“Nothing about us without us”

We, at Child Rights Connect, strive to act by this mantra. Because children’s voices are out there and should dictate our efforts to advance their rights. Because implementation of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) is about child participation. Because we need to go beyond listening to children’s views, and act upon them. Not only is child participation in matters affecting their lives a right, enshrined in the UNCRC and related standards, but it is also a means through which children can be more empowered and take action to improve their lives, promote human rights, address the environmental crisis, and spur democratic change. It is also key as children bear the brunt of the multiple crises rocking our planet: climate change, conflicts, and extremism, to name a few. For years, we have been a driving force to advance the debate, set the standards and build the capacity for child participation at the global level. “Key informants […] recognize Child Rights Connect as an international authority on child participation.” (External evaluation of our work, 2022). “Child Rights Connect has pushed the agenda and increased the acceptance, demand and practice of safe, empowering, and sustainable child participation at multiple levels, specifically amongst its Network members and in the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child (CRC Committee), and to some extent within the wider UN system.”

Child participation has become central to who we are, what we do, and how we do it. Our Children’s Advisory Team (CAT), a global team of child human rights defenders (also called Child Advisors) who shape and take forward activities on children’s rights, in line with our Strategy, has been the pivotal vehicle through which we have advanced child participation both within and outside our organisation. Let’s wind the clock up. In 2018, we set up our first global team of 21 children to advise the design, planning and implementation of the Day of General Discussion of the CRC Committee, focused on protecting and empowering children acting as human rights defenders (CHRDs). In 2019, we supported a global CAT of nine child advisors in the development of UNICEF’s official child-friendly UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. By then, we had understood that we needed to do more to respond to children’s aspirations. In 2020, we took a decisive step forward by establishing the CAT as a permanent, global group within our organisation, central to advancing our efforts on children’s empowerment globally. To do so, we built on the experiences and lessons learned from outgoing Child Advisors. In 2020, the team of 12 children (including five girls and a child living with disabilities) defined their own roadmap of action for the year and conducted numerous activities, including to protect children’s rights in the dark times of the COVID-19 pandemic, such as publishing a storybook ‘Our Lives Under Lockdown a briefing for governments on how to support children’s rights before and during a pandemic. In 2021, our CAT was composed of 16 children, including children living in the MENA region and the Caribbean, often left out from global processes. We reached a milestone in 2021 as we started piloting the participation of CAT representatives in the activities of our Executive Committee (our highest governance body), following its decision, in 2020, to include children in the governance of the organisation. The pilot has since been confirmed, and child representatives regularly engage in the meetings of our Executive Committee. This makes us just one in a handful of global NGOs with child participation in its governance. In 2022, our Team was further diversified, including through the involvement of a gender diverse child and two children living with disabilities. In 2023, our CAT was further consolidated: the Team was composed of 12 Child Advisors, including 8 girls, aged between 12 and 17-years-old, and bringing perspectives from countries as varied as Brazil, Cameroon, Canada, Croatia, Iceland, Mexico, Moldova, Nepal, Palestine, Tunisia, Venezuela, and Zambia. Child Advisors also brought to the Team a variety of experiences improving life in their community: from collecting and donating watering cans, tools, and vegetable seedlings to women in vulnerable situations (14-year-old girl child advisor from Zambia), holding exhibitions on children’s rights (12-year-old child advisor from Mexico), to working with peers, police officers and others to stop child marriage in villages (14-year-old child advisor from Nepal).

Caption: Avatars of our 2023 Child Advisors

What the CAT has been up to and achieved in 2023

Throughout the year, our CAT operated as a team of CHRDs undertaking their own initiatives, in response to the pressing issues identified by them, and contributing to those of our organisation. In total, the CAT gathered over 30 meetings in 2023. Throughout the year, we, and their respective supporting organisations, provided them with capacity-building, advice, and assistance to facilitate their engagement in the Team and related human rights activities. Our CAT is behind many achievements in 2023.

Caption: Extract from the presentation of CAT representatives at the November 2023 meeting of our Executive Committee

Influencing the decisions and practices of key global actors

Caption: Cover of the child-friendly UDHR (left) and Info sheet on the High Commissioner (right)

Our CAT has been critical in channeling children’s voices, championing children’s rights, and raising the profile of CHRDs in the work of several UN bodies and representatives, contributing to significant results. As highlighted in our story on the rights of CHRDs, they were the key vehicle through which children from across the globe were enabled to directly share their views with the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) on their next strategic plan (a new practice), on their biennial report on children’s rights (focused, in 2023, on inclusive social protection) and its child-friendly version, as well as in the context of the year-long initiative around the 75th anniversary of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights. Children’s views (including those recorded in the report “Children’s Vision for Human Rights”) have had an impact: in early 2024, the High Commissioner presented his human rights vision for the future, highlighting “meaningful decision making by youth and children” as one of the eight top priorities. This is expected to feed discussions around the 2024 Summit of the Future, to be hosted by the UN Secretary-General, to bolster States’ commitment to a new vision for addressing shared challenges in the next decades.


Caption (left image): Cover of the OHCHR report informed by children | Caption (right image): Extract from the report of the High Commissioner for Human Rights – Human Rights: A Path for Solutions –, featuring several of our Child Advisors, engaging in the high-level celebration of the 75th anniversary of the UDHR in December 2023

Our CAT also contributed to driving the focus of the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, on the protection and empowerment of CHRDs, and provided her with data to feed her analysis and recommendations to States. Our Child Advisors contributed to inform, through a submission, her 2023 report on 25 years of achievements by human rights defenders presented to the Human Rights Council in March. Our 16-year-old girl Child Advisor from Cameroon took part in discussions at the Special Rapporteur’s conference dedicated to child and young HRDs in Vienna, in June 2023. All this advocacy has influenced the decision of the Special Rapporteur to focus her next thematic report on the role and work of child and young HRDs and the risks they face. For this report again, our CAT mobilised and made a submission. The Special Rapporteur will present her report to the Human Rights Council in March 2024, engaging States on how to better recognize, protect, and empower CHRDs worldwide.

On the front of environmental action too, our Child Advisors joined forces. Part of a wider child participation process led by our member, Terre des Hommes Germany, our CAT contributed to the process of developing the far-reaching new General Comment of the CRC Committee on children’s rights and the environment, and are acting for its implementation. They engaged in awareness-raising campaigns around the launch of GC26, including a social media campaign, provided feedback on the child-friendly version of the General Comment, and started reflecting on the potential development of a school awareness-raising kit, to further disseminate GC26. Also, for the first time, they’ve addressed a meeting of the Aarhus Convention (on Access to Information, Public Participation in Decision-making and Access to Justice in Environmental Matters), urging States and the UN to enable children to participate in environmental decision-making and disseminate child-friendly materials.

Our CAT was also at the forefront of our 40th anniversary conference in May 2023, “Changing the narrative: Promoting positive change with children around 40 years of civil society advocacy in Geneva”, where they’ve engaged, as panelists and moderators, around 200 actors from around the world (other children, child rights experts and practitioners, and UN representatives). Rejuvenating the debate, they contributed to constructive, open, and rich discussions on how we can strengthen the child rights movement and improve the situation of CHRDs.

Photo credit: @Child Rights Connect/Ruhy Patel | Caption: Our Child Advisors and young participants at our 40th anniversary conference in May 2023

They have gained recognition for their role and impact. During our 40th anniversary conference, they’ve received a prize as ‘Changemakers’ by World Vision International, one of our members, in recognition of their significant contribution to advancing children’s rights across the globe.

Photo credit: @Child Rights Connect/Ruhy Patel | Caption: Several of our Child Advisors after receiving the ChangeMakers prize from our member, World Vision International, at our 40th anniversary conference in May 2023

Improving space for child participation in decision-making within our organisation and Network

Lessons captured through the external evaluation of our work showed that a staff position dedicated to safe and empowering child participation has been “key to this organisational transformation and significant programmatic progresses.” We have, in 2023, strengthened that position through the establishment of an Associate Programme Officer role, largely dedicated to supporting the CAT.

We continue to consult our CAT on the development of our annual plans, on how we can improve our engagement with them, and other key organisational processes. We will also consult them as we collaboratively develop our new organisational Strategy, to be adopted in June 2024.

In 2023 we took steps to further entrench the CAT’s participation in how our organisation is run. There still is room for improvement but this has allowed children to have a say on, question and influence what we do, why we do it, and how we do it. Children’s participation in the meetings of the Executive Committee, and the intergenerational dialogue that this has triggered, have brought more internal responsiveness and accountability to children.

I feel humbled that, as the Executive Director of Child Rights Connect, I get to report to children. This comes with some practical challenges, but it is so uplifting to have those we work for directly inform our work and how our organisation is run. In fact, this should be the norm!”.

In implementation of a recommendation from the 2022 external evaluation of our work, we have also initiated preparations for the CAT to participate in the activities of our Working Groups, using the Working Group on children and the right to education as pilot. In  2023,  two child-friendly documents were presented to the child advisors: one that explains the concept of a working group within Child Rights Connect, and another one that presents the strengthening of the right to education initiative. The document on the functioning of the Working Groups now includes feedback from the CAT on how they could be involved in and contribue to the activities of the Working Groups. Child advisors also provided feedback on the Working Group on Education draft annual work plan for 2024 and shared concrete ideas of how they could support the different planned activities.

What the CAT has changed for Child Advisors and our Network

Reflections from our Child Advisors show how their involvement in the CAT has empowered them to (further) act as CHRDs in significant ways. It has boosted their motivation. By offering them a safe space of expression, the CAT has allowed them, and particularly girls, to increase their self-confidence and public speaking and leadership skills, the lack of which often gets in the way of their speaking up. Child Advisors have, through human rights education and training, also gained a better understanding of their rights and what this means for those responsible for enforcing them.

Caption: Extract from the presentation of CAT representatives at the November 2023 meeting of our Executive Committee

One of our girl Child Advisors said: “Being a Child Advisor has been a source of empowerment for me in various ways. It’s the first time I’ve felt actively involved in making a positive impact on the world, and what makes it even more special is the child-friendly approach we take. Recognizing myself as a defender of children’s rights fills me with pride. The Children’s Advisory Team (CAT) provides a safe and welcoming space where I can learn, share experiences, be myself, and contribute productively. Meeting inspiring children from around the world and working with exceptional coordinators like Imen, Ana, and Agnes has been incredibly enriching. Speaking at conferences and being recognized as a valuable speaker for the first time is a clear sign of the inclusive and supportive environment created by Child Rights Connect. This experience motivates me to continue making a positive impact both on an international and national level.

The CAT has also acted as a global platform to raise the often-ignored voice of children facing additional barriers due to their specific status or context.

Being a Child Advisor has been an incredible journey, and I feel immensely proud and fulfilled as Hala, representing Palestinian children. Achieving my dream of driving the voices of Palestinian children has been a source of great joy and motivation. It’s heartening to see the positive impact we’ve had in advocating for their rights and ensuring their perspectives are recognized. I am genuinely passionate about continuing this important work, and my interest in collaborating with Child Rights Connect remains strong. […] I look forward to continuing to be a voice for those who may not always have the opportunity to speak for themselves and working towards a brighter future for all children in Palestine.”

Another Child Advisor explained: “[Through] becoming member of the global CAT of Child Rights Connect after, I was so lucky to represent Nepal and Nepalese children. I can fight for children, especially Nepalese children’s problems, at the international level. I got the opportunity to be involved in many important documents like General Comment 26 [of the CRC Committee], [the OHCHR report on] inclusive social protection, […] children’s vision for human rights. Through all these documents I have told the situation of Nepalese children and was able to give suggestions and advice. I am aware about the future of the world through General Comment 26; that earth is more important for children. So, I have, and I will plant more trees on my own land and public property”.

Child advisors have also stressed how useful it has been for them to establish new connections through the CAT, particularly at the international level, and to use them to amplify the impact of their work. The CAT has sparked new collaborations and new initiatives. Two girl Child Advisors, from Brazil and Moldova, have come together, despite different time zones and school schedules, to start developing a book featuring the stories of various CHRDs worldwide, whose work remains largely invisible. We’re giving them some advice on the process and fundraising to help them make this happen.

We are seeing evidence of outgoing Child Advisors continuing to connect with us and others and engaging at the international level, hinting that the ‘CAT model’ has potential for sustainability. For instance, our former girl Child Advisor from Lebanon engaged in the Global Futures Forum (GFF) in March 2023, which came up with an Interim People’s Pact for the Future, to feed civil society’s perspectives into the Summit of the Future. She presented an intergenerational research paper co-developed with other young HRDs. This contributed to influencing the Interim People’s Pact for the Future, especially as children are included as a cross-cutting consideration in the report.

The CAT has not only inspired children, but also adults, particularly within our Network. The external evaluation of our work from 2022 noted: The establishment of the Children’s Advisory Team (CAT) serves as a role model for other organisations.” “Members say that they are using the guidelines and tools produced by Child Rights Connect when supporting children’s participation at a national level and in preparation for global events/activities.” This is also the case when it comes to rolling out child participation in governance: a member of our Executive Committee explained that she has used the “Child Rights Connect model” to brief other NGOs on ways to meaningfully include children in the governance of their organisations.

How we can, and will, do better

There is more work to be done. To ensure child participation is as inclusive as possible (as called for by the external evaluation), in 2024 we will review our Child Advisors selection process, making changes to ensure greater diversity. We will pursue our pilot project on child participation in the activities of our Working Group on children and the right to education. We will continue to adapt our timelines, working hours and working methods to enable the effective participation of children, often busy with their studies and other commitments. Because the digital divide prevents some Child Advisors from effectively participating online, we will, with the support of HP Inc, undertake a project focused on improving their access to and use of safe and effective information and communication technologies (ICT) solutions (including hardware, software, online safety protocols and capacity-building on digital engagement). We will help other organisations capitalize on our experience by developing a case study with lessons learned on ‘child participation in our programming and governance’.