young Black males under the age of 25 are killed by gun violence every year in America
than have died from lynchings throughout US history (CDF 2000). This problem has received
much attention and a series of Child Access Prevention (CAP) laws have been passed, which
among other things holds gun owners responsible for storing firearms in a manner that makes
them inaccessible to children. Some laws hold gun manufacturers accountable in certain cities
(Chicago, New Orleans, Miami, and Bridgeport, CT). In addition, some gun manufacturers have
entered into a voluntary agreement with the government to supply child safety locks with every
new handgun. All of these efforts skirt the basic issue of the right to bear arms, a controversial and
much debated constitutional right.
• Further laws to provide equal opportunity and to protect children – although
significant steps have been made to eradicate racial and ethnic discrimination, historically
excluded groups are still experiencing the legacy of inequality. The US needs to do more to
provide a safety net for historically excluded groups.
• Development of a consensus that discrimination still exists – a 1999 report into White
beliefs indicates that opinion about sources of the socio-economic disadvantages suffered by
ethnic minority groups has changed, and that most Whites tend to place responsibility
mainly with Blacks (Schuman, H. & Krysan, M, 1999). Much work remains if we are to
change negative attitudes that are based on someone’s race or ethnicity.
• Establishment of an analytic framework through which to better understand race and
ethnicity – to understand more fully how race and ethnicity shape social relations and
become institutionally embedded, there should be an analytical framework that focuses
attention on the processes of boundary construction, maintenance and decline built on the
concept of social closure (Loveman, 1999).
• Implementation of Civil Rights Act – US law does not sanction unequal treatment of
children due to their race or ethnicity, and the Civil Rights Act provides an avenue to
pursue when individuals or institutions attempt to trample on those rights. This must be
utilised and upheld with affirmative action.
• Access to education and health services must be provided for all America’s children
regardless of race, ethnicity or the legal status of their parents.
• School desegregation laws must be upheld and enforced.
• Multilingual and multicultural instruction must be incorporated into school curricula.
• Free access to pre- and after-school care must be promoted.
• A ban on corporal punishment must be pursued and implemented in all schools.
• Full enrolment in CHIP (Children’s Health Insurance Programme) and Medicaid for
all children, in order to guarantee healthcare.
• Full immunisation – outreach efforts must be improved to ensure that all children are
fully immunised
• Judicial protection – the Senate must be convinced not to undermine the
Disproportionate Minority Confinement issue of the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency
Prevention Act. If the Senate fails to support the effort to address disproportionate minority
confinement, court intervention must be sought.
• Gun safety legislation – legislation that protects children from guns must be supported.
• Re-education of the majority – it is essential to support efforts to re-educate the majority
view of groups that are racially or ethnically different.
• Public discussion on the merits of the CRC – such a discussion would help develop the
public will for the kinds of changes that are needed to protect our children.
Detail from ‘Listen!’ Save the Children (2000)
Drawing by Valerie Burgess, Ellon Primary, Ellon, Scotland
Annex 1 The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child
Annex 2 International Save the Children Alliance
Annex 1
Convention on the Rights of the Child
Adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on 20 November 1989 and entered
into force on 2 September 1990.
The States Parties to the present Convention,
Considering that, in accordance with the principles proclaimed in the Charter of the United Nations,
recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human
family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world,
Bearing in mind that the peoples of the United Nations have, in the Charter, reaffirmed their faith in
fundamental human rights and in the dignity and worth of the human person, and have determined to
promote social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom,
Recognizing that the United Nations has, in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and in the
International Covenants on Human Rights, proclaimed and agreed that everyone is entitled to all the
rights and freedoms set forth therein, without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex,
language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status,
Recalling that, in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the United Nations has proclaimed that
childhood is entitled to special care and assistance,
Convinced that the family, as the fundamental group of society and the natural environment for the
growth and well-being of all its members and particularly children, should be afforded the necessary
protection and assistance so that it can fully assume its responsibilities within the community,
Recognizing that the child, for the full and harmonious development of his or her personality, should
grow up in a family environment, in an atmosphere of happiness, love and understanding,
Considering that the child should be fully prepared to live an individual life in society, and brought up
in the spirit of the ideals proclaimed in the Charter of the United Nations, and in particular in the
spirit of peace, dignity, tolerance, freedom, equality and solidarity,
Bearing in mind that the need to extend particular care to the child has been stated in the Geneva
Declaration of the Rights of the Child of 1924 and in the Declaration of the Rights of the Child
adopted by the General Assembly on 20 November 1959 and recognized in the Universal Declaration
of Human Rights, in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (in particular in articles
Annex 1
23 and 24), in the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (in particular in
article 10) and in the statutes and relevant instruments of specialized agencies and international
organizations concerned with the welfare of children,
Bearing in mind that, as indicated in the Declaration of the Rights of the Child, “the child, by reason
of his physical and mental immaturity, needs special safeguards and care, including appropriate legal
protection, before as well as after birth”,
Recalling the provisions of the Declaration on Social and Legal Principles relating to the Protection
and Welfare of Children, with Special Reference to Foster Placement and Adoption Nationally and
Internationally; the United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Administration of Juvenile
Justice (The Beijing Rules); and the Declaration on the Protection of Women and Children in
Emergency and Armed Conflict,
Recognizing that, in all countries in the world, there are children living in exceptionally difficult
conditions, and that such children need special consideration,
Taking due account of the importance of the traditions and cultural values of each people for the
protection and harmonious development of the child,
Recognizing the importance of international co-operation for improving the living conditions of
children in every country, in particular in the developing countries,
Have agreed as follows:
Article 1 - Definition of a child
For the purposes of the present Convention, a child means every human being below the age of
eighteen years unless, under the law applicable to the child, majority is attained earlier.
Article 2 - Non-discrimination
1. States Parties shall respect and ensure the rights set forth in the present Convention to each child
within their jurisdiction without discrimination of any kind, irrespective of the child’s or his or her
parent’s or legal guardian’s race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national,
ethnic or social origin, property, disability, birth or other status.
2. States Parties shall take all appropriate measures to ensure that the child is protected against all
forms of discrimination or punishment on the basis of the status, activities, expressed opinions,
or beliefs of the child’s parents, legal guardians, or family members.
Article 3 - Best interests of the child
1. In all actions concerning children, whether undertaken by public or private social welfare
institutions, courts of law, administrative authorities or legislative bodies, the best interests of the
child shall be a primary consideration.
2. States Parties undertake to ensure the child such protection and care as is necessary for his or her
well-being, taking into account the rights and duties of his or her parents, legal guardians, or other
individuals legally responsible for him or her, and, to this end, shall take all appropriate legislative
and administrative measures.
3. States Parties shall ensure that the institutions, services and facilities responsible for the care or
protection of children shall conform with the standards established by competent authorities,
particularly in the areas of safety, health, in the number and suitability of their staff, as well as
competent supervision.
Article 4 - Implementation of rights
States Parties shall undertake all appropriate legislative, administrative, and other measures for the
implementation of the rights recognized in the present Convention. With regard to economic, social
and cultural rights, States Parties shall undertake such measures to the maximum extent of their
available resources and, where needed, within the framework of international co-operation.
Article 5 - Parental guidance and the child’s evolving capacities
States Parties shall respect the responsibilities, rights and duties of parents or, where applicable, the
members of the extended family or community as provided for by local custom, legal guardian or other
persons legally responsible for the child, to provide, in a manner consistent with the evolving capacities
of the child, appropriate direction and guidance in the exercise by the child of the rights recognized in
the present Convention.
Article 6 - Survival and development
1. States Parties recognize that every child has the inherent right to life.
2. States Parties shall ensure to the maximum extent possible the survival and development of the child.
Article 7 - Name and nationality
1. The child shall be registered immediately after birth and shall have the right from birth to a name,
the right to acquire a nationality and, as far as possible, the right to know and be cared for by his
or her parents.
2. States Parties shall ensure the implementation of these rights in accordance with their national law
and their obligations under the relevant international instruments in this field, in particular where
the child would otherwise be stateless.
Article 8 - Preservation of identity
1. States Parties undertake to respect the right of the child to preserve his or her identity, including
nationality, name and family relations as recognized by law without unlawful interference.
2. Where a child is illegally deprived of some or all of the elements of his or her identity, States
Parties shall provide appropriate assistance and protection, with a view to speedily re-establishing
his or her identity.
Article 9 - Separation from parents
1. States Parties shall ensure that a child shall not be separated from his or her parents against their
will, except when competent authorities subject to judicial review determine, in accordance with
applicable law and procedures, that such separation is necessary for the best interests of the child.
Such determination may be necessary in a particular case such as one involving abuse or neglect of
the child by the parents, or one where the parents are living separately and a decision must be
made as to the child’s place of residence.
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2. In any proceedings pursuant to paragraph 1 of the present article, all interested parties shall be
given an opportunity to participate in the proceedings and make their views known.
3. States Parties shall respect the right of the child who is separated from one or both parents to
maintain personal relations and direct contact with both parents on a regular basis, except if it
is contrary to the child’s best interests.
4. Where such separation results from any action initiated by a State Party, such as the detention,
imprisonment, exile, deportation or death (including death arising from any cause while the person
is in the custody of the State) of one or both parents or of the child, that State Party shall, upon
request, provide the parents, the child or, if appropriate, another member of the family with the
essential information concerning the whereabouts of the absent member(s) of the family unless the
provision of the information would be detrimental to the well-being of the child. States Parties
shall further ensure that the submission of such a request shall of itself entail no adverse
consequences for the person(s) concerned.
Article 10 - Family reunification
1. In accordance with the obligation of States Parties under article 9, paragraph 1, applications by a
child or his or her parents to enter or leave a State Party for the purpose of family reunification
shall be dealt with by States Parties in a positive, humane and expeditious manner. States Parties
shall further ensure that the submission of such a request shall entail no adverse consequences for
the applicants and for the members of their family.
2. A child whose parents reside in different States shall have the right to maintain on a regular basis,
save in exceptional circumstances, personal relations and direct contacts with both parents.
Towards that end and in accordance with the obligation of States Parties under article 9, paragraph
1, States Parties shall respect the right of the child and his or her parents to leave any country,
including their own, and to enter their own country. The right to leave any country shall be
subject only to such restrictions as are prescribed by law and which are necessary to protect the
national security, public order (ordre public), public health or morals or the rights and freedoms of
others and are consistent with the other rights recognized in the present Convention.
Article 11 - Illicit transfer and non-return
1. States Parties shall take measures to combat the illicit transfer and non-return of children abroad.
2. To this end, States Parties shall promote the conclusion of bilateral or multilateral agreements or
accession to existing agreements.
Article 12 - The child’s opinion
1. States Parties shall assure to the child who is capable of forming his or her own views the right
to express those views freely in all matters affecting the child, the views of the child being given
due weight in accordance with the age and maturity of the child.
2. For this purpose, the child shall in particular be provided the opportunity to be heard in any
judicial and administrative proceedings affecting the child, either directly, or through a
representative or an appropriate body, in a manner consistent with the procedural rules of
national law.
Article 13 - Freedom of expression
1. The child shall have the right to freedom of expression; this right shall include freedom to seek,
receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in
writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other media of the child’s choice.
2. The exercise of this right may be subject to certain restrictions, but these shall only be such as are
provided by law and are necessary:
(a) For respect of the rights or reputations of others; or
(b) For the protection of national security or of public order (ordre public), or of public health
or morals.
Article 14 - Freedom of thought, conscience and religion
1. States Parties shall respect the right of the child to freedom of thought, conscience and religion.
2. States Parties shall respect the rights and duties of the parents and, when applicable, legal
guardians, to provide direction to the child in the exercise of his or her right in a manner consistent
with the evolving capacities of the child.
3. Freedom to manifest one’s religion or beliefs may be subject only to such limitations as are
prescribed by law and are necessary to protect public safety, order, health or morals, or the
fundamental rights and freedoms of others.
Article 15 - Freedom of association
1. States Parties recognize the rights of the child to freedom of association and to freedom of peaceful
2. No restrictions may be placed on the exercise of these rights other than those imposed in
conformity with the law and which are necessary in a democratic society in the interests of national
security or public safety, public order (ordre public), the protection of public health or morals or
the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.
Article 16 - Protection of privacy
1. No child shall be subjected to arbitrary or unlawful interference with his or her privacy, family,
home or correspondence, nor to unlawful attacks on his or her honour and reputation.
2. The child has the right to the protection of the law against such interference or attacks.
Article 17 - Access to appropriate information
States Parties recognize the important function performed by the mass media and shall ensure that the
child has access to information and material from a diversity of national and international sources,
especially those aimed at the promotion of his or her social, spiritual and moral well-being and physical
and mental health. To this end, States Parties shall:
(a) Encourage the mass media to disseminate information and material of social and cultural
benefit to the child and in accordance with the spirit of article 29;
(b) Encourage international co-operation in the production, exchange and dissemination of such
information and material from a diversity of cultural, national and international sources;
(c) Encourage the production and dissemination of children’s books;
(d) Encourage the mass media to have particular regard to the linguistic needs of the child who
belongs to a minority group or who is indigenous;
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(e) Encourage the development of appropriate guidelines for the protection of the child from
information and material injurious to his or her well-being, bearing in mind the provisions of
articles 13 and 18.
Article 18 - Parental responsibilities
1. States Parties shall use their best efforts to ensure recognition of the principle that both parents
have common responsibilities for the upbringing and development of the child. Parents or, as the
case may be, legal guardians, have the primary responsibility for the upbringing and development
of the child. The best interests of the child will be their basic concern.
2. For the purpose of guaranteeing and promoting the rights set forth in the present Convention,
States Parties shall render appropriate assistance to parents and legal guardians in the performance
of their child-rearing responsibilities and shall ensure the development of institutions, facilities and
services for the care of children.
3. States Parties shall take all appropriate measures to ensure that children of working parents have
the right to benefit from child-care services and facilities for which they are eligible.
Article 19 - Protection from abuse and neglect
1. States Parties shall take all appropriate legislative, administrative, social and educational measures to
protect the child from all forms of physical or mental violence, injury or abuse, neglect or negligent
treatment, maltreatment or exploitation, including sexual abuse, while in the care of parent(s), legal
guardian(s) or any other person who has the care of the child.
2. Such protective measures should, as appropriate, include effective procedures for the establishment
of social programmes to provide necessary support for the child and for those who have the care of
the child, as well as for other forms of prevention and for identification, reporting, referral,
investigation, treatment and follow-up of instances of child maltreatment described heretofore,
and, as appropriate, for judicial involvement.
Article 20 - Protection of children without families
1. A child temporarily or permanently deprived of his or her family environment, or in whose own
best interests cannot be allowed to remain in that environment, shall be entitled to special
protection and assistance provided by the State.
2. States Parties shall in accordance with their national laws ensure alternative care for such a child.
3. Such care could include, inter alia, foster placement, kafalah of Islamic law, adoption or if
necessary placement in suitable institutions for the care of children. When considering solutions,
due regard shall be paid to the desirability of continuity in a child’s upbringing and to the child’s
ethnic, religious, cultural and linguistic background.
Article 21 - Adoption
States Parties that recognize and/or permit the system of adoption shall ensure that the best interests of
the child shall be the paramount consideration and they shall:
(a) Ensure that the adoption of a child is authorized only by competent authorities who
determine, in accordance with applicable law and procedures and on the basis of all pertinent
and reliable information, that the adoption is permissible in view of the child’s status
concerning parents, relatives and legal guardians and that, if required, the persons concerned
have given their informed consent to the adoption on the basis of such counselling as may
be necessary;
(b) Recognize that inter-country adoption may be considered as an alternative means of child’s
care, if the child cannot be placed in a foster or an adoptive family or cannot in any suitable
manner be cared for in the child’s country of origin;
(c) Ensure that the child concerned by inter-country adoption enjoys safeguards and standards
equivalent to those existing in the case of national adoption;
(d) Take all appropriate measures to ensure that, in inter-country adoption, the placement does
not result in improper financial gain for those involved in it;
(e) Promote, where appropriate, the objectives of the present article by concluding bilateral or
multilateral arrangements or agreements, and endeavour, within this framework, to ensure
that the placement of the child in another country is carried out by competent authorities
or organs.
Article 22 - Refugee children
1. States Parties shall take appropriate measures to ensure that a child who is seeking refugee status
or who is considered a refugee in accordance with applicable international or domestic law and
procedures shall, whether unaccompanied or accompanied by his or her parents or by any other
person, receive appropriate protection and humanitarian assistance in the enjoyment of applicable
rights set forth in the present Convention and in other international human rights or humanitarian
instruments to which the said States are Parties.
2. For this purpose, States Parties shall provide, as they consider appropriate, co-operation in any
efforts by the United Nations and other competent intergovernmental organizations or nongovernmental organizations co-operating with the United Nation to protect and assist such a child
and to trace the parents or other members of the family of any refugee child in order to obtain
information necessary for reunification with his or her family. In cases where no parents or other
members of the family can be found, the child shall be accorded the same protection as any other
child permanently or temporarily deprived of his or her family environment for any reason , as set
forth in the present Convention.
Article 23 - Handicapped children
1. States Parties recognize that a mentally or physically disabled child should enjoy a full and decent
life, in conditions which ensure dignity, promote self-reliance and facilitate the child’s active
participation in the community.
2. States Parties recognize the right of the disabled child to special care and shall encourage and
ensure the extension, subject to available resources, to the eligible child and those responsible for
his or her care, of assistance for which application is made and which is appropriate to the child’s
condition and to the circumstances of the parents or others caring for the child.
3. Recognizing the special needs of a disabled child, assistance extended in accordance with paragraph
2 of the present article shall be provided free of charge, whenever possible, taking into account the
financial resources of the parents or others caring for the child, and shall be designed to ensure that
the disabled child has effective access to and receives education, training, health care services,
rehabilitation services, preparation for employment and recreation opportunities in a manner
conducive to the child’s achieving the fullest possible social integration and individual
development, including his or her cultural and spiritual development.
4. States Parties shall promote, in the spirit of international co-operation, the exchange of appropriate
information in the field of preventive health care and of medical, psychological and functional
treatment of disabled children, including dissemination of and access to information concerning
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methods of rehabilitation, education and vocational services, with the aim of enabling States Parties
to improve their capabilities and skills and to widen their experience in these areas. In this regard,
particular account shall be taken of the needs of developing countries.
Article 24 - Health and health services
1. States Parties recognize the right of the child to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of
health and to facilities for the treatment of illness and rehabilitation of health. States Parties shall
strive to ensure that no child is deprived of his or her right of access to such health care services.
2. States Parties shall pursue full implementation of this right and, in particular, shall take appropriate
(a) To diminish infant and child mortality;
(b) To ensure the provision of necessary medical assistance and health care to all children with
emphasis on the development of primary health care;
(c) To combat disease and malnutrition, including within the framework of primary health care,
through, inter alia, the application of readily available technology and through the provision of
adequate nutritious foods and clean drinking-water, taking into consideration the dangers and
risks of environmental pollution;
(d) To ensure appropriate pre-natal and post-natal health care for mothers;
(e) To ensure that all segments of society, in particular parentsand children, are informed, have
access to education and are supported in the use of basic knowledge of child health and
nutrition, the advantages of breast-feeding, hygiene and environmental sanitation and the
prevention of accidents;
(f) To develop preventive health care, guidance for parents and family planning education and
3. States Parties shall take all effective and appropriate measures with a view to abolishing traditional
practices prejudicial to the health of children.
4. States Parties undertake to promote and encourage international co-operation with a view to
achieving progressively the full realization of the right recognized in the present article. In this
regard, particular account shall be taken of the needs of developing countries.
Article 25 - Periodic review of placement
States Parties recognize the right of a child who has been placed by the competent authorities for the
purposes of care, protection or treatment of his or her physical or mental health, to a periodic review of
the treatment provided to the child and all other circumstances relevant to his or her placement.
Article 26 - Social security
1. States Parties shall recognize for every child the right to benefit from social security, including
social insurance, and shall take the necessary measures to achieve the full realization of this right in
accordance with their national law.
2. The benefits should, where appropriate, be granted, taking into account the resources and the
circumstances of the child and persons having responsibility for the maintenance of the child, as
well as any other consideration relevant to an application for benefits made by or on behalf of the child.
Article 27 - Standard of living
1. States Parties recognize the right of every child to a standard of living adequate for the child’s
physical, mental, spiritual, moral and social development.
2. The parent(s) or others responsible for the child have the primary responsibility to secure, within
their abilities and financial capacities, the conditions of living necessary for the child’s
3. States Parties, in accordance with national conditions and within their means, shall take
appropriate measures to assist parents and others responsible for the child to implement this right
and shall in case of need provide material assistance and support programmes, particularly with
regard to nutrition, clothing and housing.
4. States Parties shall take all appropriate measures to secure the recovery of maintenance for the child
from the parents or other persons having financial responsibility for the child, both within the
State Party and from abroad. In particular, where the person having financial responsibility for the
child lives in a State different from that of the child, States Parties shall promote the accession to
international agreements or the conclusion of such agreements, as well as the making of other
appropriate arrangements.
Article 28 - Education
1. States Parties recognize the right of the child to education, and with a view to achieving this right
progressively and on the basis of equal opportunity, they shall, in particular:
(a) Make primary education compulsory and available free to all;
(b) Encourage the development of different forms of secondary education, including general and
vocational education, make them available and accessible to every child, and take appropriate
measures such as the introduction of free education and offering financial assistance in case
of need;
(c) Make higher education accessible to all on the basis of capacity by every appropriate means;
(d) Make educational and vocational information and guidance available and accessible to all
(e) Take measures to encourage regular attendance at schools and the reduction of drop-out rates.
2. States Parties shall take all appropriate measures to ensure that school discipline is administered in
a manner consistent with the child’s human dignity and in conformity with the present
3. States Parties shall promote and encourage international cooperation in matters relating to
education, in particular with a view to contributing to the elimination of ignorance and illiteracy
throughout the world and facilitating access to scientific and technical knowledge and modern
teaching methods. In this regard, particular account shall be taken of the needs of developing
Article 29 - Aims of education
1. States Parties agree that the education of the child shall be directed to:
(a) The development of the child’s personality, talents and mental and physical abilities to their
fullest potential;
(b) The development of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, and for the
principles enshrined in the Charter of the United Nations;
(c) The development of respect for the child’s parents, his or her own cultural identity, language
and values, for the national values of the country in which the child is living, the country from
which he or she may originate, and for civilizations different from his or her own;
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(d) The preparation of the child for responsible life in a free society, in the spirit of understanding,
peace, tolerance, equality of sexes, and friendship among all peoples, ethnic, national and
religious groups and persons of indigenous origin;
(e) The development of respect for the natural environment.
2. No part of the present article or article 28 shall be construed so as to interfere with the liberty of
individuals and bodies to establish and direct educational institutions, subject always to the
observance of the principle set forth in paragraph 1 of the present article and to the requirements
that the education given in such institutions shall conform to such minimum standards as may be
laid down by the State.
Article 30 - Children of minorities or of indigenous peoples
In those States in which ethnic, religious or linguistic minorities or persons of indigenous origin exist, a
child belonging to such a minority or who is indigenous shall not be denied the right, in community
with other members of his or her group, to enjoy his or her own culture, to profess and practise his or
her own religion, or to use his or her own language.
Article 31 - Leisure, recreation and cultural activities
1. States Parties recognize the right of the child to rest and leisure, to engage in play and recreational
activities appropriate to the age of the child and to participate freely in cultural life and the arts.
2. States Parties shall respect and promote the right of the child to participate fully in cultural and
artistic life and shall encourage the provision of appropriate and equal opportunities for cultural,
artistic, recreational and leisure activity.
Article 32 - Child labour
1. States Parties recognize the right of the child to be protected from economic exploitation and from
performing any work that is likely to be hazardous or to interfere with the child’s education, or to
be harmful to the child’s health or physical, mental, spiritual, moral or social development.
2. States Parties shall take legislative, administrative, social and educational measures to ensure the
implementation of the present article. To this end, and having regard to the relevant provisions of
other international instruments, States Parties shall in particular:
(a) Provide for a minimum age or minimum ages for admission to employment;
(b) Provide for appropriate regulation of the hours and conditions of employment;
(c) Provide for appropriate penalties or other sanctions to ensure the effective enforcement of
the present article.
Article 33 - Drug abuse
States Parties shall take all appropriate measures, including legislative, administrative, social and
educational measures, to protect children from the illicit use of narcotic drugs and psychotropic
substances as defined in the relevant international treaties, and to prevent the use of children in the
illicit production and trafficking of such substances.
Article 34 - Sexual exploitation
States Parties undertake to protect the child from all forms of sexual exploitation and sexual abuse.
For these purposes, States Parties shall in particular take all appropriate national, bilateral and
multilateral measures to prevent:
(a) The inducement or coercion of a child to engage in any unlawful sexual activity;
(b) The exploitative use of children in prostitution or other unlawful sexual practices;
(c) The exploitative use of children in pornographic performances and materials.
Article 35 - Sale, trafficking and abduction
States Parties shall take all appropriate national, bilateral and multilateral measures to prevent the
abduction of, the sale of or traffic in children for any purpose or in any form.
Article 36 - Other forms of exploitation
States Parties shall protect the child against all other forms of exploitation prejudicial to any aspects of
the child’s welfare.
Article 37 - Torture and deprivation of liberty
States Parties shall ensure that:
(a) No child shall be subjected to torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or
punishment. Neither capital punishment nor life imprisonment without possibility of release
shall be imposed for offences committed by persons below eighteen years of age;
(b) No child shall be deprived of his or her liberty unlawfully or arbitrarily. The arrest, detention
or imprisonment of a child shall be in conformity with the law and shall be used only as a
measure of last resort and for the shortest appropriate period of time;
(c) Every child deprived of liberty shall be treated with humanity and respect for the inherent
dignity of the human person, and in a manner which takes into account the needs of persons
of his or her age. In particular, every child deprived of liberty shall be separated from adults
unless it is considered in the child’s best interest not to do so and shall have the right to
maintain contact with his or her family through correspondence and visits, save in exceptional
(d) Every child deprived of his or her liberty shall have the right to prompt access to legal and
other appropriate assistance, as well as the right to challenge the legality of the deprivation of
his or her liberty before a court or other competent, independent and impartial authority, and
to a prompt decision on any such action.
Article 38 - Armed conflicts
1. States Parties undertake to respect and to ensure respect for rules of international humanitarian law
applicable to them in armed conflicts which are relevant to the child.
2. States Parties shall take all feasible measures to ensure that persons who have not attained the age of
fifteen years do not take a direct part in hostilities.
3. States Parties shall refrain from recruiting any person who has not attained the age of fifteen years
into their armed forces. In recruiting among those persons who have attained the age of fifteen
years but who have not attained the age of eighteen years, States Parties shall endeavour to give
priority to those who are oldest.
4. In accordance with their obligations under international humanitarian law to protect the civilian
population in armed conflicts, States Parties shall take all feasible measures to ensure protection
and care of children who are affected by an armed conflict.
Article 39 - Rehabilitative care
States Parties shall take all appropriate measures to promote physical and psychological recovery and
social reintegrationof a child victim of: any form of neglect, exploitation, or abuse; torture or any other
form of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment; or armed conflicts. Such recovery and
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reintegration shall take place in an environment which fosters the health, self-respect and dignity of
the child.
Article 40 - Administration of juvenile justice
1. States Parties recognize the right of every child alleged as, accused of, or recognized as having
infringed the penal law to be treated in a manner consistent with the promotion of the child’s sense
of dignity and worth, which reinforces the child’s respect for the human rights and fundamental
freedoms of others and which takes into account the child’s age and the desirability of promoting
the child’s reintegration and the child’s assuming a constructive role in society.
2. To this end, and having regard to the relevant provisions of international instruments, States
Parties shall, in particular, ensure that:
(a) No child shall be alleged as, be accused of, or recognized as having infringed the penal law by
reason of acts or omissions that were not prohibited by national or international law at the
time they were committed;
(b) Every child alleged as or accused of having infringed the penal law has at least the following
(i) To be presumed innocent until proven guilty according to law;
(ii) To be informed promptly and directly of the charges against him or her, and, if
appropriate, through his or her parents or legal guardians, and to have legal or other
appropriate assistance in the preparation and presentation of his or her defence;
(iii) To have the matter determined without delay by a competent, independent and impartial
authority or judicial body in a fair hearing according to law, in the presence of legal or
other appropriate assistance and, unless it is considered not to be in the best interest of the
child, in particular, taking into account his or her age or situation, his or her parents or
legal guardians;
(iv) Not to be compelled to give testimony or to confess guilt; to examine or have examined
adverse witnesses and to obtain the participation and examination of witnesses on his or
her behalf under conditions of equality;
(v) If considered to have infringed the penal law, to have this decision and any measures
imposed in consequence thereof reviewed by a higher competent, independent and
impartial authority or judicial body according to law;
(vi) To have the free assistance of an interpreter if the child cannot understand or speak the
language used;
(vii)To have his or her privacy fully respected at all stages of the proceedings.
3. States Parties shall seek to promote the establishment of laws, procedures, authorities and
institutions specifically applicable to children alleged as, accused of, or recognized as having
infringed the penal law, and, in particular:
(a) The establishment of a minimum age below which children shall be presumed not to have the
capacity to infringe the penal law;
(b) Whenever appropriate and desirable, measures for dealing with such children without resorting
to judicial proceedings, providing that human rights and legal safeguards are fully respected.
4. A variety of dispositions, such as care, guidance and supervision orders; counselling; probation;
foster care; education and vocational training programmes and other alternatives to institutional
care shall be available to ensure that children are dealt with in a manner appropriate to their
well-being and proportionate both to their circumstances and the offence.
Article 41 - Respect of existing standards
Nothing in the present Convention shall affect any provisions which are more conducive to the
realization of the rights of the child and which may be contained in:
(a) The law of a State party; or
(b) International law in force for that State.
Implementation and entry into force
Article 42
States Parties undertake to make the principles and provisions of the Convention widely known, by
appropriate and active means, to adults and children alike.
Article 43
1. For the purpose of examining the progress made by States Parties in achieving the realization of the
obligations undertaken in the present Convention, there shall be established a Committee on the
Rights of the Child, which shall carry out the functions hereinafter provided.
2. The Committee shall consist of ten experts of high moral standing and recognized competence in
the field covered by this Convention. The members of the Committee shall be elected by States
Parties from among their nationals and shall serve in their personal capacity, consideration being
given to equitable geographical distribution, as well as to the principal legal systems.
3. The members of the Committee shall be elected by secret ballot from a list of persons nominated
by States Parties. Each State Party may nominate one person from among its own nationals.
4. The initial election to the Committee shall be held no later than six months after the date of the
entry into force of the present Convention and thereafter every second year. At least four months
before the date of each election, the Secretary-General of the United Nations shall address a letter
to States Parties inviting them to submit their nominations within two months. The SecretaryGeneral shall subsequently prepare a list in alphabetical order of all persons thus nominated,
indicating States Parties which have nominated them, and shall submit it to the States Parties to
the present Convention.
5. The elections shall be held at meetings of States Parties convened by the Secretary-General at
United Nations Headquarters. At those meetings, for which two thirds of States Parties shall
constitute a quorum, the persons elected to the Committee shall be those who obtain the largest
number of votes and an absolute majority of the votes of the representatives of States Parties
present and voting.
6. The members of the Committee shall be elected for a term of four years. They shall be eligible for
re-election if renominated. The term of five of the members elected at the first election shall expire
at the end of two years; immediately after the first election, the names of these five members shall
be chosen by lot by the Chairman of the meeting.
7. If a member of the Committee dies or resigns or declares that for any other cause he or she can no
longer perform the duties of the Committee, the State Party which nominated the member shall
appoint another expert from among its nationals to serve for the remainder of the term, subject to
the approval of the Committee.
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8. The Committee shall establish its own rules of procedure.
9. The Committee shall elect its officers for a period of two years.
10. The meetings of the Committee shall normally be held at United Nations Headquarters or at any
other convenient place as determined by the Committee. The Committee shall normally meet
annually. The duration of the meetings of the Committee shall be determined, and reviewed, if
necessary, by a meeting of the States Parties to the present Convention, subject to the approval of
the General Assembly.
11. The Secretary-General of the United Nations shall provide the necessary staff and facilities for the
effective performance of the functions of the Committee under the present Convention.
12. With the approval of the General Assembly, the members of the Committee established under the
present Convention shall receive emoluments from United Nations resources on such terms and
conditions as the Assembly may decide.
Article 44
1. States Parties undertake to submit to the Committee, through the Secretary-General of the United
Nations, reports on the measures they have adopted which give effect to the rights recognized herein
and on the progress made on the enjoyment of those rights:
(a) Within two years of the entry into force of the Convention for the State Party concerned;
(b) Thereafter every five years.
2. Reports made under the present article shall indicate factors and difficulties, if any, affecting the
degree of fulfilment of the obligations under the present Convention. Reports shall also contain
sufficient information to provide the Committee with a comprehensive understanding of the
implementation of the Convention in the country concerned.
3. A State Party which has submitted a comprehensive initial report to the Committee need not, in its
subsequent reports submitted in accordance with paragraph 1 (b) of the present article, repeat basic
information previously provided.
4. The Committee may request from States Parties further information relevant to the
implementation of the Convention.
5. The Committee shall submit to the General Assembly, through the Economic and Social Council,
every two years, reports on its activities.
6. States Parties shall make their reports widely available to the public in their own countries.
Article 45
In order to foster the effective implementation of the Convention and to encourage international cooperation in the field covered by the Convention:
(a) The specialized agencies, the United Nations Children’s Fund, and other United Nations
organs shall be entitled to be represented at the consideration of the implementation of such
provisions of the present Convention as fall within the scope of their mandate. The Committee
may invite the specialized agencies, the United Nations Children’s Fund and other competent
bodies as it may consider appropriate to provide expert advice on the implementation of the
Convention in areas falling within the scope of their respective mandates. The Committee may
invite the specialized agencies, the United Nations Children’s Fund, and other United Nations
organs to submit reports on the implementation of the Convention in areas falling within the
scope of their activities;
(b) The Committee shall transmit, as it may consider appropriate, to the specialized agencies, the
United Nations Children’s Fund and other competent bodies, any reports from States Parties that
contain a request, or indicate a need, for technical advice or assistance, along with the Committee’s
observations and suggestions, if any, on these requests or indications;
(c) The Committee may recommend to the General Assembly to request the Secretary-General to
undertake on its behalf studies on specific issues relating to the rights of the child;
(d) The Committee may make suggestions and general recommendations based on information
received pursuant to articles 44 and 45 of the present Convention. Such suggestions and
general recommendations shall be transmitted to any State Party concerned and reported to
the General Assembly, together with comments, if any, from States Parties.
Article 46
The present Convention shall be open for signature by all States.
Article 47
The present Convention is subject to ratification. Instruments of ratification shall be deposited with the
Secretary-General of the United Nations.
Article 48
The present Convention shall remain open for accession by any State. The instruments of accession
shall be deposited with the Secretary-General of the United Nations.
Article 49
1. The present Convention shall enter into force on the thirtieth day following the date of deposit
with the Secretary-General of the United Nations of the twentieth instrument of ratification or
2. For each State ratifying or acceding to the Convention after the deposit of the twentieth
instrument of ratification or accession the Convention shall enter into force on the thirtieth day
after the deposit by such State of its instrument of ratification or accession.
Article 50
1. Any State Party may propose an amendment and file it with the Secretary-General of the United
Nations. The Secretary-General shall thereupon communicate the proposed amendment to States
Parties, with a request that they indicate whether they favour a conference of States Parties for the
purpose of considering and voting upon the proposals. In the event that, within four months from
the date of such communication, at least one third of the States Parties favour such a conference,
the Secretary-General shall convene the conference under the auspices of the United Nations. Any
amendment adopted by a majority of States Parties present and voting at the conference shall be
submitted to the General Assembly for approval.
2. An amendment adopted in accordance with paragraph 1 of the present article shall enter into force
when it has been approved by the General Assembly of the United Nations and accepted by a twothirds majority of States Parties.
Annex 1
3. When an amendment enters into force, it shall be binding on those States Parties which have
accepted it, other States Parties still being bound by the provisions of the present Convention and
any earlier amendments which they have accepted.
Article 51
1. The Secretary-General of the United Nations shall receive and circulate to all States the text of
reservations made by States at the time of ratification or accession.
2. A reservation incompatible with the object and purpose of the present Convention shall not be
3. Reservations may be withdrawn at any time by notification to that effect addressed to the
Secretary-General of the United Nations, who shall then inform all States. Such notification shall
take effect on the date on which it is received by the Secretary-General
Article 52
A State Party may denounce the present Convention by written notification to the Secretary-General
of the United Nations. Denunciation becomes effective one year after the date of receipt of the
notification by the Secretary-General.
Article 53
The Secretary-General of the United Nations is designated as the depositary of the present Convention.
Article 54
The original of the present Convention, of which the Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Russian
and Spanish texts are equally authentic, shall be deposited with the Secretary-General of the
United Nations.
Annex 2
International Save the Children
The International Save the Children Alliance is the world’s largest independent global
movement for children, with Save the Children organisations in 30* countries and
operational programmes in over 100.
Save the Children works for:
• a world which respects and values each child
• a world which listens to children and learns
• a world where all children have hope and opportunity.
Save the Children fights for children’s rights. We deliver immediate and lasting improvements to
children’s lives worldwide.
Save the Children provides both emergency relief and long term development assistance, wherever
possible working closely with local partners who firmly believe in providing children with the best
possible start in life.
Save the Children also runs major programmes of work to secure the rights of children by
bringing about sustainable and equitable development. Poverty and inequality are the root causes
of many of the obstacles preventing the fulfilment of children’s rights, and their eradication is a
fundamental aim of Save the Children’s programmes.
Over time the Save the Children worldwide movement has grown as organisations from different
countries of the world have joined forces to protect and promote children’s rights. Save the
Children now works in around 120 countries.
Through its programmes Save the Children tackles key children’s rights issues including health,
education, nutrition and food security, gender discrimination, disability and early childhood
development. It also possesses considerable expertise in more specialised fields such as family
tracing and reunification (for children separated by war or natural disaster), the rehabilitation of
child ex-combatants, alternatives to institutional care and support for working children. In all this
work it strives to implement a rights-based approach in its programmes, ensuring that all activities
* Oct 2000. There are currently 26 full Members and 4 Associates of the International Save the Children Alliance.
Annex 2
seek to integrate the key principles of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. And in
recent years Save the Children has also responded to the emergence of the HIV/Aids epidemic
and has developed a range of innovative programmes designed to increase the protection of children
from the virus itself and from the impact of the loss of parents or other carers.
Equally importantly, Save the Children focuses on the research and advocacy which brings the
lack of recognition of children’s rights to the attention of decision makers, politicians and opinion
formers across the world. This work has focused on:
• raising awareness of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child
• encouraging the practical implementation of the Convention, globally
• supporting the monitoring mechanisms established by the Convention.
In addition Save the Children builds local, regional and global partnerships to establish a broader
movement to support and implement children’s rights. This involves working with international
organisations and UN agencies and includes support to organisations run by children and young
people to enable them to champion their own rights. In many countries Save the Children works
with coalitions of children’s rights organisations to develop awareness of children’s rights. It is also
piloting a variety of methods of enabling children to participate more actively in decisions that
affect them.
To complement this work, Save the Children has provided training in children’s rights for a wide
range of key actors, such as governments, community organisations and partner organisations in
order to ensure a stronger awareness of children’s rights and their realisation in policies and
In parallel with all of their activities Save the Children plays a critical advocacy role. It lobbies
governments, the international community and members of civil society, highlighting failures in
public policy and private practice, which represent violations of children’s rights. In today’s
complex international environment, and for organisations such as Save the Children whose
purpose is deeply rooted in children’s rights, this role is crucial. Save the Children and other
children’s agencies must act as the custodians of children’s rights, sharing the responsibility to
fight for their recognition and defence.
Over a decade ago, the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child inspired renewed
commitment to make adults and adult institutions much more accountable for what they do
for children, and to address the stark reality that these statistics portray. But clearly, what the
Convention has achieved lacks the drama and visibility of immediate success. Only fundamental
changes to attitudes, behaviour and overall commitment to children will ultimately protect them
from the horrors of wars, poverty, exploitation and abuse. The organisations who make up the
International Save the Children Alliance see it as their role to continue the fight to keep this
enormous challenge in the hearts and minds of everyone who can bring about benefits in the
lives of children.
The Organisations who make up the International
Save the Children Alliance are listed below.
Save the Children Australia
P.O. Box 1281, Collingwood,
Victoria 3066, Australia
Tel +61 3 94 17 76 62
Fax +61 3 94 19 95 18
E-mail [email protected]
Save the Children Canada
4141 Yonge Street
Suite 300, Toronto
Ontario M2P 2A8, Canada
Tel +1 416 221 55 01
Fax +1 416 221 82 14
E-mail [email protected]
Save the Children Denmark
(Red Barnet)
Rantzausgade 60,
DK-2200 Copenhagen N, Denmark
Tel +45 70 20 61 20
Fax +45 70 20 62 20
E-mail [email protected]
Save the Children Dominican
(Fundacion Para El Desarrollo Comunitario)
mail address:
EPS #X-10397 FUDECO,
P.O Box 02-5261, Miami,
Florida 33102-5261, USA
office address:
Calle Jacinto Mañón 32, Ensanche Paraíso
Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic
Tel +1 809-567 3351/542 5403
Fax +1 809-566 82 97
E-mail [email protected]
Save the Children Egypt
P.O. Box 5854, Heliopolis West,
11771 Cairo, Egypt
Tel +202 248 67 64
Fax +202 249 4602
Save the Children Faroe Islands
Postboks 1052, FR-110 Torshavn,
Faroe Islands
Tel +298 31 63 31
E-mail [email protected]
Save the Children Finland
(Pelastakaa Lapset Ry)
P.O. Box 177, 00181
Helsinki, Finland
Tel +358 9 4135 5400
Fax +358 9 4135 5444
E-mail [email protected]
Save the Children France
(Enfants et Développement)
13 rue Jules Simon,
F-75015 Paris, France
Tel +33 1 53 68 98 20
Fax +33 1 53 68 98 29
E-mail [email protected]
Save the Children Greece
54 Papadiamandopoulou Street,
GR-157 71 Zografou, Athens, Greece
Tel +30 1 775 87 32
Fax/Tel +30 1 779 94 81
E-mail [email protected]
Save the Children Guatemala
(Alianza Para El Desarrollo
Juvenil Comunitario)
9a, Avenida 32-01
Zona 11, Colonia Las Charcas
Guatemala City, Guatemala
Tel +502 485 0111
Fax +502 334 2338
E-mail [email protected]
Save the Children Honduras
(Asociacion Salvemos Los Niños
de Honduras)
Apartado Postal 333, Tegucigalpa, M.D.C,
Tel +504 239 5051/921/0158
Fax +50 42 32 58 69
E-mail [email protected]
Save the Children Iceland
Laugavegur 7
101 Reykjavik, Iceland
Tel +354 561 05 45
Fax +354 552 2721
E-mail [email protected]
Save the Children Japan
Daisaku AM Bldg 8F
11-11 Sugahara-Cho,
Kita-Ku Osaka,
530-0046 Japan
Tel +81 66 361 5695
Fax +81 66 361 5698
E-mail [email protected]
Save the Children Jordan
P.O. Box 927370, Amman, Jordan
Tel. +962 6 567 0241
Fax +962 6 568 7718
Save the Children Korea
CPO Box 1193, Seoul, Korea
Tel +82 2 459 55 04 / 451 72 44
Fax +82 2 451 94 21
E-mail [email protected]
Save the Children Macedonia
IIindenska bb bloc 12, 1000 Skopje,
Tel/Fax +389 91 116 284
E-mail [email protected]
Website www.savethechildren.
Annex 2
Save the Children Mauritius
Sivananda Road, Vacoas, Mauritius
Tel +230 697 14 12
Fax +230 696 56 67
E-mail [email protected]
Save the Children Mexico
(Fundacion Mexicana de Apoyo
Infantil AC-FAI)
Calle Sur 75A, No. 4339, Col. Viaducto
Piedad, C.P. 08200 Mexico City, D.F.,
Tel +52 5 538 42 09
Fax +52 5 519 48 06
E-mail [email protected]
Save the Children Netherlands
P.O. Box 82061
2508 EB Den Haag, The Netherlands
Tel +31 70 338 44 48
Fax +31 70 350 12 79
E-mail [email protected]
Save the Children New Zealand
P.O. Box 6584
Marion Square, Wellington,
New Zealand
Tel +64 4 385 68 47
Fax +64 4 385 67 93
E-mail [email protected]
Save the Children Spain
Plaza Puerto Rubio 28,
E-28018 Madrid, Spain
Tel +34 91 513 0500
Fax + 34 91 552 3272
E-mail [email protected]
Save the Children Sweden
(Rädda Barnen)
Torsgatan 4, S-10788 Stockholm,
Tel +46 8 698 90 00
Fax +46 8 698 90 14
E-mail [email protected]
Save the Children UK
17 Grove Lane, Camberwell
London SE5 8RD, UK
Tel +44 (0)20 7703 5400
Fax +44 (0)20 7703 2278
E-mail [email protected]
Save the Children US
54 Wilton Road, Westport,
Connecticut 06880, USA
Tel +1 203 221 40 00
Fax +1 203 227 56 67
E-mail [email protected]
Save the Children Argentina
JF Aranguren 11551,
Buenos Aires 1406,
Tel +541 3941912/1269
Fax +541 5935739
Save the Children Hong Kong
905-6 Wing Shan Tower,
173 des Voeux Road Central,
Hong Kong
Tel +852 2511 0505
Fax +852 2519 3869
E-mail [email protected]
Save the Children Italy
Via Gaeta No 19, 00185 Rome, Italy
Tel +39 06 474 0354
Fax +39 06 478 3182
E-mail [email protected]
Save the Children Swaziland
Lilunga Street
Msunduza, Mbabane
PO Box 472, Swaziland
Tel +268 404 2573
Fax +268 404 4719
E-mail [email protected]
Save the Children Norway
(Redd Barna)
P.O. Box 6902, St Olavs Plass,
0130 Oslo, Norway
Tel +47 22 99 09 00
Fax +47 22 99 08 60
E-mail [email protected]
Save the Children Romania
(Salvati Copiii)
Intrarca Stefan Furtuna nr. 3 Sector 1,
77116 Bucharest, Romania
Tel +40 1 212 61 76
Fax +40 1 312 44 86
E-mail [email protected]
The International
Save The Children Alliance
Secretariat Office:
275-281 King Street, London
W6 9LZ, United Kingdom
Tel +44 (0)20 8748 2554
Fax +44 (0) 20 8237 8000
E-mail [email protected]
Really hurtful remarks
A terrible description of coloured people
Criticising other people for their appearance
Ignorant remark towards coloured people
Stupid behavour killing and death
Many people can’t get a job because of this
This is called discrimination
David McCaig
Dalziel High School, Scotland
The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, adopted in 1989, was a
watershed in the recognition of children’s rights. It formally identified children as the bearers of rights, established an internationally accepted
framework for the treatment of all children and created a stronger global
commitment to safeguarding their rights. However, a decade on we find
that children all over the world continue to face inequalities in their everyday lives.Too many children visibly suffer, too many live in poverty
and too many are denied access to even the most basic of facilities.
Marking the tenth anniversary of the adoption of the Convention, Children’s Rights: Reality or Rhetoric?,
published by Save the Children in 1999, explored both the achievements and failings of the
Convention and examined how far we have come in realising its vision. A principal finding was that
children throughout the world continue to be victims of discrimination and do not enjoy equality of
opportunity.The principle of non-discrimination, enshrined in Article 2, is a cornerstone of the
Convention underpinning all rights. If this basic article is not assured then the full vision of the
Convention cannot be realised.
A further year on Children’s Rights: Equal Rights? reviews the achievements of the last year and explores
the issue of discrimination, examining its origins and how it impacts and affects children’s lives.
In 26 country reports, Member and Associate organisations of the International Save the Children
Alliance explore the issue of discrimination.The reality of discrimination in children’s lives is revealed
and set against the rhetoric of the Convention, identifying practical actions, which can be taken to
combat discrimination and improve children’s lives.
The challenge we all face is the difficult transition from near universal acceptance of the Convention
to its universal observance.Towards this end, governments, international institutions and wider civil
society are once again called upon to accept their collective responsibility. Each is challenged to
enforce the principle of non-discrimination, to promote diversity and difference and ensure that all
children are afforded equal rights and equal opportunities in life.
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