The OPIC, a unique instrument that remains widely misunderstood   

For eight years, the Optional Protocol on an Individual Communications procedure (OPIC) has been in effect. This international human rights treaty allows the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child (CRC Committee) to address child rights violations (individual complaints). It also allows the Committee to investigate grave or systemic violations of children’s rights within States parties to the OPIC. This mechanism is vital for cases beyond national systems, aiding child victims seek and obtain redress and promoting child rights on a national level.

Despite the growing global instances of child rights violations, ratification of the OPIC by States remains limited. The ratification pace slowed with the COVID-19 pandemic and is yet to get back on track (between 2022 and early 2023 two States have ratified the instrument – Lithuania and New Zealand –, and one State signed it, Kazakhstan, as a first step in the ratification process). The outcome report from our expert consultation in 2019 revealed this is due to a lack of awareness among both State and non-State actors. States’ hesitation is often rooted in political misconceptions, concerns over practical and legal obstacles, limited prioritisation of child rights in politics, and insufficient funding for these issues (as demonstrated in our 2020 OPIC Ratification Toolkit). However, the 2019 report also showed that these barriers can be overcome. Awareness, good practice sharing, child-led advocacy, and understanding the instrument’s dimensions can drive ratification. As many countries lack accessible and child-sensitive justice systems, the absence of OPIC ratification leaves child victims with little or inadequate access to effective remedies and redress. This fuels impunity, injustice, and discrimination, creating an environment for more rights violations.


What we did to fill in these gaps

Building on our ratification campaign reactivated in 2019 and subsequent research, advocacy, capacity-building and technical assistance, in 2022 our two-fold strategy has continued to focus on generating awareness and buy-in around the OPIC towards ratification and assisting children and their defenders in the strategic use of this instrument (in line with our Strategic Goal 4). While this work has been, from July 2022, frustrated by our challenging funding situation which resulted in staff reduction, we have focused our limited capacity on using the most strategic opportunities to advance the OPIC agenda.

Further institutionalizing the annual exchange meeting on OPIC between States and the CRC Committee

In May 2022, we partnered with the Permanent Missions of Germany and Slovenia, co-chairs of the Group of Friends on the Rights of the Child, the CRC Committee, and OHCHR to host the third annual exchange meeting on the OPIC between the CRC Committee and States. This aimed to enhance international discussions on OPIC and access to justice, increase understanding of the OPIC and its added value, and raise awareness among States of our OPIC Ratification Toolkit. The event engaged over 60 participants from 35 countries worldwide, primarily from regions other than North America and Oceania. Around 55% had only signed the OPIC or had not taken steps for ratification.

The meeting fostered open discussions between States and the CRC Committee on the instrument’s challenges and potential, and strategies to promote ratification, including through using the Universal Periodic Review (UPR). Belgium shared its successful use of OPIC, where CRC Committee Views (decisions under the OPIC) led to tangible positive changes for children’s rights and the justice system. The meeting also served to raise awareness of our OPIC Ratification Toolkit, offering practical strategies, arguments, and information for advocating ratification. Switzerland highlighted the value of multistakeholder dialogue in securing national ratifications, underlining the important role of this annual event as a platform for such dialogues.

Strengthening the collaboration with UNICEF around OPIC ratification 

In 2022, UNICEF organized two events centered on OPIC, a first-time focus. One was in New York and the other in Southeast Asia. In September, we participated remotely in the “Strengthening the promotion and protection of children’s rights through access to justice: Using the OPIC” event. This was co-hosted by the Permanent Missions of the Czech Republic and Slovakia, and UNICEF, during the UNICEF Executive Board’s Second Regular Session in New York. Representatives from over 20 countries joined, with panellists including UNICEF’s Executive Director, our Executive Director, and one of our child advisors, Miriam from Lebanon. Miriam urged investment in child-friendly educational material about OPIC, strengthened cooperation with national organisations for wider awareness, and the legal empowerment of children through global legal networks for reporting challenges.

We collaborated with UNICEF and CRC Asia in October for a roundtable on child rights complaint procedures and remedies across ASEAN nations. State officials, lawmakers, representatives from human rights institutions, child rights organisations, ASEAN commissions, and more attended. The focus was enhancing understanding about OPIC ratification and implementation as well as sharing experiences and civil society perspectives.

Simultaneously, we encouraged States to promote OPIC ratification through the UPR, engaged States at the UN General Assembly, push for the OPIC with processes related to Sustainable Development Goals, and raised awareness globally about the added value of the instrument.

Building the capacity of children and children’s rights defenders to strategically advocate for and use the OPIC

In March and April 2022, we conducted a two-day multilingual training session in collaboration with the IIN-OEA (Instituto Interamericano del Niño, Niña y Adolescentes) for children from the RED CORIA network and GRAPIA group in the Americas and the Caribbean. This workshop focused on access to justice for child victims of human rights violations, the universal human rights system, including the UNCRC and the role of the CRC Committee, and how to promote the ratification and use of the OPIC. Approximately 20 children and young people from 10 countries participated in this interactive training which relied on group discussions, case studies, and child-friendly materials. It aimed to empower children to train their peers on these topics within and beyond their networks.

We also provided training for adult defenders in Latin America. In February 2022, we organised a two-day workshop for our member SOS Children’s Villages National Advocacy Advisors in the Latin American region. This workshop, attended by 35 practitioners representing all SOS Children’s Villages offices in Latin America, focused on access to justice for child victims of human rights violations, with a special emphasis on the OPIC. The training aimed to enhance their understanding of access to justice, the OPIC, and its significance. It also aimed to strengthen SOS Children’s Villages’ advocacy efforts for OPIC ratification and foster collaboration between Child Rights Connect and SOS Children’s Villages on the OPIC agenda. The training included practical case studies to help participants analyse potential mechanisms for addressing violations of children’s rights.

Additionally, we continued to disseminate our OPIC Ratification Toolkit through various events, workshops, and social media to support non-State and State actors in their advocacy campaigns for OPIC ratification.

Making the work of the Committee under the OPIC more accessible and responsive to children

In collaboration with the University of Leiden, and in consultation with our Children’s Advisory Team and child petitioners from the so-called climate change case Sacchi et al. V. Argentina et al., we created a Guide on drafting child-friendly decisions under the OPIC in 2022. This initiative aims to enhance the accessibility, comprehensibility, and responsiveness of the CRC Committee’s work under the OPIC to children. We developed additional tools, including template decisions for admissible and inadmissible cases, as well as an illustrative example of a child-friendly OPIC decision using the template with visuals. The intent is to encourage and facilitate children’s use of the OPIC and raise awareness of global jurisprudence on their rights, applicable across jurisdictions. The CRC Committee warmly received these tools, which may shape their communication of future decisions to children as part of their evolving practice. Ann Skelton, former Chair of the Committee’s Working Group on OPIC (now Chairperson of the CRC Committee), assured ongoing efforts to build upon this foundation.

What difference did this make?

This work has led to multilevel results.

  1. A significant achievement has been the partnership established with UNICEF in the global campaign for OPIC ratification. Through collaboration with the State-led Group of Friends on the Rights of the Child and UN partners, attention to the OPIC has been revitalized within child rights organizations, civil society groups, and States. This renewed focus comes after a period of de-prioritization due to the pandemic and historical neglect of child access to justice matters. While the impact on actual ratification rates may take years to manifest, both State and non-State actors now possess a better grasp of the OPIC’s significance and value, essential for driving ratification and implementation. Our annual exchange meetings, providing a platform for direct interactions among States, the CRC Committee, and key stakeholders, have successfully demystified the OPIC and increased its political acceptance. While direct causation is challenging to prove, two out of the three countries that signed or ratified the OPIC between 2022 and early 2023—Lithuania and Kazakhstan—participated in these annual exchange meetings. Additionally, 28 States recommended OPIC ratification to 12 other States through the UPR process in 2022, signalling State pressure for wider ratification.
  2. Making the activities of the CRC Committee under the OPIC more accessible, understandable, and responsive to children through dedicated tools constitutes a first step towards encouraging and facilitating the use of the OPIC by children and building their awareness of global jurisprudence on their rights, for use in other jurisdictions. This will act as a key enabling factor for children and their defenders to bring complaints not only to the Committee but also to other redress mechanisms.
  3. The impact of our capacity-building is tangible and exciting! Thanks to our training and support, children and their defenders are becoming strong advocates for OPIC ratification and using the OPIC effectively to champion children’s rights. Picture this: at the outset of our workshop for children’s networks in the Americas and the Caribbean, most children knew about the UNCRC and the CRC Committee, but only a third understood how the Committee actually works. Fast forward to the end of the workshop – a considerable 80% had a solid grasp of how the Committee operates. The transformation gets even more impressive when it comes to the OPIC. At the start, two-thirds of children had never even heard of it, and none knew how to use it. But by the end, 80% knew about its two mechanisms and how to wield this powerful tool. And that’s not all – every child understood that they could bring complaints to the CRC Committee if their rights had been violated. Our workshop with SOS Children’s Villages staff met a similar success. The end-of-event survey shows that 70% of them felt  well-equipped to empower child victims to use the OPIC, and a resounding 90% said the workshop will help them become champions of OPIC ratification and its implementation at SOS Children’s Villages International. These children’s rights defenders got hands-on with OPIC – understanding its ins and outs, how, when, and why to use it, its requirements, and real-world examples.

Learning from challenges

While we’ve made important strides in advocating for OPIC ratification and implementation, challenges remain, particularly in securing funding for this critical work. Starting in July 2022, we’ve had to make tough choices and focus on high-impact activities due to limited capacities. However, our partnerships with UNICEF, the Group of Friends on the Rights of the Child, the CRC Committee, and other UN partners have been instrumental in gaining political support and understanding for OPIC ratification. Our capacity-building efforts in Latin America have shown that promoting OPIC ratification goes together with empowering civil society and children. It’s about giving them the skills and knowledge to identify different strategies and engage effectively with State actors at all levels.