The Practical Guide to Humanitarian Law

« Calling things by the wrong name adds to the affliction of the world. » Albert Camus.

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Committee on the Rights of the Child

The Committee on the Rights of the Child was created per Article 43 of the 1989 Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) and began operating in February 1991. As of June 2015, the Convention had 195 States Parties. In May 2000, the United Nations adopted two Optional Protocols to the Convention, one relating to the implication of children in armed conflicts, which entered into force in February 2002 and was ratified by 159 States, and one relating to the sale of children, child prostitution, and child pornography, which entered into force in January 2002 and binds 169 States.

Structure and Functions

The Committee is made up of eight independent experts, elected by the States party to the Convention. They are elected for four years and eligible for one reelection, on the basis of equitable geographic distribution and regard for representation of the principal legal systems of the world. An amendment was adopted in December 1995 to increase the number of experts to eighteen.

The Committee is responsible for monitoring the implementation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child by all States party to the Convention and its two Optional Protocols.

To carry out its mandate, the Committee must follow a set procedure: it examines the mandatory periodic reports submitted by States: an initial report two years after the treaty enters into force for that country, and then a report every five years. It has no mandate to address emergency situations.

There is no procedure for children or their representatives to file individual complaints (the Optional Protocol on a communication procedure, adopted on 19 December 2011, has not yet entered into force).

However, the Committee can apply a certain degree of pressure on a given State Party, by requesting that it provide “further information relevant to the implementation of the Convention” on specific issues or cases of concern (Art. 44.4 of CRC).

NGOs may submit information to the Committee at any time, including on individual cases. This procedure does not enable the Committee to take urgent situations or cases into account, since the country reports and examinations thereof only take place every five years.

When studying country reports, the Committee may request and receive information or recommendations from any competent UN organ or other organizations, such as NGOs, “in order to foster the effective implementation of the Convention and to encourage international cooperation” (Art. 45 of CRC). It may also request additional information from States, as explained further later.

The examination procedure is public, and it has both an oral and a written phase. Following the examination of the country reports, the Committee may make suggestions and general recommendations, although these are not binding on the concerned State.

The Committee normally holds ordinary sessions twice a year at the United Nations headquarters, according to the schedule set up by the Committee in consultation with the Secretary-General of the United Nations and taking into consideration the planning of conferences as approved by the General Assembly. Extraordinary sessions may also be arranged. At its first session, held in October 1991, it adopted its own rules of procedure, as well as guidelines structuring the State reports. Every two years, it submits a report of its activities to the UN General Assembly, through the Economic and Social Council.

Mandate

The Convention confers a double mandate on the Committee: to protect and promote the rights of the child.

Protection: The Use of Mandatory Country Reports

The Committee is a control body of a non-judicial character, responsible for monitoring the implementation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child and its two Optional Protocols. Its mandate is binding on States party to the Convention, which must comply with its procedures (Art. 44 of CRC). The 195 States Parties to the Convention on the Rights of the Child are required to submit a first report to the Committee two years after the Convention entered into force in their territory. Subsequently, a report must be submitted every five years. In these reports, States must give details on how the Convention is applied in their national system and, where relevant, the difficulties they face in order to respect their treaty obligations. This kind of binding obligation is particular to such treaty-monitoring bodies and is exceptional among instruments set up to defend human rights.

The States’ main obligation is the submission of country reports. These inform the Committee of the measures each State has taken to incorporate the provisions of the Convention into its laws and customs and the possible difficulties encountered.

Two to three months before the Committee sessions, a pre-sessional working group meets to begin the preliminary examination of the reports and to identify problems that might merit an in-depth discussion during the Committee’s official session. During these months, NGOs have an important role to play because they are often invited to participate in the working group. This is also the only time throughout the procedure that NGOs are authorized to take the floor.

The Committee examines States’ reports during public sessions (with written and oral phases). The Committee may request additional information from States, often sending them a “list of issues,” and invites them to respond in writing before the official session. One of the questions asked by the Committee is that States provide the definition of a child provided in their laws and regulations. This is important in understanding the age of responsibility determined for different crimes and therefore the recourses that may be available. ▸ Minors

Although it is not mandatory, each State usually sends a representative to answer the Committee’s questions during the discussion of the report. At the end of the process, States must publish the initial country report, the summary of the preliminary examination, and the concluding observations of the Committee, according to Article 44.6 of the Convention.

This report-based monitoring began in 1993. The Committee’s methods for studying the country reports vary from session to session, in particular with regard to certain issues such as

  • the participation of NGOs in the examination of the reports,
  • the time allowed for States to respond to the “list of issues,”
  • the form this response must take (oral or written), and
  • the amount of time devoted to studying each report.

Individual Complaint Procedure

On 19 December 2011, the United Nations adopted the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on a communication procedure, and this was opened for signature to States on 28 February 2012. As of June 2015, forty-nine States have signed this Protocol and seventeen have ratified it. In accordance with Article 19.1, the Protocol entered into force three months after the deposit of the tenth instrument of ratification or accession. Now, individuals or groups or individuals shall be entitled to submit communications before the Committee on the Rights of the Child (Art. 5). These communications shall not be anonymous, and individuals shall have exhausted all domestic remedies (except if the application of the remedies is unreasonably prolonged).

Promotion of the Rights of the Child

The Committee can organize thematic discussions, request commission studies on the rights of the child, carry out informal visits, and pursue other such activities to ensure that the principles of the Convention are being disseminated and to stimulate international cooperation on the issue of children’s rights.

ChildrenHuman rightsIndividual recourseMinors

List of States Party to International Human Rights and Humanitarian Conventions (no. 13)

Committee on the Rights of the Child

Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR)

52 rue Paquis

1202 Geneva, Switzerland

Tel.: (41) 22 917 92 39

Fax: (41) 22 917 90 12

For Additional Information: Lansdown, Gerison. “The Reporting Process Under the Convention on the Rights of the Child.” In The Future of United Nations Human Rights Treaty Monitoring , edited by P. Alston and J. Crawford, 114–28. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000.

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