In 2020, the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child (CRC) embarked on an extraordinary journey, breaking from tradition, and holding its 84th session not in the familiar halls of Geneva, but in the heart of the Pacific, in Samoa.
What followed was a groundbreaking experiment, a testament to the Committee's commitment to pushing the boundaries of advocacy and ensuring that the voices of children are not just heard but truly understood.
The Committee reviewed three small island states – Cook Islands, Tuvalu, and the Federated States of Micronesia (FSM) – an unconventional move to bring the treaty bodies closer to the people.
Ms. Ann Skelton, the current Chair of the CRC Committee, who was part of the then-historic session, reflects on the experience as "a great success."
According to Ms Skelton, the unique setting allowed the crystallisation and embedding of thoughts, marking a departure from the typical formality of reviews conducted in Geneva.
She shared that initially, the children exhibited a certain bemusement when faced with discussions on topics like corporal punishment. Yet, over the three days they spent at the event in Samoa in 2020, their perceptions evolved, shedding the initial giggles, and transforming into thoughtful considerations about the importance of the issues.
The significance of the Committee's presence extended beyond the official reviews. With more than 100 children actively participating, the event became a platform for dialogue and understanding, creating an environment where the youth felt engaged and empowered. Ms. Skelton notes, "It was very different, and I could see it as well."
Fast forward to the present, the Committee is back with a new mission. By building on the success of the Samoa session, they are revisiting the three states to gauge progress and evaluate the effectiveness of their recommendations. This return, not as a formal review but as a follow-up visit, underscores the Committee's commitment to actively tracking the implementation of their suggestions and demonstrating the value of face-to-face reviews where they can widely engage with children and government stakeholders.
This time, the Committee members are delving deeper into the context by carrying out in-person visits to each of the countries reviewed in 2020 – Cook Islands, FSM, and Tuvalu. The Committee is then convening back in Samoa with senior government delegates and Pacific children to explore shared challenges and identify effective strategies for improving the implementation of children’s rights across the Pacific. Ms Skelton highlights the value of this approach, emphasising that experiencing life in a particular country is vastly different from reading about it. The shared responsibility between the Committee and the states is palpable, with the committee members viewed as valuable resources guiding and supporting the nations in pursuing children's rights.
This innovative approach to how the Committee on the Rights of the Child conducts its business reveals powerful insights into what works and what doesn't. The understanding of context emerges as a key element, and the extended conversations with schools, government offices, and civil society provide a comprehensive understanding of each State’s challenges and opportunities.
The Pacific Community’s (SPC) PROJECT Governance programme works closely with UN partners: the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) to ensure that the CRC Committee was able to come to the region for this CRC follow-up visit to the Pacific which took place from November 13 – 16, 2023. The visit was followed by the CRC Committee Regional Experience Sharing workshop on the Implementation of Recommendations, once again hosted by Samoa from 20 – 23 November 2023.
Mr Ashley Bowe, Chief of Party of PROJECT Governance, stated that responsive governance exists when government institutions and policies are accessible, accountable, and responsive to the people they serve, especially to disadvantaged groups.
“Here at SPC, we are delighted and proud to support these efforts and fund this event through PROJECT Governance, to bring Pacific voices and lived experiences to the fore and to shape development. It is an embodiment of people-centred development as envisaged by the Pacific Forum Leaders in the 2050 Strategy, “Mr Bowe shared.
He further emphasised how this follow-up visit brings together the essential elements for realising children's rights: a robust legal framework, committed duty bearers, expert guidance, and, most importantly, the rights holders – the children of the Pacific.
Mr Bowe highlighted how the CRC84 event in Samoa and this follow-up visit by the CRC Committee to the Pacific in 2023 is historic as it enhances children's rights in Pacific Island Countries and underscores the value of UN Treaty Body Committees holding sessions in diverse locations.
Before CRC84 in 2020, the opportunities for rights holders like the Pacific children to engage with UN Human Rights Treaty Body Committees were limited. The historic session changed this, demonstrating the power of face-to-face engagement, and setting the stage for what extraordinary sessions and follow-up visits could achieve.
” This is a historic opportunity”, reflected Mr Luis Pedenera Reyna, a member of the Child Rights Committee. “To address the implementation gap, we need to hear from Pacific governments, communities, and children to hear what they think will help implement child rights in their countries. This experience (the CRC Follow-Up) cannot be lost. It should continue and not just for the Child Rights Committee but all Committees.”
In essence, the Committee on the Rights of the Child is not merely conducting reviews; they are pioneers in a new approach to advocacy – one that values context, fosters dialogue, and acknowledges the shared responsibility of creating a better future for children worldwide. As they put out feelers to see what works, one thing is clear: the Committee is on the move, taking the treaty to the people and making children's rights a shared endeavour for all.