Following a strengthened collaboration with the Inter-American Children’s Institute (IIN – OEA), Child Rights Connect participated for the first time in the XXII Pan-American Child Congress that took place from 29 to 31 October in Cartagena de Indias, Colombia.

The Congress, which takes place every five years, is the main forum for exchange of experiences and policy development among member States of the Inter-American System. Participants include not only high officials from member States but also children, civil society representatives and international and regional human rights organizations. This year, the Congress focussed on the following key themes: Child Participation; Ending abuse, exploitation, trafficking and all forms of violence against children (SDG Target 16.2); and Child Protection Systems.

Child Rights Connect presented the 2018 Day of General Discussion on “Protecting and Empowering Children as Human Rights Defenders” (2018 DGD) as a good practice of child participation. We did that together with Andy, a child from Ecuador who shared his views on the DGD process and its impact on him and his peers.

Although Andy did not attend the 2018 DGD in Geneva, he engaged through national-level consultations with children and he coordinated closely with Nayeli, the child advisor from Ecuador who is part of the DGD global Children’s Advisory Team. Andy noted that many things were accomplished through the DGD, including “better articulation among child rights NGOs [and] dialogue with authorities for them to understand that [children’s] voices should be heard in different spaces, including [their] homes, schools or community.”  He emphasized that “all these spaces are important for children and all children should be listened to.”

Child Rights Connect also provided an analysis of the experiences shared during the Congress by States, children and civil society, and we offered key recommendations to inform the outcome document of the Congress on child participation. We emphasised that all children are experts on, and deeply aware of, the issues that affect them, and they are able to engage in different spaces and provide recommendations and solutions. However, strong normative frameworks for systematized child participation are still lacking. We recommended States to:

  • empower children, so they know more about their rights and are able to act upon them, including through child-led organisations;
  • ensure a child rights-based participation;
  • support children to interact with the right decision-makers so they can have a real impact;
  • join efforts to ensure child participation in the SDGs agenda as a way to accelerate the realisation of children’s rights; and
  • use the Committee’s work on children human rights defenders to enhance critical thinking around child participation.

Prior to, and in parallel with, the Congress, an NGO Forum and a Child Forum were organised to allow civil society and children to agree on joint recommendations for the Congress. Child Rights Connect was part of the NGO Forum’s High-level panel on “the situation of violence against children at 30 years of the Convention on the Rights of the Child,” together with Najat Maalla M’jid,  the UN Special Representative of the Secretary-General on violence against children, and Victor Georgi, Director of the IIN-OEA. We highlighted progress and shortfalls in addressing violence against children through accountability mechanisms such as reporting to the Committee on the Rights of the Child (Committee) and using the Optional Protocol on a Communications Procedure (OPIC) of the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC). We also expressed concern about the limited number of Country Pledges to the Committee for the CRC’s 30th anniversary and encouraged civil society to mobilise States in view of the anniversary celebrations on 20 November 2019.

Child Rights Connect maximised its presence in the region and organised the first-ever capacity-building workshop for children on the use of OPIC, as part of the General Assembly of the REDNNYA (a network of children from Latin America). The workshop was co-organized with Save the Children and included the participation of Luis Pedernera, Chair of the Committee on the Rights of the Child, and Jorge Cardona, Former Committee member.   The workshop raised a lot of interest among children, who were keen to understand how OPIC could be used to help advance child rights in their respective countries.

Overall, the Congress was a unique opportunity to strengthen the ties between Child Rights Connect and its members in the region. It also provided a better understanding of the state of civil society space and child participation at the regional level, including the existing divide between child rights organisations and anti-rights groups, the latter of which were highly organised and vocal against sexual and reproductive rights.

For more information contact Agnès Gràcia, Programme Officer, at [email protected]