The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child is more than an abstract aspiration. In this article we look at the reporting process and how it reflects and responds to the situation of children in Australia.
The United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child monitors the implementation of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) around the world and in Australia.
As a signatory to the CRC, Australia is required to report to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child by way of a government report and an appearance before the Committee.
Australia is currently preparing for its forthcoming appearance after its most recent written report was submitted in January this year.
The written report
The CRC requires that every five years the Australian Government prepare a report which talks about:
• what it is doing to protect and promote the rights in the CRC
• the progress that has been made protecting and promoting those rights
• obstacles and problems in implementing the CRC.
The preparation of the report to the UN Committee is co-ordinated by the Attorney General’s Department (AGD) in consultation with state and territory governments and other relevant departments and agencies. The Government then takes feedback from the community on a draft version of its report. When the report is finalised it is published on the AGD’s website.
The children’s perspective
Viewing children’s rights more from the perspective of the children’s lived experience, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) is preparing a ‘shadow’ report’ on behalf of the Australian Child Rights Taskforce of NGOs which will also go to the UN Committee. For more information about The Children’s report and its progress, visit the report webpage.
The UN Committee considers the report along with other information provided by the Australian Human Rights Commission and non-government organisations. The Committee can also request information on selected issues, updates on new laws and policies and specific data.
The Formal Session
Australia will respond to these issues in writing, a few months before appearing before a formal session with the Committee in Geneva. In this session, representatives of the Australian Government will have a conversation with the Committee which is public and viewable online.
On the last day of the face-to-face session the Committee reports on the progress achieved by Australia and presents its recommendations for improvement. These are available on the UN website.
The Committee cannot legally force the Australian Government to implement its recommendations but its recommendations do provide guidance to the government about how to better protect children’s rights. Perhaps even more important, the recommendations give the Australian public and children’s rights advocates the chance to assess how our government has performed against the standards set in the rest of the world and to lobby for change.
This article first appeared in the Guardian’s August 2018 Newsletter.