Human Rights advocacy
Need for a child ombudsman
The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child safeguards the rights of children in various ways, stipulating that the authorities must safeguard the best interests, survival and development of the child, protect children from discrimination and respect children's views in matters that concern them directly. The Convention was ratified by Bangladesh in 1990, and has now been ratified by 191 countries.
Bangladesh is committed to establish rights of the child through its ratification of the CRC. Besides, GOB signed and ratified the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on Sale of Children (OPSC), Children Prostitution and Child Pornography on 6 September 2000. Bangladesh government is also a signatory of the Optional Protocol to the Convention to the Rights of the Child on the involvement of children in armed conflict (OPAC). Respective ministries of the government are carrying out relevant activities to materialize the protocol including implementing the UNCRC.
The Ministry of Women and Children Affairs (MOWCA) plays a coordinating roles among different ministries in favour of uplifting UNCRC in the country.
The various Offices have taken actions for children who face difficult social or economic circumstances, including children who have been victims of abuse or neglect, children in care, children in detention, and children whose circumstances may be caused by poverty. However, it is notable that the Offices rarely have a specific focus on child poverty as a broad theme or issue. This is partly due to relatively favourable economic conditions in some countries; in others it reflects a strategic decision to work at a broader level to improve the position and status of all children, including children who may be living in poverty.
One of the strategic approaches an Ombudsman may use to ensure that children's concerns are dealt with is to undertake an Inquiry into the arrangements in place for children to bring complaints more locally. Carrying out such a review would appear to be a very good way of 'benchmarking' the position with regard to children's access to complaints procedures, while at the same time promoting better practice in dealing with issues at a local level and before problems escalate.
While the Convention on the Rights of the Child is binding on the State as international law, it needs to become part of domestic law. The Ombudsman for Children can play a key role in advocating for this to happen, in relation to both new and existing legislation. Success at this level could generate significant wide scale strategic change for children.
When the issues pursued come from children, the Ombudsman has a strong moral authority. For this reason, the Offices have all invested a great deal of energy and resources putting arrangements in place to listen to children. These cover arrangements for regular contact with a representative sample of children across the age groups, use of questionnaires on particular issues three or four times a year, interactive websites, children's parliament, formal and informal visits by the Ombudsman around the country. In many countries, this feedback from children has put important issues on the agenda. For example, in Sweden, the question of children's psychological well-being, and, in particular, their experience of the school environment is a focus of work now, arising from the consultation with children.
The New South Wales Commissioner describes the identity of the Office in terms of promoting respect for children as citizens:
While a variety of different approaches exist among organisations set up to promote the safety, welfare, and well-being of children and young people, the Commission takes the approach that children and young people are a class of people whose status as citizens is not fully respected by others. Since parents are not in a position to advocate on behalf of children and young people, as a group, children and young people need systemic advocates. The Commission aims to be such a systemic advocate.
So, to fill the gap of proper establishment of child rights in the country the establishment of a Child Ombudsman is very much necessary.
Needs for a Child ombudsman
* To investigate any complain related to violation or instigation to violation of child rights by any individual, state, institution or organization by being self-motivated or on the basis of application submitted by any affected child or by any other person on his/her behalf. But here condition is that it has to be felt by the office that such violation or instigation to violation of child rights could affect all children in general or children of a particular community or group. To recommend to the proper authority to take corrective measures when the office feels that violation of child rights either has taken place or could take place. When the Ombudsman is not satisfied with the action taken by the proper authority, to submit special report to the President for taking proper action mentioning about the matter;
* To inspect the condition of the children who have been brought under the jurisdiction of law or who have been kept in places (jail, reformation centre or custody) considered suitable for particular welfare of the children and to make necessary recommendations to the proper authority for improvement of such places or conditions;
* To provide assistance and advice to the Government for framing necessary law and for developing administrative guideline with a view to protect and promote child rights;
* To make necessary recommendations for ensuring implementation of Charter of International Child rights;
* To provide necessary guideline in relation to implementation and monitoring of the international commitments, including the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Children, by the concerned Government, Semi-Government, Autonomous or Non-Government bodies, organisations or institutions and to submit child rights implementation related report of Bangladesh independently to the United Nations Committee on Child Rights;
* To examine the similarity of the provisions of the Constitution or of any law currently in force or proposed with the standard of the international child rights and to make necessary recommendations to the appropriate authority with a view to ensure coordination of those with the charter of international child rights;
* To give advice and extend cooperation to the active organizations or institutions and to the conscious individuals and societies in general in implementing and applying child rights;
* To work aiming at raising awareness of different sections of people of the society about protection of child rights through publicity of and publications on child rights and through other means;
* To raise mass awareness through seminar, symposium, workshop and similar other activities on child rights and to disseminate research results;
* To give necessary advice and provide guidelines to the appropriate authority to ensure children's participation in all the important areas of national life;
* To organise views sharing meeting with the Government and Non-Government organizations and agencies engaged in implementation of child rights at least twice in a year;
* To perform any other activity thought necessary to implement and promote child rights. [Source: Draft Bill for Formulating Children Ombudsman Act, Prepared by UNICEF]
Bangladesh Shishu Adhikar Forum (BSAF) a National Network of 235 MNGOs working for the protection and promotion of the child rights in the country is advocating for establishing a Child Ombudsman.
The writer is Research & Advocacy Officer, Bangladesh Shishu Adhikar Forum.