“All of us can stand up for human rights – and you are doing that”, says the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights to about 80 children’s rights defenders from around the world at Child Rights Connect’s first online General Assembly!

On 25 June 2020, more than 30 regional, national and local child rights organisations and coalitions from around the world, all members of the Child Rights Connect network, gathered for the Annual General Assembly. For the first time, the meeting was held online due to travel restrictions related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The United Nations (UN) High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, addressed the network through an inspiring keynote speech, which was followed by a brief questions & answers session. She highlighted “the devastating short-, medium- and long-term consequences [of the pandemic] for children and their rights” including restricted access to healthcare, food and education, as well as increased exposure to different forms of violence and abuse. She explained how her Office is working with other UN partners to advance a child rights-based and multi-sectoral response to the pandemic, both by the UN and by Member States. She called on Member States to adopt an effective, child rights-based approach and to increase the participation of children in all forums, while applauding the response of certain governments who had taken the views from children during the pandemic. “The pandemic and accompanying recession have an impact on the availability of resources. But we cannot afford to de-prioritise children’s rights. In all decisions concerning children, the focus must remain the best interests of the child.”

She further stressed the need for “the full engagement of civil society to identify gaps in child protection; to advocate better solutions on the ground; and to help support children and protect and promote their rights.” In that regard, she thanked Child Rights Connect network members for their “invaluable contributions to the rights of children around the world”. “Your actions are helping to change your societies, and our world. They bind our societies to fundamental values of decency, fairness and understanding, and they flow into deeper mutual confidence and respect.” You can access Michelle Bachelet’s full speech here.

This General Assembly constituted a key moment in the life of the network on other, several counts. Ten new member organisations were welcomed in the network: The Learning for Well-being Foundation in the Netherlands, Korea Council of Children’s Organizations, National Coalition for the Implementation of the UN-Convention on the Rights of the Child in Austria, a Belgium-based international network of close to 600 African associations (IDAY), the Halley Movement in Mauritius, The Malta Foundation for the Wellbeing of Society, Family for Every Child in the United Kingdom, Aliance za dětská práva in the Czech Republic, the International School Psychology Association in the Netherlands, and Plateforme CDE Maroc. This is a steady start to the commitment made in Child Rights Connect’s Strategic Plan to diversify its membership with a particular focus on increasing membership from the under-represented regions of Africa, Asia and Latin America.

The governance of the network was also strengthened and diversified by the re-election, in the Executive Committee, of Maria Herzcog, Alan Kikuchi-White, Rut Feuk, and Chris Derksen Hiebert as well as the first-time election of Maria Amihan Abueva from the Child Rights Coalition Asia and Catherine Mbengue from the African Child Policy Forum.

Reviewing Child Rights Connect’s 2019 public annual report (soon to be released), member organisations collectively reflected on the most significant results achieved in 2019, acknowledging the “remarkable body of work achieved”, and identified the remaining gaps to be addressed to make children’s rights a reality. Building on this reflection, the strategy and plans for the current year were discussed and approved, along with the budget. Members particularly welcomed the introduction of activities related to the protection of children’s rights in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic. They also welcomed the healthy financial results for 2019 and encouraging prospects for 2020, despite the current negative economic environment.

To better mainstream child participation in advocacy before the UN, colleagues from World Vision suggested the establishment of a Working Group on child participation, to be possibly formalized at the 2021 General Assembly. Several member organisations already voiced their interest in joining and/or supporting such a collaborative structure.

This General Assembly will be followed by a further series of webinars focusing on specific substantive topics to which all member organisations will be invited.