UN Convention on the Rights of the Child
The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child sets out the basic human rights to which every child is entitled. These include:
- Survival rights such as nutrition, shelter and access to medical services
- Development rights such as education, access to information and freedom of thought
- Protection rights such as protection from abuse, neglect and exploitation
- Participation rights such expression of opinions and taking part in social and cultural activities
The Convention protects these rights by setting minimum standards that governments must meet in providing healthcare, education and legal and social services to children in their countries.
The Convention came into force in September 1990. Ireland ratified the Convention on 28 September 1992.
In 2002, two Optional Protocols to the Convention came into force:
- Optional Protocol on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography (not yet ratified by Ireland)
- Optional Protocol on the involvement of children in armed conflict (ratified by Ireland in 2002)
Optional Protocols complement and add to existing treaties. They are ‘optional’ because the obligations may be more demanding than those in the original convention, so countries must independently choose whether or not to be bound by them.
The Children’s Rights Alliance has published a child-friendly booklet explaining the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (pdf).
Committee on the Rights of the Child
The Committee on the Rights of the Child is a United Nations (UN) body of 18 independent experts that monitors the implementation of the Convention by the countries that have signed up to it. It also monitors implementation of the two Optional Protocols.
The countries must submit regular reports to the Committee on how the rights are being implemented. They must submit an initial report 2 years after signing up to the Convention, and then periodic reports every 5 years.
The Committee examines each report and addresses its concerns and recommendations to the country in the form of 'concluding observations'. Concluding observations include both positive aspects of a country's implementation of the treaty and areas where further action needs to be taken by the State.
The Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission (IHREC) submitted a report in 2013 to the Committee on the Rights of the Child about how the rights of children are being implemented in Ireland. The Committee issued its concluding observations in 2016.
Ireland submitted its most recent periodic report (pdf) in August 2022 with an Additional Submission to the Committee on the Rights of the Child (pdf) submitted in December 2022. The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child published its Concluding Observations (pdf) on the combined fifth and sixth periodic reports of Ireland on 7 February 2023.
Third Optional Protocol
The Optional Protocol on a communications procedure (pdf) came into effect in Ireland on 24 December 2014.
This Protocol allows individual children, or those acting on their behalf, to submit complaints about specific violations of their rights under the Convention and its first two Optional Protocols directly to the Committee on the Rights of the Child.
A decision by the Committee on a complaint is non-binding (not legally enforceable) on a country. However, as a party to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, Ireland is answerable to the United Nations for its implementation of the Convention.
The rules for making a complaint
A complaint may be submitted to the Committee by a child (or a group of children) claiming to be a victim of a violation of the Convention and/or the Optional Protocols.
A complaint may also be submitted by their designated representative, or by others acting on behalf of the alleged victim with their permission.
Where there is a concern that the victim’s consent may be the result of improper pressure or encouragement, the Committee may request additional information to ensure that the complaint is in the best interests of the child.
A complaint may also be submitted on behalf of the alleged victim without their consent. However, in this case, the representative will have to justify submitting the complaint.
The Committee will not accept a complaint if:
- It is anonymous
- It is not in writing
- It constitutes an abuse of the right of submission of such complaints or is incompatible with the provisions of the Convention and/or the Optional Protocols
- The same matter has already been examined by the Committee or has been or is being examined under another procedure of international investigation or settlement
- All available domestic remedies have not been exhausted unless the application of the remedies is unreasonably prolonged or unlikely to bring effective relief
- The complaint is clearly ill-founded or not sufficiently substantiated
- The facts that are the subject of the complaint occurred before the Third Protocol came into force for the country concerned, unless those facts continued after that date
- The complaint is not submitted within one year after the exhaustion of domestic remedies, except in cases where it can be shown that it was not possible to submit the communication within that time limit
How to make a complaint
Complaints to the Committee on the Rights of the Child should be submitted to the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. The Committee has prepared a sample form for submission of individual communications to the Committee on the Rights of the Child (pdf) under the Optional Protocol on a Communications Procedure explaining the submission process.
Information on making a complaint under any of the UN treaty rights such as the Convention is available on the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights website.