Why a Children’s Advisory Team (CAT)
There are multiple examples of child human rights defenders (CHRDs) from all horizons vibrantly advocating for the protection of human rights, the environment and social justice. The voices of children are out there. Ensuring the recognition, protection and empowerment of CHRDs is therefore a cross-cutting strategic priority for Child Rights Connect. Child participation, from national to international levels, is a means to this end and is enshrined at the core of Child Rights Connect’s activities. In 2018, Child Rights Connect set up its first global Children’s Advisory Team of 21 children to advise the planning and implementation of the Day of General Discussion of the United Nations (UN) Committee on the Rights of the Child (CRC Committee), focused on protecting and empowering children as human rights defenders. Child Rights Connect then supported a global Children’s Advisory Team of nine child advisors in the development of UNICEF’s official child-friendly UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.
To be more responsive and accountable to the aspirations of children from around the world, Child Rights Connect took a decisive step in 2020 by establishing the Children’s Advisory Team (CAT) as a permanent, global group within the organisation, central to advancing its efforts on children’s empowerment globally. To do so, Child Rights Connect has built on experiences and lessons learned from outgoing child advisors. In 2020, the team of 12 children (including five girls and a child with disabilities) defined their own roadmap of action for the year, and implemented numerous activities such as reviewing the child-friendly page of the Committee on the Rights of the Child, publishing a storybook ‘Our Lives Under Lockdown’, and publishing a briefing for governments on how to support children’s rights before and during a pandemic.
In 2021, the Children’s Advisory Team was composed of 16 children, including eight girls, aged between 11 to 17 years old, each living in different countries. The new-coming members brought broader regional diversity to the CAT compared to the previous year, with representatives from the MENA region and the Caribbean gaining knowledge on and advocating for the rights of the child in these often-under-represented regions. Throughout the year, the 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 the organisation. Importantly, following a decision taken by Child Rights Connect’s Executive Committee in 2020 to include children in the governance of the organisation, in 2021 two child advisors represented the CAT in the activities of the Executive Committee.
In 2021, the Children’s Advisory Team was composed of 16 children, including eight girls, aged between 11 to 17 years old, each living in different countries.
What the CAT has been up to in 2021
As a practice from the previous year, CAT members have defined their own roadmap of action for 2021. CAT members participated in a three-week online e-learning course on the rights of the child, CHRDs and other relevant topics for the development of their activities. The focus on CHRDs’ rights remains a core feature of the work of the CAT with a strong link to the follow up on the 2018 Day of General Discussion. CAT members contributed to the development of the child-friendly Guide ‘Putting the Rights of Child Human Rights Defenders into Practice’ and its dissemination amongst other children, particularly during the online capacity building sessions with Moldovan CSOs and CHRDs, when CAT members shared their experiences and challenges as CHRDs.
An important participation of CAT members was in the context of the 76th session of the UN General Assembly, when Amnesty International and Child Rights Connect organised an event to increase awareness at the highest UN level on the urgency to advance the holistic implementation of the UNCRC through child rights mainstreaming. This came as a response to the unprecedented and increasing mobilization of children globally who were acting as human rights defenders and claiming more space and attention to their rights and views. The event was an opportunity for the CAT to launch the child-friendly Guide ‘Putting the Rights of Child Human Rights Defenders into Practice’, hosted on Child Rights Connect’s new website on child human rights defenders. During the event, child advisors stressed that this Guide can help the UN to put focus on neglected rights, such as civil and political rights, thereby enhancing child rights mainstreaming in the adult-centered work of the UN. The CHRDs who participated as co-moderators or panelists highlighted that the lack of child rights mainstreaming, including at the UN, has consequences on their lives and called for children’s participation (and empowerment from adults) to address these challenges. “The solution involves children, representing them at every level of decision making, from the very high-level engagement to the actual on-the-ground work that’s being done in many nations.” (Joshua, CAT member from Canada). Part of Child Rights Connect’s wider efforts to advance child rights mainstreaming at all levels, the event fuelled discussions at the highest UN level leading to a milestone decision by the UN Secretary General to develop a Guidance Note on child rights mainstreaming, to start addressing the lack of a system-wide approach to child rights in the UN.
Further, following their mobilization in response to the COVID-19 challenges faced by children, started in 2020, CAT members developed in 2021 child-friendly informative videos about mental health care during the stressful times of the pandemic.
How the CAT has empowered child advisors
Reflections from the child advisors show how their involvement in the CAT has empowered them to act as CHRDs in significant, distinct ways. First, the CAT has boosted child advisors’ motivation to act for the promotion and protection of human rights. Motivation is a key ingredient for mobilizing other children to join their movement for human rights. Rebeca, Child Rights Connect child advisor from El Salvador, shared that her experiences as part of the CAT made her “a more empowered teenager with much more motivation to continue being a human rights defender”.
Through offering a safe space to exchange views, the CAT has allowed child advisors, 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 to defend human rights. When reflecting on her experience as a CAT member in 2021, Melaia, from Fiji, shared: “Working with Child Rights Connect and being part of the CAT team was so eye opening! I’ve learnt so much about children all over the world through all the virtual meets we’ve had and the webinars that I’ve been a part of while representing Child Rights Connect. (…) Lastly but most importantly, my confidence. I remember saying during my introduction to the CAT team that I’m an introvert. This, I tell you, has changed a lot. I have a big mind and I have so many ideas and things that I’d love to share with people but before this I used to write down whatever I had to say and read from a script because I was always anxious and scared of making mistakes which would make me freeze up and forget whatever I wanted to say. But along this journey I’ve learnt to voice out whatever was in mind without having to read notes that I’ve written, I’ve learnt to be resilient and to accept my mistakes considering the fact that this has been a learning process for not only me but other members of the CAT team.”
“Working with Child Rights Connect and being part of the CAT team was so eye opening! I’ve learnt so much about children all over the world through all the virtual meets we’ve had and the webinars that I’ve been a part of while representing Child Rights Connect. (…) Lastly but most importantly, my confidence. I remember saying during my introduction to the CAT team that I’m an introvert. This, I tell you, has changed a lot. I have a big mind and I have so many ideas and things that I’d love to share with people” Melaia, Child Advisor from Fiji
Child Rights Connect child advisor from Indonesia, Sophia, also shared how being part of the CAT increased her confidence to share her opinions: “I often don’t have confidence in myself and I have the tendency to hold back my opinions. Because I was scared that maybe no one will pay attention to what I will say and that maybe I was wrong to voice out my opinions. But now I have gained myself a little confidence and ability to speak out my opinions, because of that I’m truly grateful that I get to be a part of CRC.”
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. This is key to allow them to then defend the rights of others and empower other children in their communities to do the same. Melaia, child advisor from Fiji, stated: “The drafting of the child friendly guide of CHRD has educated me well on how safe child human rights defenders should feel when in work. It never occurred to me before that children have the right to feel free to express their views and to feel safe when standing up for what they believe in.”
The CAT has also acted as a global platform to amplify the often-ignored voice of children, including of children facing additional barriers due to their specific status, such as those living with disabilities. In the words of Jorge, Child Rights Connect child advisor from Bolivia, a child with disabilities: “The commitment that Child Rights Connect has with the rights of children and young people, with making visible the violation of our rights is something that I deeply appreciate, also that they have made it possible for me to carry the voice of the children and young people of my country and always respect my position from the point of view of disability and their good will in trying to make the spaces accessible.”
The commitment that Child Rights Connect has with the rights of children and young people, with making visible the violation of our rights is something that I deeply appreciate, also that they have made it possible for me to carry the voice of the children and young people of my country and always respect my position from the point of view of disability and their good will in trying to make the spaces accessible.” Jorge, Child Advisor from Bolivia
Child advisors have also stressed how connecting and exchanging closely with other children on a global scale has contributed to develop their knowledge and understanding of different challenges and good practices on children’s rights in different contexts. They could use these connections to take their existing actions to an international stage to amplify their impact.
What the next steps are
The empowerment of child advisors as individuals is a first, necessary step, towards sustained impact. Child Rights Connect already sees evidence of outgoing child advisors continuing to connect with the organisation and others and share their own human rights activities with their peers and in their communities. There is a growing number of child advisors that have joined a mentor group that continues to support new child advisors, share their actions and follow the CAT’s work. Their ideas and suggestions help Child Rights Connect to continue improving the effectiveness and impact of the CAT as well as the positive experience for child advisors. As for previous years, the 2022 child advisors prepared the roadmap of action for the year, with key activities to take in place, such as the following of the UN Guidance Note on Child Rights Mainstreaming, review of child-friendly materials and participation in the Children’s Global Online Meeting on new UN Standards about Sustainable Development. The outcomes on the activities developed by child advisors will be published on Child Rights Connect’s website.