7 May 2002


Press Briefing


The same language, the same passion, and the same sense of what is right for children and what their rights are informed the actions of all the independent national institutions currently meeting in the shadow of the special session of the General Assembly on children, New Zealand’s Commissioner for Children, Roger McClay, told a press conference at United Nations Headquarters this afternoon.

Mr. McClay said the meeting of representatives of independent national institutions currently under way was the first of its kind, though it would not be the last.  Representatives of more than 30 institutions were in attendance, he added, and all were committed to the effective implementation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

That Convention, first adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in 1989, has been ratified by almost every country in the world.  Only two “significant” States were yet to ratify the Convention, Mr. McClay explained -– Somalia and the United States.

Mr. McClay then introduced a document that the national institutions aimed to jointly present to the special session.  In that document, the institutions state they are looking forward to those two States adopting and ratifying the Convention.  The document also acknowledges the achievements made in the promotion and protection of children’s rights since 1989, including the establishment in more than 30 States of independent offices specifically charged with speaking up for children.  It reaffirms the priority of children’s rights, and the importance and effectiveness of truly independent national institutions to protect them.

The national institutions plan to stress to the Assembly the need to develop laws and procedures to allow breaches of those rights to be challenged, McClay explained.  They also plan to emphasize the importance of ensuring the best interests of a child is the primary determinant of decisions affecting them, and of ensuring children can exercise their right to be heard.  The national institutions’ document will note that there are many things that must still be done if the rights elaborated in the Convention are to be delivered to all children.

Claire Brisset, from France’s Defenseur des Enfants, explained that 17 European States had formed a network of ombudsmen responsible for children, and that new States –- particularly from Eastern Europe -- were expected to join that network.  Ms. Brisset said the European ombudsmen believed that all States should have such ombudsmen, as they were indispensable for the fulfilment of children’s rights.  Indeed, such independent national institutions would be, she believed, most useful in the Middle East at present.

Answering a question about mechanisms for providing a voice for children and ensuring that voice was heard, Shirley Mabusela, Chairperson of the South African Human Rights Commission, explained that in her country a series of workshops had been held with children to discover their concerns.  Those

workshops had raised the issue of sexual abuse, and subsequently the Human Rights Commission had focused on that area.

Also available to take journalists’ questions was Fidensia Luna Gasca, the official responsible for children’s rights in the Mexican Human Rights Commission, and Marta Santos Pais of the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF).

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For information media. Not an official record.