On the 5th and 6th of April, children from all around the globe participated in Child Consultations held by the UN CESCR on its next General Comment on sustainable development and economic, social, and cultural human rights. 

The United Nations Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (UN CESCR) is to produce a new General Comment (GC) on Sustainable Development and how it affects and connects with economic, social and cultural rights (ESC rights). This will be the Committee’s 27th General Comment. General Comments provide authoritative interpretations of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) with the purpose of improving the effective application of the Covenant. 

For the first time, children had the opportunity to have their thoughts and ideas included in the process of drafting a General Comment by the UN CESCR! The Committee’s Drafting Group organized three Children’s Global Consultations on the 5th and the 6th of April of 2022, to hear children’s views and experiences on the theme of Sustainable Development and ESC rights. Building on the practice of the Committee on the Rights of the Child (UN CRC), this is the first time that members from another UN treaty body consulted children in a dedicated event. 

To ensure an informed, inclusive, empowering, and safe participation of children, the Drafting Group of the CESCR cooperated in the organisation of the consultations with the NGO Child Rights Connect, the German Friedrich-Ebert-Foundation, the German National Human Rights Institution and the University of Nottingham Human Rights Law Centre. The partners helped develop child-friendly information about the UN CESCR and the General Comment, including a child-friendly version of the ICESCR aimed at 12-18-year-olds! (English/Español/ Français/ Deutsch).  

Over 160 children and youth from 35 different countries participated in the Child Consultations, organised in three different meetings to adjust to different time zones: Asia & the Pacific, Europe & Africa, in addition to the Americas & the Caribbean. 

The children’s participation was very diverse and included children with different backgrounds such as migrant and refugee children, street-connected children, indigenous children, children with disabilities, and LGBTI, among others. Children’s ages ranged from 7 to 17 years old and there were also a few youth co-moderators up to 23 years old. Thanks to the interpretations of Arabic, French, German, Hindi, Korean, Spanish and Turkish, children with no or limited knowledge of English could be fully included. 

During the Child Consultations, children shared their experiences and raised the challenges they face regarding Sustainable Development and ESC rights in the context of discussing three main themes: equality and non-discrimination, the impact of climate change, and access to natural resources. 

With the support of an Activity Pack, civil society organisations and national human rights institutions all over the world were invited to support children to participate in the consultations with the Drafting Group of the CESCR by organizing a series of preparatory meetings. Over 46 preparatory meetings were organized, resulting in over 300 children being consulted in the process and being represented in the consultations through their elected peers.   

A group of children from South Africa participating in the Global Consultation

The Committee’s Consultations gave children an opportunity to learn about their economic, social and cultural rights and how these rights are affected by sustainable development. “We learnt that [children from other] countries have the same problems and challenges”, told us a group of children from South Africa.  

The consultations also provided the Committee’s Drafting Group with the chance to receive first-hand information on children’s lived experiences from all around the world.  The current members of the Drafting Group consist of: Ms Laura-Maria Crăciunean-Tatu, Mr Peters Emuze, Ms Sandra Liebenberg, Ms Heisoo Shin, Mr Rodrigo Uprimny, and Mr Michael Windfuhr. 

WordCloud created by children during the consultation in Latin America and the Caribbean

The children’s contributions reflected key common areas of concern, including unequal access to education, land and housing, as well as socio-economic inequalities, and discrimination based on age. Children also stressed how environmental harms affect their living conditions.  Linked to all these issues, children brought to the Committee members’ attention the importance of children being able to meaningfully participate in – and influence – political and other decision-making processes around sustainable development in order to ensure the protection of their economic, social and cultural rights. 

The Committee’s Drafting Group continues to engage with a wide range of stakeholders around the world in order to elicit their inputs in the preparation of its work on developing the General Comment. 

Other opportunities for the Civil Society to contribute to this process will come up in 2022 and 2023, including a Day of General Discussion during which the Civil Society debates the Draft of the General Comment with the Committee. 

If you are interested in the development of this General Comment, check the UN CESCR’s website. 

If you are interested in other events on UN level that involves children, you can consult the Child Rights Connect’s webpage.