Young children’s rights in the spotlight

The Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) has been ratified by more countries than any other UN Convention. Yet, paradoxically, the fact that it covers a wide age group from birth to 18 years means that the rights of the youngest children are sometimes overlooked. In September 2004, however, with a little gentle prodding from the Bernard van Leer Foundation (BvLF), the Committee on the Rights of the Child chose ‘The Rights of the Child in Early Childhood’ as the topic for its annual public Day of Discussion in Geneva.

This is how a smallish private Dutch foundation came to be invited to give a keynote speech along with representatives of those rather large international agencies, UNICEF and the World Health Organization. As an organization that concentrates solely on early childhood development, this was a unique opportunity to share our nearly four decades of experience. It was also an opportunity to bring together the two complementary strands of rights and early childhood development.

Some 140 participants attended from international and human rights agencies, governments, and a variety of NGOs. Some of these had been invited and sponsored by BvLF because we saw the importance of a wide range of perspectives and, unaided, few organizations could afford to send people to Geneva for a one-day meeting, especially from India, South Africa and the Caribbean. We also invited specialists in economics and children’s participation.

In his keynote speech, BvLF Executive Director Peter Laugharn posed a number of questions that all of us in the early childhood community should ask ourselves:
· Are our strategies and programmes rights-based?
· Are our visions of children focused on their capacity and potential as well as their needs?
· Have we as civil society organizations succeeded in making accessible the complex principles both of children’s rights and of child development to communities, to parents, and to children themselves?
· Are those organizations with advocacy or watchdog roles getting the best leverage, and getting the right information to the right people for the right decisions to be made?

BvLF and other organizations urged the Committee to issue a General Comment on implementation of the CRC in early childhood. Proceedings are to be co-published by the Committee and BvLF.

Ruth Cohen is Project Coordinator at BvLF. She can be contacted at

See for the full text of Peter Laugharn’s speech.

Further information on the CRC Committee, activities and meetings, etc can be found at

Submissions and further information are on the website of the Child Rights Information Network at

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