(Ben Green) #1





Jolie and
Van Bueren
(below) are
with Amnesty
on two books
for children
their rights



Van Bueren is
an honorary
member of
the Queen’s
of her
to global law


Number of
articles in
the U.N.
that define
rights and how
should work
together to
ensure them

TheView Q & A

Securing a better future

for children

By Angelina Jolie

When the Charter of the U.n. Was signed in san
Francisco in June 1945, it promised equal rights for all but made
no specific mention of children. Thirty years ago, the U.N. Con-
vention on the Rights of the Child was adopted, recognizing for
the first time that children have their own rights, distinct from
adults’. The distinction is vital to the millions of children who
still live with conflict, poverty, violence and abuse. Professor
Geraldine Van Bueren was one of the drafters of the conven-
tion. I asked her if it has lived up to its promise and what her
message is to children fighting to be heard today.

We’ve known each other for several years, but I’ve never
actually heard how you became involved in drafting the
convention. I was invited by Amnesty International to repre-
sent them at the United Nations in the drafting process. I was
only in my 20s.

What compelled you to say yes? When I was young, we
lived with my grandparents, who were refugees. My grand-
mother was a young child, one of 13 siblings, when she walked
across Europe from Lithuania to the English Channel. It was
in the days before aid agencies, mobile phones or instant
food. I never heard her talk about how hard this must have
been. Most of my Eastern European and Dutch family, includ-
ing young cousins, were murdered in the Holocaust. From the
age of 11, I wanted to be a human-rights lawyer to prevent the
same thing happening to other people.

When we first met, I told you that my children had a
summary of the convention on the wall of their school-
room but that I had explained to them that so far, the U.S.
hasn’t ratified it. America’s refusal to ratify is puzzling, as
the country was one of the leading drafters. It protects chil-
dren’s right to free speech and religious freedom, the found-
ing principles of the Bill of Rights. But it does a lot more. The
convention tells us to look at the child’s right to participate in
decisions affecting them through a child’s eyes and to provide
information in a format appropriate to a child. So it also helps
build an educated citizenship.

What difference does the lack of ratification make to
children in the U.S.? Because childhood was invisible to
the Founding Fathers, the Constitution makes no provision
for children. America was not alone in this, but other coun-
tries have added legal protection for the rights of children
by accepting the convention. It also provides a safety net,
which all children need to have in case their government
fails them.

Two American children, Carl Smith and Alexandria
Villa señor, have joined Greta Thunberg and children from
10 other countries in filing a complaint arguing that carbon

pollution violates their rights. Is this
an example of the convention at work?
Their petition concerns all children, and
generations yet unborn, so it is generous
and compassionate. Under what is known
as the Third Protocol, a treaty additional
to the main convention, children can pe-
tition the U.N. Committee [on the Rights
of the Child], but only after they have ex-
hausted all possible national remedies. In
other words, if America were party to it,
state and federal legislators and state and
federal courts would have opportunities
first to remedy the violation.

Could children apply the convention
to other areas? Absolutely. It’s a Bill of
Rights for children. The main aim of the
convention is to act as an early-warning
system, so that children and adults can
point out that any particular policy or
law, or lack of policy or law, has a detri-
mental impact on children—for instance,
social media and the right to privacy.

We’ve discussed the importance
of children’s being made aware of
their rights. What is your message
to them? The convention is for the
children of the world. Children partici-
pated in the drafting. American school-
children lobbied governments to per-
suade them to include the abolition of
the death penalty, and Canadian First
Nation children successfully called for
the protection of indigenous children’s
rights. Children can help other children
and prevent their rights being violated.

There is a disconnect between what
the U.N. convention says are funda-
mental rights for children and the
way governments pick and choose
which ones they will or will not up-
hold. How do we get to the point that
upholding children’s rights is seen
as an absolute responsibility? You are
right that there is often a disconnect be-
tween what children are entitled to and
what is happening to them, particularly
to child refugees and children caught up
in armed conflicts, situations for which
they are not responsible. What the con-
vention does is to provide an avenue for
children not to be targeted. But it re-
quires political will. The challenge is to
make children the central plank of our
CO policies. Childhood cannot wait. •








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