UN Committee examines NZ government's
UN Committee examines NZ government's
Committee on the Rights of the Child, 4 February 2011
On 19 January 2011, the government’s performance in implementing the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Optional Protocol on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict (OP-AC) was considered by the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child during its 56th session in Geneva. This page has information about the process, divided into two main sections:
The Convention on the Rights of the Child and its Optional Protocols
The Convention was adopted by the UN General Assembly on 20 November 1989 and it entered into force on 2 September 1990. It is the most widely ratified binding human rights instrument with 193 state parties.
As its title indicates, the Convention elaborates the particular rights of children - it has 54 Articles, arranged in three parts. Part I (Articles 1 to 41) covers the full range of economic, social, cultural, civil and political rights of children centred around four key principles: non-discrimination (Article 2); the best interests of the child must be taken into account on any decisions that affect them (Article 3); the right to life, survival and development - including physical health, and mental, emotional, cognitive, social and cultural development (Article 6); and the right to be heard and to have their views taken seriously, in accordance with the age and maturity of the child (Article 12).
Part II includes a positive obligation on state parties to make the principles and provisions of the Convention widely known (Article 42), the establishment of the Committee, and the process for state parties to report on the measures they have taken to implement the Convention (Articles 43 to 45). Part III (Articles 46 to 54) covers details such as the Convention's entry into force provisions, the process for states to ratify the Convention, and how they can propose amendments to it. The text of the Convention is available here.
The Convention has two optional protocols - on the Sale of Children, Child Prostitution and Child Pornography (OP-SC), and on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict (OP-AC).
The OP-SC was adopted by the UN General Assembly on 25 May 2000 and entered into force on 18 January 2002; it currently has 142 state parties. The OP-SC prohibits the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography; makes the offences listed in Article 3.1 extraditable offences; and requires each state party to take measures to establish jurisdiction when the listed offences are committed in its territory, on board a ship or aircraft registered in the state, and when the victim or the offender is a national of the state. The OP-SC text is available here.
The OP-AC was adopted by the UN General Assembly on 25 May 2000 and entered into force on 12 February 2002; it currently has 139 state parties. The OP-AC covers all aspects of the involvement of children in armed conflict, raises the age at which state parties can permit children to take part in direct hostilities from 15 to 18, raises the age of compulsory recruitment into armed forces to 18, and sets out minimum standards that must be met by states that permit voluntary recruitment of children who are under 18. The OP-AC text is available here.
There is currently no mechanism whereby children or their representatives can communicate complaints to the Committee about breaches of their rights by a state party, although an additional Optional Protocol to provide such a mechanism is currently under discussion. The most recent report of the Open-Ended Working Group to explore the possibility of elaborating an Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child to provide a communications procedure (A/HRC/13/43) is available here. In the interim, communications about breaches of child rights can be made to the five UN human rights treaty monitoring bodies that already have an individual complaints mechanism - the Human Rights Committee, Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women, Committee Against Torture, Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, and Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities - information about the complaints mechanisms is available here.
The Committee on the Rights of the Child
The Committee is the UN body which monitors the progress of state parties towards fulfilling their binding obligations under the Convention and the two Optional Protocols. It comprises 18 independent human rights experts, who are each elected for a term of four years by a secret ballot of all state parties to the Convention. Information about the current members of the Committee is available here.
The Committee meets in Geneva and normally holds three sessions each year, each consisting of a three-week plenary and a one-week Pre-Sessional Working Group. The Committee reports on its work to the UN General Assembly via the Economic and Social Council.
Every state party to the Convention is required to submit regular periodic reports to the Committee on what legislative, judicial, administrative and other measures they have taken to fulfil their obligations under the Convention and the Optional Protocols (if applicable). The initial report is submitted two years after the state has ratified the Convention and then at five-yearly intervals. After the submission of an initial report on the Optional Protocol/s (also two years after ratification), updates on measures to implement the Optional Protocol/s are included in the state's periodic report under the Convention.
The periodic reports are examined by the Committee in conjunction with information supplied in parallel reports from NGOs. As well as the texts of the Convention and its Optional Protocols (if applicable), the Committee takes into account General Comments, which it has developed through time to provide more detailed information on specific child rights topics, to assess whether or not a state party is complying with its binding obligations - the Committee's General Comments are available here. The Committee has also published nine recommendations which are available here.
Prior to the session when a periodic report will be considered, a List of Issues (a list of specific issues which the Committee wants more information on) is sent to the state party. The List of Issues is put together during a Pre-Sessional Working Group by Committee members appointed to cover that particular state party during the examination of its periodic report. Once the list of issues has been adopted, it is transmitted to the state party concerned and the state is required to provide the requested information in writing before the plenary session when the state's compliance with the Convention and its Optional Protocols (if applicable) will be considered.
The examination of state party reports takes the form of an interactive dialogue and begins with the state party's representative introducing the periodic report by way of brief introductory comments. Committee members then make comments or ask questions about the report, to which the state representative replies; this is followed by further comments and questions from Committee members, which the state representative/s then address. The dialogue is designed to give the Committee a more complete picture of the child rights' situation in the state.
The final phase of the Committee's examination of a state's periodic report is the drafting and adoption of Concluding Observations. These generally include an introductory section, a section with positive aspects, and a section with principal areas of concern which includes suggestions and recommendations on how the state party can improve its implementation of the Convention. Concluding Observations generally also include a recommendation requesting the wide dissemination of the Concluding Observations in the state party concerned, and sometimes a request for additional information to be provided to the Committee within a specified deadline (usually of one year) on specific points.
The Committee's 56th session runs from 17 January to 4 February 2011. As well as considering the NZ government's periodic report, the Committee will consider periodic reports from Afghanistan, Belarus, Denmark, Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Singapore and Ukraine; initial OP-SC reports from Belarus and Mexico; initial OP-AC reports from Belarus, Mexico and Ukraine; pursue the elaboration of General Comments on two articles, one related to the principle of the best interest of the child and one on protection of children from all forms of violence, exploitation and abuse; and continue its discussion on a joint General Comment with the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women on harmful practices. In addition, the Committee will hold a General Day of Discussion on children of prisoners.
More information about the Committee and its work is available here.
The NZ government, the Convention and the OP-AC
NZ signed the Convention on 1 October 1990 and ratified it on 6 April 1993 with three reservations:
On Article 22: Nothing in this Convention shall affect the right of the Government of New Zealand to continue to distinguish as it considers appropriate in its law and practice between persons according to the nature of their authority to be in New Zealand including but not limited to their entitlement to benefits and other protections described in the Convention, and the Government of New Zealand reserves the right to interpret and apply the Convention accordingly.
NZ's instrument of ratification also specified that "such ratification shall extend to Tokelau only upon notification to the Secretary-General of the United Nations of such extension".
NZ has submitted three Periodic Reports under the Convention - the first in 1995 (CRC/C/28/Add.3), the second in 2001 (CRC/C/93/Add.4), and the combined Third and Fourth Periodic Report in 2008 (see the section below for more information about this report).
The Committee expressed a number of concerns about, and made recommendations on, a range of child rights issues in its Concluding Observations on the first report in January 1997 (CRC/C/15/Add.71) and on the second report in October 2003 (CRC/C/15/Add.216).
NZ signed the OP-AC on 7 September 2000 and ratified it on 12 November 2001 with one reservation, on Article 3:
The Government of New Zealand declares that the minimum age at which New Zealand will permit voluntary recruitment into its national armed forces shall be 17 years. The Government of New Zealand further declares that the safeguards which it has adopted to ensure that such recruitment is not forced or coerced include the following:
The instrument of ratification also had a territorial exclusion:
... consistent with the constitutional status of Tokelau and taking into account the commitment of the Government of New Zealand to the development of self-government for Tokelau through an act of self-determination under the Charter of the United Nations, this acceptance shall not extend to Tokelau unless and until a Declaration to this effect is lodged by the Government of New Zealand with the Depositary on the basis of appropriate consultation with that territory.
NZ's initial report under the OP-AC (CRC/C/OPAC/NZL/1) was submitted in July 2003, and the Committee's Concluding Observations (CRC/C/OPAC/CO/2003/NZL) were released in November 2003. Reporting on measures to implement the OP-AC since then has been included in the periodic reports under the Convention.
NZ signed the OP-SC on 7 September 2000 but has not ratified it.
There is no specific domestic legislation giving effect to the Convention or the OP-AC, rather the government's approach is as outlined in the reservation on Article 32 of the Convention above, that is, that child rights "are adequately protected by its existing law". The Ministry of Social Development is currently responsible for administering the Convention and the OP-AC; formerly it was the Ministry of Youth Development. The Office of the Children’s Commissioner provides information and advice on the application of the Convention.
The government's Third and Fourth Periodic Report
The government's Third and Fourth Periodic Report (CRC/C/NZL/3-4) was sent to the Committee on 11 November 2008.
The Periodic Report covers the period January 2001 to October 2008, and covers the range of measures - including legislative, judicial, and administrative - taken "to give effect to the provisions and underlying principles of the Convention on the Rights of the Child during the review period". It also outlines the government's efforts to consult with NGOs, as well as children and young persons' networks, on the contents of the Report, and to provide them with information on NZ's 2004–2008 work programme on the Convention (paragraphs 8 to 19).
When assessing the government's performance on child rights, in addition to the Periodic Report, the Committee has access to NZ's Core Document forming part of the Reports of States Parties (HRI/CORE/NZL/2006) and the updated version Common Core Document of New Zealand (HRI/CORE/NZL/2010) - the Core Document contains general information about NZ, and is used by all of the UN human rights treaty monitoring bodies when considering government reports under the international human rights instruments which NZ is a state party to.
The next Periodic Report on child rights is due on 5 May 2015.
NGO reports to the Committee
Three national NGOs submitted parallel reports to the Committee: Action for Children & Youth Aotearoa and Save the Children both submitted reports covering a range of child rights, and Peace Movement Aotearoa provided information to the Committee on the increasing militarisation of children, young persons and their education, particularly in relation to the OP-AC.
If your organisation would like information about preparing future NGO reports to UN human rights bodies, please contact Peace Movement Aotearoa.
The list of issues and the government's response
On 14 October 2010, the Committee released the List of Issues (CRC/C/NZL/Q/3-4) which requested the government to submit additional, updated information in writing, if possible before 19 November 2010.
The List of Issues included questions about: whether there is a body responsible for coordinating policies, programmes and activities to implement Convention rights, and if there is a National Plan of Action for children; what measures have been taken to combat discrimination against children; what preventative measures are in place to protect children from abuse and neglect; what progress has been made in reforming legislation on adoption; the relatively high rates of infant mortality among indigenous children; Family Group Conferencing; trafficking in children; and the consequences of the reduction of the minimum age of criminal responsibility. In addition, the Committee asked the government to provide updated information on a range of issues, as well as specific data and statistical information on a range of topics.
The government responded to the List of Issues (CRC/C/NZL/Q/3-4/Add.1) on 7 December 2010.
Who said what in Geneva
The government sent a delegation of six officials, led by the Deputy Chief Executive of the Ministry of Social Development, to appear before the Committee during its examination of NZ's Periodic Report. The interactive dialogue took place over two sessions in the morning and the afternoon of 19 January 2011.
The UNOG summary of what was said during the sessions, 'Committee on the Rights of the Child reviews report of New Zealand', is available here.
The Committee's Concluding Observations
The Concluding Observations on New Zealand (CRC/C/NZL/CO/3-4) are available here.
Media releases and coverage
Useful resources and links
As well as the links in the sections above, other useful resources are: