The Future of Children’s Rights

25 years of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child at the BMZ

25 November 2014 | BMZ, Berlin, Germany

“The health, the intelligence and even the soul of a society can be quite precisely measured by how a society treats its very young – the children.” According to UNICEF Director Anthony Lake, this is why it was essential to continue to promote children’s rights and assist other countries in championing children’s rights.

Lake spoke at the “Future of Children’s Rights. 25 Years of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child” held at the Berlin Federal Ministry for Economic Development and Cooperation (BMZ) on 25 November. He emphasised that since the convention was passed 25 years ago – with 194 signatory nations, it is the most ratified international document – a lot had been achieved, but that there were still too many children who were excluded, abused, malnourished and vulnerable. So, he continued, the international community could not simply rely on statistics, since “every single child is not a statistic – it’s a human being”.

Right of the child to an identity

In his welcoming address Parliamentary State Secretary at the BMZ, Thomas Silberhorn, agreed that the international community needed to free itself from a reliance on numbers since they were too imprecise. “Around one in three children is not registered – and thus does not even exist. These children are exceptionally vulnerable,” according to Silberhorn. He added that it was therefore especially important to explore the issue of birth registries, since every child had the right to an identity.

Talking with young people – not about them

A number of young people were invited to attend the conference as well, since the goal was to talk with young people rather than about them. One young participant summed it up quite nicely: “Don’t just talk about the future of children and young people; think about the present too, talk to us now.”

The young attendees were participants in the BMZ and UNICEF’s joint World We Want Project, and from Plan International and Regensburg Upper Vocational School. Two of them, Daniel Wegner and Janna Hill, interviewed the Director of UNICEF and the Parliamentary State Secretary in a podium discussion, asking some very direct questions about German development policy as well. Why were more people dying of starvation? Or: why was participation in the BMZ’s textile alliance voluntary?
State Secretary Silberhorn pointed out that food security was an important focus of the current legislature period, and efforts were being made to further reduce hunger and malnutrition. Regarding the textile alliance, he noted that it was too early to saddle corporations with even more responsibility. He did, however, reject the argument that tracing a production chain was much too expensive and required too much effort, adding that automobile manufacturers and suppliers were already setting good examples, and that we needed to think in small steps.

Adults the biggest hurdle

Two panels followed the questions round: “Barriers and opportunities for involving young people in development cooperation” and “Child welfare in the context of global change – challenges for development cooperation”. Presentations provided impulses and group discussions explored new approaches to improving child welfare and participation. The young attendees took a very active part in the conversation.

Dr Anna Würth, Head of the International Human Rights Policy Department at the German Institute for Human Rights (DIMR) presented the results of the panel on participation. “Adults are the largest impediment to the participation of young people and children,” Würth reported, adding that it was therefore important to work with adults as well to create spaces and structures that would encourage the participation of children and young people.

Dr Katrin Kinzelbach, Associate Director of the Global Public Policy Institute (GPPi) presented the results from the panel on children’s welfare. She posed the question of how global trends were affecting children’s welfare – and named rapid urbanisation worldwide, climate change, and displacement and migration as the most important trends influencing child welfare.

Fingerprint from the Parliamentary State Secretary

To wrap up the conference, members of the PlanAction youth group from Plan International presented their ongoing “make me visible” campaign on birth registration: The group did a lot of awareness raising over the past few months, collecting over 10,000 fingerprints at schools and universities. Parliamentary State Secretary at the BMZ, Hans-Joachim Fuchtel, was also asked to provide his fingerprint. He emphasised how important it was that young people take an active role, and quoted Albert Schweitzer: “The little things you do make a big difference!”

The event was organised by the GIZ’s Development Policy Forum on behalf of the BMZ.

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