Delivering on children’s rights

Scroll down to find out more about this issue - including a summary for children and young people, background information including the relevant Children's Rights, how we are monitoring Government and our work in addressing the issue.

NICCY Dudes All Children Have Rights Group Photo

Summary for children and young people

Many young people believe the UNCRC is not widely recognised or understood across their peer group, particularly those who do not engage in young people’s organisations. They call for more work to be done through schools and youth organisations to raise awareness of the UNCRC and to build a greater understanding of the rights among all young people. They want to be equal, included, listened to and valued.

In recent years seen children and young people continue to find their voice as Rights Defenders. Young people are no longer waiting to be asked, they are taking the initiative and demanding real change on the issues that most affect them. All of this work as Rights Defenders can only occur if they feel safe to do so. It must be of the upmost importance to the government to ensure that society and the culture ensures people can express their views without fear of harm or damage to their reputation.

More information for children and young people on children’s rights 

NICCY School Children Child Rights Defender

Information on realising children’s rights

The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child was drafted in 1989. The UK government signed it the following year, on 19 April 1990, ratified it on 16 December 1991 and it came into force in the UK on 15 January 1992.  

When a State ratifies the Convention on the Rights of the Child, it takes on obligations under international law to implement it. Implementation is the process whereby States parties take action to ensure the realisation of all rights in the Convention for all children in their jurisdiction.

Article 4 requires States parties to take “all appropriate legislative, administrative and other measures” for implementation of the rights contained therein. While it is the State which takes on obligations under the Convention, its task of implementation – of making reality of the human rights of children – needs to engage all sectors of society and, of course, children themselves.

Ensuring that all domestic legislation is fully compatible with the Convention and that the Convention’s principles and provisions can be directly applied and appropriately enforced is fundamental. In addition, the Committee on the Rights of the Child has identified a wide range of measures that are needed for effective implementation, including the development of special structures and monitoring, training and other activities in Government, parliament and the judiciary at all levels.

In 2003 the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child (the Committee) released its General Comment 5 (GC5) on the ‘General measures’ required to be taken by governments to implement the UNCRC.

These are split into three areas:

  1. Legislative measures
  2. Justiciability of rights
  3. Administrative measures

You can find out more on each of these areas below.

Relevant Children's Rights

Views from young people

Teenager Looking Distressed Monotone

“How can it be that there are still governments in countries that are made up of adults who ignore the best interests of children when they are making laws and decisions? What hope do they have for the future of their country, for the future of our planet, for the future of humanity, if they seek to ignore the needs and wishes of the children in their care? I ask you these questions, and with respect, I expect you to listen. I may be a child, I may be small, but I know that I have a voice and my voice matters.” Young person, NI

NICCY Dudes Guy Sitting Down Distressed

“Young people are also aware of the impact of incorporation of the UNCRC on mental health provision: …but school counselling is only provided by the Department of Education for post-primary pupils. That means that younger children in our school who have problems like illness, disability or death in their family have nobody to talk to. That can’t be right. If the UNCRC was a law then maybe everyone would get this.” Young person, NI

NICCY Dudes Schools Disability Access

“Rights build you up so you can be the best you can be.” Young person, MENCAP NI

NICCY Dudes Youth Panel

“Be prepared to put into action what people have said so that it is not just a box ticking exercise.” NICCY Youth Panel member

Legislative measures

General Comment 5 outlines that states parties need to ensure, by all appropriate means, that the provisions of the Convention are given legal effect within their domestic legal systems. All relevant domestic law, including local or customary law, must be brought into compliance with the Convention.

Incorporation is fundamental to giving the UNCRC legal effect, and should mean that the provisions of the Convention can be directly invoked before the courts and applied by national authorities. Where there is a conflict with domestic legislation or common practice, the UNCRC should prevail.

In June 2020 NICCY provided advice to the Ad-Hoc Committee on a Bill of Rights for Northern Ireland, strongly recommending that the Northern Ireland Bill of Rights should include full incorporation of the United Nations Convention of the Rights of the Child. Disappointingly, after two years of deliberation, in February 2022 the Ad-Hoc Committee reported that they had not been able to reach consensus on recommendations on a Bill of Rights for Northern Ireland.

While the UNCRC is yet to be incorporated into legislation in Northern Ireland, NICCY has been monitoring delivery of a significant legislative development for children, in the form of the Children’s Services Co-operation Act (Northern Ireland) 2015 (CSCA). It provides a statutory framework to improve the wellbeing outcomes of our children and young people within a rights-based context. See here for further information on this important piece of legislation.

Justiciability of rights

In addition to ensuring that all articles of the UNCRC are given legal effect through domestic legislation, for this to be meaningful also requires effective remedies to redress violations.

As General Comment 5 explains:

‘Children’s special and dependent status creates real difficulties for them in pursuing remedies for breaches of their rights. So States need to give particular attention to ensuring that there are effective, child-sensitive procedures available to children and their representatives. These should include the provision of child-friendly information, advice, advocacy, including support for self-advocacy, and access to independent complaints procedures and to the courts with necessary legal and other assistance. Where rights are found to have been breached, there should be appropriate reparation, including compensation, and, where needed, measures to promote physical and psychological recovery, rehabilitation and reintegration, as required by article 39.’

In NI children have access to legal aid in relation to taking cases and ‘child friendly justice’ processes have been a developing focus over recent years. NICCY has a key role in providing ‘child-friendly information, advice, advocacy, including support for self-advocacy, as part of our Complaints casework service.  We also provide legal assistance and support, can take judicial reviews and/or intervene in cases.  NICCY can also conduct formal investigations (the first of which is nearing completion) as set out in Schedule 3 of the 2003 Order.  This puts obligations on relevant public authorities to implement the report recommendations with periodic updates on their progress.

You can find out more about our Legal and Investigations team here

Administrative measures

More Info

  • For further information on our work on General measures of implementation, contact Alex Tennant: alex@niccy.org.

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