UN Convention on the Rights of the Child
Part II: Scope, principles, enforceability and monitoring
Since the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) became international law on September 2, 1990, signatory countries are legally bound to protect and enforce the full spectrum of children’s rights – 54 articles on civil, political, economic, social, health and cultural rights – which, collectively fall under four basic principles:
- the best interests of the child,
- the right to life, survival and development, and
- respect for the views of the child.
Under these principles, signatory countries are obliged, among other provisions: “(1) to ensure every child is raised by his or her parents within a family or cultural grouping and to have a relationship with both parents even if they are separated; (2) to allow parents to exercise their parental responsibilities; (3) to provide separate legal representation for a child in any judicial dispute concerning their care and viewpoint; (4) to acknowledge that children have the right to express their opinions and to have those opinions acted upon appropriately; (5) to protect children from physical or mental abuse or exploitation; and (6) to have their privacy protected and their lives not be subject to excessive interference.”
One specific application of the “best-interests-of-the-child” principle is in the field of Canadian immigration law when parents with children face a deportation order. The Supreme Court of Canada has ruled that the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration “should consider the children’s best interests as an important factor, give them substantial weight, and be alert, alive and sensitive to them” before deporting parents and their children. While this judicial ruling helps guide the lower courts and quasi-judicial tribunals like the immigration appeal board in their decision-making, it is not a Canadian law itself. Only Parliament can pass or make laws in Canada. Courts only interpret the laws but do take into account international law in their interpretation of domestic law.
Mandatory monitoring of compliance and progress
Thus, the UNCRC is not Canadian law unless it is fully implemented by Canada’s Parliament. To ensure full compliance and implementation, the UNCRC requires signatory countries to periodically report – initially, two years after adoption of the Convention and, thereafter, every five years – on both the stage of implementation and the status of children’s rights. They submit their reports to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child for review and examination. The UN Committee, which is composed of independent experts in child development and children’s rights, meets with officials of the signatory countries for a dialogue and expresses its findings and concerns and makes recommendations for improvement in its report called Concluding Observations, which is sent it to the UN General Assembly.
True, laudable progress has been achieved globally since the UNCRC became international law and binding on signatory countries, particularly in childhood education, reduction of deaths among children, and the formation of international partnerships among advocacy groups for children’s rights. True and laudable, Canada has ratified the Optional Protocols on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict and Sale of Children, Child Prostitution and Child Pornography. Canada has also adopted policies and created programs that have advanced the well-being of children.
Equally true, there is consensus that much work remains ahead. And Canada is no exception. To the best judgment of the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child – seen in this year’s UN Third/Fourth Review of Canada’s record – “gaps and inconsistencies in policies for children” exist.
To the best judgment of the Canadian Coalition for Children’s Rights (CCCR), a non-governmental organization committed to the full spirit and letter of the UNCRC, the many gaps and inconsistencies in policies are best timely addressed to achieve full implementation of the UN Convention and, therefore, the well-being of Canada’s children.
Next: Part III – The UN Third/Fourth Review of Canada’s Record – Prescription for Progress
Dr. Rey D. Pagtakhan is a retired Professor of Pediatrics and Child Health and former cabinet minister and Chair of the House of Commons Standing Committee on Human Rights. He has been the recipient of awards and honours including the honorary Doctor of Laws and Doctor of Science, the Philippine Presidential Citation Pamana ng Pilipino Award, and the Governor-General Queen Elizabeth II Silver, Golden and Diamond Jubilee Medals.