» Archive for category: ‘children’s rights


12 June marked the occasion of the World Day Against Child Labour.

Organisations like ILO-IPEC use this to reinforce their message of banning child labour through minimum age of employment regulations. Such interventions are often presented as acting in the best interest of children. Yet, working children are seldom consulted about these measures and interventions and if they speak out their voices are rarely heard.

The organisation the Concerned for Working Children used the occasion of the ‘World Day’ to draw attention to these forgotten or muted voices. It does so through the short film Forgotten on the Pyjama Trail which is well worth watching. The film presents a children’s perspective and shows the effects of international minimum age of employment regulations on working children’s lives using a case study from the Egyptian garment sector. The Latin American Working Children Movement (MOLACNATS) expresses similar concerns in this short Spanish language clip.

posted by Roy Huijsmans


In commemoration of the United Nations International Day of the Girl Child today, October 11, the ISS Children and Youth Studies Interest Group is launching a series of events to celebrate the power of the adolescent girl. This theme ties in to the general targets of gender equality and empowerment of women and girls addressed in the Sustainable Development Goals.
Through this initiative we hope to unveil the status of the girl child and highlight the challenges they face to realize their potential. As one of our main activities, we will produce a short film and a photo exhibition about what it means to be an adolescent in today’s society.
Here is a little teaser to get you excited. Stay tuned to the ISS Children & Youth Interest Group page (https://www.facebook.com/issycsinterestgroup?fref=nf) for more information about how you can participate and share your story with us!12162400_10153248399078262_342684278_o


8 March marks the occasion of International Women’s Days. On this date, many events across the world are organized to celebrate women’s important and significant contributions to society, whilst other events highlight the continued gender-based inequalities and gender-based sufferings too many women face.

Much of this involves adult women. Yet, in practices concerning the advancement of women’s rights the girl child is often there, literally or imagined.

Article 39 of the United Nations Fourth World Conference on Women (Beijing, 1995) states that ‘the girl child of today is the woman of tomorrow’. This concern with the future continues to characterize much development practice concerning children and youth, and at times takes highly particular gendered forms. A good example is PLAN’s ‘Because I Am A Girl’ global campaign.

Marjaana Jauhola argues in her article entitled ‘The Girl Child of Today is the Woman of Tomorrow’: Fantasizing the adolescent girl as the future hope in post-tsunami reconstruction efforts in Aceh, Indonesia’ that such campaigns promote a development doctrine: ‘the right timing of events in adolescent girls’ life guarantees better futures’; thus a gendered age-normativity (see also picture above). Building on Sara Ahmed, who has unraveled the significant relationship that is constructed between ‘the girl’ and ‘the future woman’ in the Beijing document, Jauhola observes that ‘growing from a girl into a woman becomes a measure of ‘global development’, a move from underdevelopment to development. In this construction, the life course of a girl child becomes a wider metaphor for the progress of the ‘globe’.

For example, one area of action in the PLAN campaign is addressing ‘child marriage’. This is about making sure that girls do not marry before reaching age of majority (18 according to international standards), without questioning the heteronormative institution of marriage as an eventual destination. Drawing on work by Bruhm and Hurley, Jauhola points out that this projects (girl) children into a heteronormative future, which assumes that ‘childhood is essentially heterosexually determined’.

Campaigns like Because I am A Girl thus mobilise, in the words of Jauhola ‘discursive connections between heteronormativity and future, adolescence and gender, sexuality and citizenship’. In these ‘citizenship fantasies’ the girl-child functions as a site of limitless potential precisely because her future is not yet written. Returning again to Bruhm and Hurley, Jauhola points out that ‘the utopian fantasy is the property of adults, not necessarily of children’. Perhaps this is something to consider when celebrating International Women’s Day.

posted by Roy Huijsmans


Category: children's rights| conferences

2 Jan 2015

downloadNovember 2014 marked the 25th anniversary of both the fall of the Berlin Wall as well as the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UN-CRC). Numerous conferences worldwide were organised to commemorate these events, yet it seems none of them explored the relationship between these two historical moments.

The UN-CRC opened for signatures on 20th November 1989 and to date a total of 194 states are party to the Convention. However, appreciating its history requires going well beyond 1989.

In 1924, the League of Nations adopted the Declaration of the Rights of the Child. This one-pager listed five needs of children that must be provided for (by adults). Following the dissolution of the League of Nations, discussions about a new Declaration started within the United Nations leading to the 1959 Declaration on the Rights of the Child. This short document contains a preamble and ten principles. One of the areas where it differs from the 1924 Declaration is with regard to work. Where the 1924 Declaration states: ‘The child must be put in a position to earn a livelihood, and must be protected against every form of exploitation’. The 1959 document reads: ‘The child shall not be admitted to employment before an appropriate minimum age; he shall in no case be caused or permitted to engage in any occupation or employment which would prejudice his health or education, or interfere with his physical, mental or moral development’.

In 1978, it was Poland that proposed the idea of a Convention on the Rights of the Child; a document that unlike a Declaration would be legally binding. What followed was a decade of drafting and negotiation before the Convention was adopted by the General Assembly in 1989. Importantly, the drafting thus took place in time in which East-West relations were very different from when the Convention entered into force.

In her book The International Law on the Rights of the Child, Geraldine van Bueren is wary of reducing the understanding of the coming into being of the UNCRC to Cold War geopolitics (p13). Whilst this is no doubt correct, she does not elaborate on the role that Cold War geopolitics might nonetheless have played. Since children’s right to participate in matters affecting them did not appear in any of the Declarations yet features prominently in the UNCRC it raises interesting questions of how the emergence of this participation right might be understood in this geopolitical context. It is further worth noting that the 5 states, Vietnam, China, North Korea, Laos and Cuba, that have remained socialist to date were among the first to ratify the Convention. Vietnam ratified the UNCRC in February 1990 (the second country, globally, to do so after Ghana) and China closed the rank in March 1992.

Many of the conferences that celebrated the 25th anniversary of the UNCRC took a stock-taking approach (what has it achieved?) whilst also looking into the future (how can it be employed better?). These are certainly valid questions to which an exploration of its historical relation with the Cold War would have yielded no response. However, with quite some of the people involved in the drafting of the UNCRC still alive perhaps there is also to say for an enquiry into its political history.

posted by Roy Huijsmans



‘Empowering Children and Young People through Technology’ was the theme of Child Helpline International’s 7th International Consultation  that took place in London from 29th-31st October 2014

According to the 2014 report by the global child helpline network-Child Helpline International (CHI), between 2012-2013 alone, over 28 million children contacted child helplines and hotlines in different parts of the world. It further reports that:

The majority of these contacts were recorded at child helplines in Europe (41%), followed by Asia Pacific (32%), Africa (17%), Americas and Caribbean (5%), and the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) (5%). Children and young people who contacted child helplines were between 10 – 17 years of age. The majority of contacts were made over the telephone. (p.6)

Whilst the majority of contacts were made over the telephone, this is likely to change in the future. Hence, child-friendly helplines offer a diverse range of communication options for young people between the ages of 5-25 years including web-based chats, short text messages (SMS), voice calls, letters through the free post as well as direct physical contact with social workers and volunteers.

CHI is a global network of 175 child helplines across 143 countries (2013 data). It seeks to support the ‘creation and strengthening of national free of cost child helplines around the world’ whilst also using ‘child helpline data and knowledge to highlight gaps in child protection systems and advocate for the rights of children’ (p. 48) Despite these efforts, it is estimated that the current helplines can only respond to 50% of all the contacts children make. This means that about half of the contacts made by children remain unanswered because of limited human and material resource-capacity of helplines.  In addition, millions of children are still unable to access child helplines altogether. Expenses are an important factor here. It is for this reason that conference delegates called on ICT companies and states to make all contacts by children to helplines and hotlines free.  Delegates included representatives of;

  • communication companies such as British Telecoms (BT), GSMA network which represents  interests of over 250 mobile phone companies and 800 telephone operators
  • UN  agencies (UNICEF ), regional bodies  like the African Union, League of Arab States and the European Union (EU), government  representatives and special rapporteurs like Mrs. Maud de Boer-Buquicchio (Netherlands) who is the special  rapporteur  on sale of children
  • A mixed group of old and newly established  child helplines  including NSPCC- UK who were also the hosts, Childline Kenya,  Missing Children Europe, Palestinian Helpline SAWA, as well as those with high end as well as more traditional technologies

With support from the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) and regional bodies like African Union and the EU, national telecommunication regulators have issued unified, easy to remember service numbers for child helplines (116111 for Europe, 116 for Africa, 1098 for Asia). Some telecommunication companies like Telefonica of Spain have also supported operations of child helplines for years as part of their Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR). However, these remain geographically isolated actions compared to the growing demand for services to children. There is need to make services absolutely free and accessible on a universal scale. Delegates argued that this will remove an important financial barrier in service access, and contribute to fighting violence against children, making it an important step towards realising Child Helplines International aim of making sure that every child’s voice is being heard.

This campaign looks promising. Already, GSMA has signed an agreement with CHI to promote the work of child helplines among its members, this commitment was made public on 20th November 2014 during the UN celebrations of the 25th anniversary of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) in New York last week.

Guest contribution by Irene Nyamu  (ISS MA programme ‘Social Policy for Development’, and one of the conference delegates as she was actively involved in establishing a functional 24 hours helpline in Kenya in 2006. Irene also served as a CHI Advisory Board member 2010-2012 representing helplines within the African region)


Children & Youth Studies students from the Social Policy for Development and Social Justice Perspectives majors took a study visit to the Hague Conference on Private International Law on Friday, 7 February. The Hague Conference is the oldest international organization in The Hague (established in 1893), and the only one with a legislative function, which is to work toward the “progressive unification of the rules of private international law”. This means creating and enforcing conventions that address legal problems arising between individuals and companies in situations that concern more than one State.

hcchStudents were particularly interested in their conventions concerning child protection. These are:

• 1980 Child Abduction Convention

• 1993 Intercountry Adoption Convention

• 1996 Child Protection Convention

• 2007 Child Support Convention and Protocol

Hague Conference legal officers generously gave of their time to discuss the contents, promulgation, and implementation processes of these international treaties, most of which draw their mandate from the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. They discussed the challenges of universal implementation with ISS students, noting in particular their efforts to bring more African states on board. Currently, only 5 African countries are member states.

Irene Nyamu, a Social Policy for Development student from Kenya, said, “The visit to Hague Conference was a great eye opener for me as a child rights and protection activist… I gained a perspective on the value the Hague Conference has on overall social policy.

Kenya [has] ratified the 1993 Convention on Intercountry Adoption… I now fully understand what this means, how it is connected to the UNCRC, and the fact that inter-country adoption is much more regulated in Kenya.”

The Hague Conference regularly holds Special Commissions for each Convention. For example, the next Special Commission of the 1993 Intercountry Adoption Convention is scheduled for 2015. The Hague Conference is also working on a report based on survey information gathered from member States in regards to international surrogacy arrangements. Based on that report, member States will determine whether to promulgate a new Convention on international surrogacy.

To help inform both processes, ISS will be hosting an invitational international forum on intercountry adoption and global surrogacy to bring together experts – scholars, policymakers, and activists – from around the world. The forum, to be held in August, will produce reports of the proceedings that may then be used by the Hague Conference to strengthen implementation of their conventions on adoption and surrogacy.

Posted by Kristen Cheney

by Roy Huijsmans

Last month the Hindu reported that the sixth person accused in the widely reported Delhi gangrape of 16th December last year has been declared a ‘minor’ by the Indian Juvenile Justice Board which, the Hindu reports, based its assessment on ‘school enrolment records’.

Even though the accused will turn 18 in June 2013, and some media have described the minor as the most savage of the attackers, the age assessment turns it into a case of juvenile justice. Child rights lawyer, Anant Asthana, explains the implications:

“If his offence is established during the inquiry, even if he becomes a major, one of the options before the Board is to keep him in a place of safety for a maximum period of three years for his reformation and mainstreaming.” (source)

Since the gangrape refuelled a debate on harsher sentences on cases of sexual assault, including the death penalty, the declaration of one of the accused as a minor has met with significant resistance.

However, there are also voices defending the age criteria for juvenile justice. For example, the Justice J.S. Verma Committee report on ‘Amendments to Criminal Law’ argues that:

“… We cannot hold the child responsible for a crime before first providing to him/her the basic rights given to him by the Indian Constitution.’’ (source)

Whilst this argument seems to apply to the case discussed here, because the accused minor is said to come from a poor family and been described as a (former) child labourer, and even as a victim of trafficking, the question remains whether the opposite, then, also holds. In other words should minors whose basic rights have been met not be judged by juvenile criminal law?

posted by Roy Huijsmans

Sverre Molland’s The Perfect Business? Anti-trafficking and the sex trade along the Mekong is a highly accessible, ethnographically rich and theoretically stimulating account of trafficking and anti-trafficking.

Juxtaposing trafficking and anti-trafficking, the author raises a number of relevant questions. For example, whilst noting the ‘continuous problem’ that ‘officially identified Lao trafficked victims’ are being held in shelters in Thailand for ‘very long periods, in some cases more than one year’ , he observes that:

I cannot recall many trafficking cases from Laos where a trafficker confined an individual for so long. It is therefore not unreasonable to speculate on the possiblity that actions of govenments and organisations to “help” sex workers have done more damage to, and violation of, their human rights than the misdeeds of traffickers(p 27).

In this light Molland further argues that:

in the context of Laos and Thailand, any researcher worth his or her grant money would know that unconditionally committing oneself to reporting, say, the presence of underage girls in a brothel to the police would most likely result in entrenchment of exploitation (“rehabilitation,” deportation, imprisonment, abuse, confiscation of earnings, and so on) of the girls themselves and not many consequences for those who operate such establishments’ (p27)

Two new edited volumes contain chapters by CYS convenor Kristen Cheney. Click on the pictures to learn more about them:

posted by Roy Huijsmans

Since 2005 the Dutch organisation ‘KidsRights‘ has awarded the International Children’s Peace Prize to ‘an exceptional child, whose courageous or otherwise remarkable acts and thoughts have made a difference in countering problems, which affect children around the world’.

Yesterday, the 2012 prize was awarded to Kesz Valdez (go HERE for a short clip about Kesz), a 13 year old Pinoy boy from the Philippines for his efforts to improve the lives of street children. Kesz was one of three nominees, the other two were Amina from Ghana (girls’ rights to education) and Anwara from India (anti girls’ trafficking), and he is the second Asian child to be awarded this prize following Ohm Prakash Gurjar in 2006 (from India, and also a young man). The three nominees were selected from a total of 97 entries from 43 different countries. The selection process was done by an ‘expert team’ consisting of European adult ‘experts’ primarily and the prize was awarded in the Dutch city of the Hague.

KidsRights seeks to associate the International Children’s Peace Prize initiave with the Nobel Peace Prize (another northern rooted initiave). For example, the initiative was launched in 2005 in Rome at the Nobel Peace Laureates’ summit and each year it has been a Nobel Peace Laureate handing over the prize.  This year, it was the patron of KidsRights, Desmond Tutu and also a Nobel Prize Laureate handing over the prize. This construction of global legitimacy and this approach to putting children’s issues (e.g. streetchildren) on global agendas by singling out individual and often particular efforts is, no doubt, done with the best of intentions yet it also raises some questions.

The neutrality implied by the term ‘expert committee’ glosses over the fact that children’s rights are political. Hence, there are important differences of opinion about the interpretation and promotion of children’s rights, whilst for others the very idea of a separate set of rights for children, or its particular conceptualisation in the United Nations Convention remains a topic of debate. Furthermore, the actual prize may translate into highly particular children’s rights based interventions. The end of the day, the Euro 100,000 prize money is ‘awarded by KidsRights to a direct aid project (or multiple projects) in the spirit of the young winner’s efforts’. It would thus be of interest to watch closely what sort of ‘street children project’ will benefit from this prize and what sort of interventions are deemed not to be in this particular spirit.


International Institute of Social Studies

ISS is an international graduate school of policy-oriented critical social science. It brings together students and teachers from the Global South and the North in a European environment.