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Why a platform facilitating civil society’s engagement in the work of the Committee is still needed

The Committee on the Rights of the Child (CRC Committee) is the UN treaty body responsible for monitoring the implementation of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) and its Optional Protocols (OPs). It is a key vehicle to enhance the implementation of children’s rights at national level. The Committee regularly reviews each State party to the UNCRC and its OPs to assess the progress they have made in implementing this treaty and to provide country-specific recommendations (called “concluding observations”).

Photo credit @ UN | Caption: Members of the CRC Committee, 2023

Non-State actors – such as children and child-led groups, civil society organisations (CSOs) and coalitions at the national, regional and international levels, National Human Rights Institutions and Children’s Ombudspersons, and academics and experts – can also share their analysis and recommendations on the situation of children’s rights. The ensuing Committee’s recommendations to States not only contribute to building pressure for States to meet their obligations but also guide them in how to go about improving the situation of children’s rights.  Understanding and engaging in the various stages of this reporting cycle is a powerful way for children’s rights defenders, including children, to monitor and help improve children’s rights in their countries, driving focus on the most pressing issues. The participation of children, CSOs, and other non-State actors is critical to the reporting process of the Committee. Through participation, diverse voices and perspectives are reflected in how the Committee reviews States’ child rights records and what priority issues they should address. The views of children and CSOs contribute to grounding the recommendations of the CRC Committee in the daily realities of children, for States to focus their attention and resources on tackling the most pressing issues. And this has worked, as noted by our Global Study on the Status of Engagement in Reporting to CRC Committee in 2019 (Global Study): “Impact assessments have shown that recommendations made by civil society were generally included in the Committee’s concluding observations”.

However, some are deprived of this powerful advocacy avenue. Not all (potentially) interested children, CSOs and other non-State actors get to engage with the CRC Committee and influence its recommendations to States. As assessed by our Global Study, grassroots CSOs and children from regions of the world where civil society is weak or fragmented, and where civic space is restricted or obstructed, such as the Caribbean and Pacific, experience the biggest challenges. Access to the reporting cycle of the Committee can be undermined for several reasons ranging from the lack of accessible information and understanding on how to engage; lack of mobilisation, capacity and coordination – including because of the lack of stability and sustainability of national coalitions of children’s rights defenders –; security risks related to advocacy; to the perceived “overwhelming” nature of the reporting process (particularly in a context of transition between two reporting procedures operated by the CRC Committee, as experienced in 2023, or changes around the reporting calendar and short timeframes). Even those connected to other Geneva-based child rights organisations can struggle to engage. The 2022 external evaluation of our work found that “Although some of the international children’s rights organisations with presence in Geneva also work with national partners, representatives from these organisations explain that they need to safeguard their own, often limited, seats and space”. Our Global Study noted that these challenges were even greater for children. “Although there has been an increase in child participation in the reporting process, it continues to remain limited and is rarely child led”. “Preparation for and follow-up to children’s participation is crucial but is not always being carried out”.

In recent years, including in 2023, these challenges have been compounded by other worrying developments deteriorating the environment for children’s rights defenders: a widespread pushback against human rights, including children’s rights and child participation; pressure on civic space, including at the UN; and the lingering UN financial crisis, leaving, among other things, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (which operates the Secretariat to the CRC Committee) under-resourced. While during and in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic, access to the CRC Committee through online participation had increased, the continuation of hybrid modalities for all UN human rights mechanisms, including the CRC Committee, is now questioned. In 2023, some civil society actors have been deprived from engaging online due to the time limitations imposed to online interpretation services, which means that some civil society actors lacked time to speak with the Committee.

What we did and achieved in 2023

Providing information, technical advice, and capacity-building to civil society

True to our long-established role of connecting civil society with the CRC Committee, we continued our restless efforts to provide information, guidance, technical assistance, and training to children’s rights defenders, including children, from across the globe about how to report to and engage with the CRC Committee, including through digital channels. As one of the two strategic partners of the Committee (along with UNICEF), we continued to operate the single platform through which non-State actors submit their confidential reports and information to the Committee and register to attend the Committee’s pre-sessions in Geneva. We also continued to deliver online briefings for CSOs and children to effectively engage in the Committee’s session, as well as in the pre-session and children’s meetings, and debriefings following pre-sessions, channeling relevant feedback to the Committee.

Our technical assistance has spanned all regions of the world. We have assisted country offices of Plan International (a member of our Network) in Togo, the Dominican Republic, and Paraguay to engage in reporting (submission of their report, participation in the related pre-session, and engagement of children), with a focus on facilitating the participation of children and advancing the rights of child human rights defenders. We extended similar technical support to partners at country level, such as to UNICEF Country Offices in Bhutan and Sri Lanka.

We provided tailored capacity-building to children and children’s rights defenders alike. In February, we briefed around 10 CHRDs from Bulgaria on how to effectively engage in reporting to the CRC Committee. We assisted them and our local partner, the National Network for Children, throughout their involvement in the reporting cycle of the Committee, including with the preparation for and submission of their report to the Committee, meeting with the Committee to share their concerns and recommendations and following the Committee’s dialogue with the State. We also started to engage with Bulgarian authorities to press for the implementation of the Committee’s Concluding Observations. In May, we trained 15 advocacy advisors from Europe and North America of SOS Children’s Villages International, also a member of our Network, on how to effectively engage in CRC reporting (amongst other UN advocacy opportunities to be pursued).

We also continued to provide timely, accessible and multilingual public information, tools and resources about all the areas of work of the Committee, including reporting, through regularly publishing Infopacks on CRC sessions and pre-sessions, updating our mini site on CRC reporting and further disseminating our various publications on CRC reporting. We supported the launch and dissemination of a new thematic resource, “The Child’s Right to Nationality and Childhood Statelessness: A Toolkit for Child Rights Actors”, by our member, the Institute on Statelessness and Inclusion, to support CSO engagement with the CRC Committee on these issues.

Caption: Our CRC reporting mini site

Through constant monitoring and information sharing, we played a critical role in bridging the communication gap between civil society and the CRC Committee (as well as other UN mechanisms). We closely and constantly liaised with the Secretariat of the CRC Committee to keep abreast of the Committee’s plans and schedule and provided timely information to CSOs and children, to allow them to participate in the reporting cycle as effectively as possible.

Fostering in-country collaboration

Beyond capacity-building, we also played an important role connecting and fostering collaboration among key non-State actors within the same countries, to encourage them to include children and to speak of one voice before the Committee, for more impactful recommendations. In Brazil, we connected one of our child advisors, a 16-year-old girl, with an in-country NGO supporting a children’s submission, focused on human rights education. She provided input in the development of a survey questionnaire for children and circulated the survey within her network, for children to inform the submission to the CRC Committee.

In Burkina Faso, we delivered a webinar to the UNICEF Country Office on child participation in CRC reporting. Following this, the UNICEF Country Office showed strong interest in supporting the national NGO reporting process. While the national coalition of NGOs and UNICEF Country Office had previously met, the further connection provided by Child Rights Connect boosted the collaboration.  Following meetings, UNICEF is now providing technical support to the national NGO reporting process, including a children’s submission.

Building the capacity of children and CSOs on follow-up to recommendations

Building on the How To Guide on “How to Advance Children’s Rights using Recommendations from United Nations and Regional Human Rights Monitoring and Review Processes”, co-developed with Save the Children and other members and partners under the “How To Child Rights” series, we also engaged in follow-up to the recommendations from the CRC Committee, an often overlooked yet crucial step to concretely improve children’s situations on the ground. In Iceland, we supported children’s involvement in the development and implementation of a national action plan on the recommendations of the CRC Committee, in collaboration with the Ministry of Education and Children. We helped the Ministry to convene a Children’s Summit in the north of Iceland in May 2023, where 39 children aged 13-15 gathered to reflect on the Concluding Observations from the Committee and draw recommendations for the Minister to consider. To empower children in that process, we facilitated training sessions and discussions on who child human rights defenders (CHRDs) are, the UNCRC and monitoring of its implementation, the latest reporting cycle of Iceland by the CRC Committee and children’s involvement so far, and the ‘superpowers’ of decision-makers. The Committee’s Concluding Observations were presented in a child-friendly manner, allowing children to identify priorities and draw recommendations on how to implement these, which they handed over to the Minister. Children also drew some recommendations on how children should be involved in the implementation of Concluding Observations which can serve for other States to build on this good practice. Findings from this initiative informed the development of a case study, developed jointly with the Ministry of Education and Children. Bulgarian authorities have already voiced interest in receiving guidance for a similar child participation process, showing the strong potential for peer-learning.

We also continued to push for children’s involvement in the implementation of recommendations from UN human rights mechanisms through other fronts. In June, together with Save the Children and the Child Rights Coalition (CRC) Asia, both members of our Network, we co-facilitated a regional online learning event for CSOs and children in Asia-Pacific on “How to engage children in follow up to reporting to the UN human rights mechanisms (including CRC reporting)”, hosted by the How-to Child Rights series. Around 130 defenders from around the world, including 40 children, joined the discussion. The goal was to inspire and resource children, as well as CSOs in their supporting role, to engage in the implementation of recommendations from UN human rights mechanisms, particularly from the CRC Committee and the Universal Periodic Review. Children shared that being part of the reporting process meant they now better understand and have stronger skills on child rights, they have engaged in many campaigns and advocacy events, and they have been part of local public planning processes (which is, for instance, helping move changes on child budget allocations). As a follow-up, CSOs in Nepal voiced their intention to engage more with children in follow-up actions, and CSOs in Japan expressed the intention to build the capacity of children on reporting and follow-up. We intend to replicate a similar approach for CSOs and children in Africa in 2024.

Caption: Screen capture of the online regional learning event in Asia-Pacific

What difference did this make

“There is no other global network that assembles child rights-focused civil society actors, including children, and connect them to the human rights mechanisms in Geneva the way CRCnct does”, External evaluation of Child Rights Connect’s work in 2022

Through technical assistance, we empowered 296 children’s rights defenders, including 188 women and girls,[1] from various countries on all continents[2] to effectively report to the Committee under different procedures and engage in the Committee’s pre-sessions. Among them, we resourced 76 children, including 49 girls, to engage with the Committee. This is more than in all previous years since 2018, where 92 children’s rights defenders had been supported, as shown below.

All the children’s rights defenders who participated in our surveys reported that our technical assistance had been useful to prepare for the pre-session and/or children’s meeting with the Committee, with 93% reporting it as “extremely useful”.

A female defender from Romania explained that “The technical assistance provided by Child Rights Connect was very useful, prompt and helpful”, while a male defender from Paraguay stated the technical assistance received had been “very important” for the national child rights coalition.

Similarly, more than 100 children’s rights defenders surveyed reported having used our various guides on reporting to the CRC Committee. On average, 84% of them found the resources extremely or very useful. There are many examples of their use to improve actors’ understanding of the reporting process and ways to engage, and to facilitate children’s participation in such process. A female representative from the national coalition in Guatemala reported that our Guide for NGOs “served to prepare and accompany the report of the girls, boys and adolescents” as well as to advise “others on their thematic reports” to the Committee. A male representative from the national coalition in Nepal explained that this resource was used “for advocacy with the Government of Nepal and regular follow-up of the progress”. The coalition in Nepal reported having used My Pocket Guide with around 500 children during training sessions and consultations. A female representative from the national coalition in Romania explained, referring to our guide Together with children, that her “colleagues used this information in the children’s consultation process”. A male representative from the national coalition in Mali reported having used our CRC reporting mini site in the “information, awareness and training of members of the drafting committee for the alternative report” to the Committee.

As a result of our combined capacity-building, technical assistance, awareness-raising and resources-sharing work, children, children’s rights defenders (including Network members and other CSOs), other non-State actors (NHRIs, Ombudspersons) and representatives from International Organisations have been resourced with new or improved knowledge, know-how, confidence and connections to effectively use CRC reporting as a mechanism to push for the realisation of child rights in dozens of countries across the world. For instance, in Bulgaria, our support opened new advocacy avenues and empowering opportunities for child human rights defenders (CHRDs) and their supporting organisations. Following our training on the CRC reporting process in February, all the children surveyed reported feeling more prepared to engage with the Committee as a CHRD. They indicated having gained knowledge and experience on how to engage in, and seek to influence the outcome of, the reporting cycle of the CRC Committee for strong, relevant recommendations to the State of Bulgaria. For one of the first times, children from Bulgaria supported by our local partner, the National Network for Children (NNC) and us, submitted their own report to the CRC Committee and met with the Committee to share their views about the situation of children’s rights in Bulgaria.

According to our local partner, it was an empowering experience for “children to see that even in an international context, their actions have led to social change, even political change as a result of advocacy”.

Children involved in reporting were inspired to share their advocacy experience with other children less exposed to advocacy, including during a large meeting of the NNC, and one of them – a 15 year-old boy – was inspired to join our global Children’s Advisory Team in 2024.

The recent external evaluation of our work pointed that, […] access of the child rights-focused civil society to the human rights mechanisms in Geneva would be less effective, coherent, and efficient without CRCnct’s presence and engagement”. This is especially true for the CRC Committee. Throughout the years, including in 2023, and despite decreasing civic space at the UN, we have maintained a space for CSOs and children to continue to provide reliable, comprehensive, transparent information to the Committee and contribute to influencing targeted recommendations to States for realising child rights on the ground. In 2023, there were fewer submissions from non-State actors than in 2022 but more than in 2019 (before the COVID-19 outbreak which significantly disrupted reviews): there were 213 submissions[3] from CSOs and children made to the Committee in respect to the 39 countries which pre-session or session were held during the year. Among these, 32 reports emanated from children or were informed by children’s views (15%), which is an improvement compared to 2022 but still lower than in 2021 (when the highest proportion of such reports had been registered). There still is more to be done to improve reporting by or with the involvement of children.

While there still is a long way to go before children more systematically report to and engage with the Committee, the external evaluation noted that “CRCnct has pushed the agenda and increased the acceptance, demand and practice of safe, empowering, and sustainable child participation at multiple levels, specifically […] in the CRC Committee […].” Moving forward, we will not spare our efforts to enable safe, empowering, inclusive and sustained participation of global civil society actors, particularly children, in the activities of UN human rights mechanisms in Geneva, specifically the CRC Committee. As possible, we will also increasingly focus on follow-up to the CRC Committee’s recommendations as an effective way of further strengthening children’s rights defenders and advancing children’s rights across the world.


[1] Please note that in a single pre-session (PS94 in January-February 2023), there were 199 participants in total.

[2] Andorra, the Dominican Republic, France, Israel, Kyrgyzstan, Russian Federation, Togo, the United Kingdom, Argentina, Spain, Bulgaria, Congo, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Norway, Paraguay, Qatar, Romania, Senegal, Bahrain, Egypt, Mali, Namibia, Panama, and South Africa.

[3] Submissions include both alternative reports and additional information ahead of the CRC sessions. The year of the CRC pre-sessions is the reference year for calculating annual statistics (and not the year of the session). We opted for this calculation method for the following reasons: (i) our technical assistance overwhelmingly happens around the pre-sessions; and (ii) due to the COVID-19 crisis which delayed the conduct of sessions by the CRC Committee, and further use of the Simplified Reporting Procedure (SRP), the gap between the pre-session and session of a country has been and can be as long as 18 months.