On 12 March 2024 the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, Ms Mary Lawlor presented the first ever UN report on child and youth defenders. Child Rights Connect worked closely with the Special Rapporteur to ensure that the consultation and participation of child human rights defenders (CHRDs) was a key aspect through all the events that led to the release of this report at the Human Rights Council.


June 2023 Vienna Youth and Child Human Rights Defenders Conference

To mark the 25th anniversary of the adoption of the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders and the 30th Anniversary of the Vienna Declaration and Programme for Action, in June 2023, Child Rights Connect supported the participation of CHRDs at the Vienna Youth and Child Human rights Defenders Conference. The event was co-organized by the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders and the Austrian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Among the 43 child and youth human rights defenders (HRDs), nine were CHRDs, including our child advisor Gloria (14, Cameroon) and Vasile (17, Moldova), a CHRD supported by CRIC, our partner organisation in a joint project. We empowered CHRDs to participate in the event by conducting a preparatory brief and a debrief. The young and child human rights defenders discussed the challenges they face when raising their concerns on climate change, bullying, and LGBTIQ+ issues, etc. with a view to informing governments and the UN on how they may be better protected.


Call for input for upcoming report on child and youth HRDs

As a follow up of the Vienna Conference, in October the Special Rapporteur announced that she will write a report to the Human Rights Council on child and youth human rights defenders, asking adults and children worldwide to share their views and recommendations on this topic.

On 8 November 2023, Child Rights Connect together with Save the Children organised an online information sharing session that gathered 64 adults, children and young people. During the session we stressed the importance of the upcoming report, and  children’s role in shaping the narrative by submitting views to the Special Rapporteur. Together with a representative of the Special Rapporteur team, we went through the questionnaire designed for the upcoming report, specifying that the Special Rapporteur is open to receive inputs via audio and video messages, and drawings, thus demonstrating an openness to follow the practice of the CRC Committee for child participation. After the session 70% of the participants shared that they would submit input to the report.


Report on child and youth HRDs and interactive dialogue with the Special Rapporteur

At the March 2024 Human Rights Council the Special Rapporteur, Ms. Mary Lawlor presented the report “We are not just the future”: challenges faced by child and youth human rights defenders” with a focus on structural and societal barriers to the activism of child and youth HRDs, legal restrictions on their participation in civic space and the human rights violations they face as a result of their peaceful human rights activities . The report reflects the views expressed by the child and youth HRDs who participated in the Vienna conference in June 2023, and is shaped by the testimonies of 100 defenders from 37 States, observer States and regions, and 140 submissions made by defenders and other relevant stakeholders to the call for input.


During the Interactive Dialogue, the Special Rapporteur highligted several challanges she has identified while preparing the report on child and youth HRDs, such as: lack of adequate support from traditional human rights allies; not often being taken seriously by other members of CSO nor by older generations and society at large; not being meaningfully consulted in matters impacting them. She noted that, since 2015, the work of young  HRDs is better recognized, but child HRDs, especially girls, face growing repression (mostly impacted by those working on climate crisis).

Overall, most countries reaffirmed their commitment to protect all HRDs, children and youth included. Many described children and youth HRDs as “being at the forefront of mobilization of human rights issues worldwide” (the European Union) and even “applying new and innovative strategies to push forward for human rights” (UN Women).

Civil society was also given a chance to raise concerns about different HRDs being imprisoned worldwide. In a joint statement, ‘Bie’, a youth HRD from Thailand, supported by Amnesty International, stated: “Our work comes at a cost. Peaceful campaigns have disastrous effects on human rights violations. In Thailand, more than 1’600 and almost 300 students have been criminally charged for exercising their freedom of expression. A lot of us have also seen our data breached by the government to discredit our peaceful activism. Let us collaborate with other generations for a more inclusive world for everyone.”


Side-event at the March 2024 session of the Human Rights Council

On 13 March 2024 it was finally time for child and youth HRDs to come to Geneva, continue the dialogue with the Special Rapporteur and celebrate all the efforts of the year-long initiative to produce a report on child and youth defenders. Child Rights Connect organised jointly with Save the Children, Amnesty International and the Special Rapporteur a side-event “Advancing the rights of child and young human rights defenders: implementing the recommendations of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders”. The event was supported by Austria, Luxembourg and Lithuania. Around 180 people attended the event on-site and online. Four child and youth CHRDs from around the globe – Anna (18, Thailand), Vasile (17, Moldova), Erika (17, Paraguay) and Niraphorn ‘Bie’ (22, Thailand) – were invited to join the event in person in Geneva. Their powerful interventions can be watched  .  Child and young HRDs highlighted that the recommendations in the report, that contains extensive data on child and youth HRDs, are important as they help them understand how to better protect their rights. A message was sent that the report will have an impact at the national level, if the Human Rights Council remains firm in its advocacy with the States on the issue of child and youth HRDs. The Special Rapporteur noted that what is needed is a systematic, meaningful and routine inclusion of child and young HRDs in all work at the United Nations.


Next steps

As we look ahead and reflect on how the 35th and 36th  anniversary of the Convention on the Rights of Child and the UN Declaration of Human Rights Defenders, respectively, will generate new impetus in empowering CHRDs, a development of a civil society Strategy in support of child human rights defenders comes to mind. Child Rights Connect and Save the Children are working to define a strategy with the aim of mobilising a diverse group of civil society organisations and other stakeholders to advocate for supporting CHRDs, within their organisations, and with donors and in human rights mechanisms. More information to follow.