New U.N. measure to let kids file rights complaints

A United Nations measure dealing with children’s rights aims to empower people under the age of 18 to complain about violations of human rights. After ratification by countries, a new protocol will protect children from abuse and violence. The U.N. General Assembly approved the measure Monday.

The Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on a Communications Procedure allows individual children to submit complaints regarding specific violations of their rights. One of the first two optional protocols is geared to end child trafficking, child prostitution and child pornography. The second focuses on the involvement of children in armed conflict.

“Children will now be able to join the ranks of other rights-holders who are empowered to bring their complaints about human rights violations before an international body,” said Navanethem Pillay, U.N. high commissioner for human rights. “We see every day examples of a wide range of human rights violations against children – from discrimination to child trafficking to all forms of physical or mental violence.¨ Ms. Pillay said. ¨I encourage states to sign this optional protocol to give child victims of such violations direct access to an international human rights complaints mechanism.”

The protocol was transmitted by the Human Rights Council to the U.N. General Assembly last June. It establishes a procedure to bring complaints under the Convention on the Rights of the Child similar to those that already exist for other core human rights— civil, cultural, economic, political and social.

Upon receiving a complaint, the Committee on the Rights of the Child will examine it to determine whether the convention has been violated. The committee will guarantee that child-sensitive procedures and safeguards are put in place to prevent the manipulation of the child by those acting on his or her behalf under the protocol, according to the procedure.

While it is examining the complaint, the committee may request the state to adopt interim measures to prevent possible irreparable damage to the child. The committee may also request protection measures to prevent reprisals, including further human rights violations, ill-treatment or intimidation, for having submitted such complaints. If the convention is found to have been violated, the committee will make specific recommendations for action to the country responsible.

“The new protocol takes into consideration the particular, special needs of children,” said Jean Zermatten, a committee member. “In fulfilling its functions under the protocol, the committee will be guided by the principle of the best interests of the child and will bear in mind the rights and views of the child.”

The protocol also provides for the committee’s role in friendly settlement agreements and in ensuring follow-up to the recommendations made to countries. It further provides that the committee may initiate inquiries into grave and systematic violations of the convention and its first two optional protocols.

The protocol will be open to signature next year and enter into force when ratified by 10 U.N. countries. Costa Rica is likely to be asked by local child defense agencies to adopt the measure.

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