What is the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child?
The United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child is a United Nations (UN) body which monitors the implementation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) and its Optional Protocols by States parties to the Convention. The UN Committee is made up of 18 independent experts from a range of countries. The UN Committee holds regular sessions every year to review reports by the States Parties on their progress in fulfilling their obligations under the CRC and its Optional Protocols. Once it has reviewed all the information, it issues Concluding Observations on the progress each State Party is making on child rights.
The UN Committee can also issue ‘general comments’ or ‘general recommendations’. These comments are not specific to a country, but rather provide guidance to all countries about the content of the CRC.
What is the Convention on the Rights of the Child and its Optional Protocols?
The CRC is the most widely ratified human rights treaty in the world. It contains a full range of human rights – civil, cultural, economic, political and social rights. The four Guiding Principles of the CRC are:
• the right of all children to survival and development
• respect for the best interests of the child as a primary consideration in all decisions relating to children
• the right of all children to express their views freely on all matters affecting them
• the right of all children to enjoy all the rights of the CRC without discrimination of any kind.
Australia ratified the CRC in December 1990. This means that Australia has a duty to ensure that all children in Australia enjoy the rights set out in the treaty.
Australia has also ratified two Optional Protocols under the CRC for the protection of particularly vulnerable children:
- Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the Sale of Children, Child Prostitution and Child Pornography
- Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict.
On 28 February 2012, a third Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on a communications procedure was opened for signature. This Optional Protocol sets up a mechanism for children to make individual complaints to the UN Committee, once domestic remedies have been exhausted. Australia has not agreed to this Optional Protocol, which means this mechanism is not available to children in Australia.
What is the process for Australia reporting to the UN Committee about children’s rights?
The CRC states that every five years the Australian Government should prepare a report with detailed information about:
• what it is doing to protect and promote the rights contained in the CRC
• the progress that has been made in protecting and promoting those rights
• the obstacles and problems that have been encountered in implementing the CRC.
Since ratifying the CRC in December 1990, the Australian Government has submitted six reports to the UN Committee, some of them combined together. In January 2018, the Government submitted Australia's combined fifth and sixth periodic reports on progress under the CRC and its Optional Protocols. The UN Committee will consider Australia’s report during 2018.
Usually the preparation of the report to the UN Committee will be co-ordinated by the Attorney General’s Department (AGD). The state and territory governments and other relevant Australian Government departments and agencies will also be consulted. The Government usually seeks input from the community on its draft report. When the report is finalised the Government will publish the report on the AGD’s website.
The UN Committee considers Australia’s report as well as other information provided by the Australian Human Rights Commission and non-government organisations over a period of months. Some of this information may be provided during a pre-session meeting in Geneva between the UN Committee and these groups.
The UN Committee will also send a List of Issues to Australia, requesting information on selected issues, updates on new laws and policies, and specific data. Australia will respond to the List of Issues in writing, a few months before a formal Session before the UN Committee in Geneva. In this Session, representatives of the Australian Government will have interactive dialogue with the UN Committee. This is a public meeting, which can be watched online live or after the meeting.
The main outcome of the UN Committee’s examination of Australia are its Concluding Observations, usually issued on the last day of the formal Session. These indicate the progress achieved by Australia and the UN Committee’s recommendations for improvement. Concluding Observations on Australia are publicly available documents and can be found on the UN website.
The UN Committee cannot legally force the Australian Government to implement its recommendations. However, the UN Committee’s recommendations can provide guidance to the government about how to better protect children’s rights. The information and recommendations in the UN Committee’s reports can also be a useful tool for Australian children’s rights advocates to influence government action.
What is the role of the Australian Human Rights Commission in reporting to the UN Committee?
As the country's national human rights institution, the Commission has an independent role in international treaty body reporting. The Commission can make an independent report to the UN Committee, providing it with information on children's rights in Australia, including recommendations for Australian Government action. This information assists the UN Committee to monitor Australia’s progress. The Commission may also address the UN Committee during its pre-sessional meetings.
Since the UN Committee last considered Australia, the Australian Government has appointed a National Children’s Commissioner, Megan Mitchell, situated within the Australian Human Rights Commission. The Commissioner can play a key role in educating children and adults about the UN Committee process and the Concluding Observations.
In November 2018, the Commission submitted its most recent report to the UN Committee, covering a wide range of children's rights concerns and making a number of recommendations for action by Australia.
What is the role of non-government organisations in reporting to the UN Committee?
The UN Committee can look at any information it considers important when reviewing Australia’s record on children’s rights. This may include information from non-government organisations and community groups in the form of a ‘shadow’ or 'alternative' report. These reports generally provide an important alternative view about the government’s performance on children’s rights.