Today marks 25 years since the Convention on the Rights of the Child was adopted by the UN General Assembly. But despite many and great advances, much work still remains - not least in development cooperation. Sweden has every opportunity to take back the leadership jersey in terms of global child rights work - but words are not enough. One of the big challenges is to ensure that the child rights perspective does not fall away from the Post-2015 agenda, write five Swedish children's rights organizations.
Much has happened since the Convention on the Rights of the Child was adopted 25 years ago; more and more children go to school at the same time as harmful child labor is more than halved. The proportion of children suffering from malnutrition has decreased drastically. Child mortality as well.
But despite the positive development, major challenges remain. About half of all those living in extreme poverty are children. Every year, more than one billion children around the world are exposed to serious abuse and insecurity, and more than 200 million girls and boys are victims of sexual abuse each year.
In addition, we now see a risk that some of the most important child rights issues, which we clearly supported in the Convention on the Rights of the Child - children's right to freedom from violence and issues relating to sexual and reproductive health - risk falling out of the Post-2015 agenda. This is because some Member States do not want to prioritize or allow themselves to be measured on the basis of these issues.
All in all, this shows that the Convention on the Rights of the Child has not been given sufficient political weight, despite the fact that almost all countries in the world have ratified it. In other words, the work of putting children's rights on the agenda and doing everything in our power to ensure that the Convention on the Rights of the Child is also complied with is far from complete.
Research shows that violations of children's rights have serious and far-reaching consequences - both for the children affected and society as a whole. A current study, conducted by ODI (Overseas Development Institute) on behalf of the Children's Fund, shows, for example, that the costs that violence against children leads to can amount to as much as SEK 50 billion. This corresponds to eight percent of the world's GDP or almost 000 times the Swedish government's proposed state budget for next year. Correspondingly, the study shows that investing in children is what provides the greatest benefit in the long-term fight against poverty.
Giving priority to child rights issues in Swedish development cooperation should therefore be a matter of course. We welcome the fact that the new government - on several occasions - has chosen to raise children's rights, not least in the budget bill for 2015. This is a recognition that we are happy about, not least as it can make a big difference for millions of children and young people around the world. We also assume that the fact that Sweden now chooses to make the Convention on the Rights of the Child into law also means that the child rights perspective will be strengthened in all policy areas.
Sweden has an internationally good reputation as a promoter of children's rights; we were one of the first countries to ratify the Convention on the Rights of the Child and also the first country in the world to legislate against child abuse. In recent years, however, the issues have been downgraded. Despite the fact that the Convention on the Rights of the Child has reached the age of 25, Sweden has not yet taken the necessary steps to ensure that it also permeates Swedish development cooperation.
We want to propose a number of concrete measures that both strengthen the Convention on the Rights of the Child and contribute to Sweden being able to regain its position as a leading child rights nation;
Take a holistic approach to the child rights perspective in Swedish development cooperation. This means, among other things, that the promised revision of the development assistance policy platform that was adopted this spring must be done with a clear child rights perspective in mind. It also means that the government initiates a review of current performance strategies and proposes changes and additions that clearly incorporate children's rights. Sweden needs guidance documents for children's rights in development assistance!
Use the Convention on the Rights of the Child as a normative framework. Sweden should be based on the convention in all development cooperation. For example, the partner countries' reports to the Committee on the Rights of the Child will form the basis for priorities, dialogue and performance strategies. The government should also give Sida a clear mandate to carry out child impact assessments of all projects and programs, and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs itself must carry out such impact assessments in its work.
Ratify the Third Additional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child. It gives children and their representatives the opportunity to lodge complaints with the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child and thus have their case tried. The Protocol also puts pressure on individual states to fulfill their obligations to develop effective national systems for dealing with violations of the Convention on the Rights of the Child. The fact that Sweden neither signed nor ratified the protocol limits Sweden's credibility when it comes to pursuing children's rights issues internationally.
Strengthen competence in the field of children's rights. Responsible politicians and government staff as well as other partners must have knowledge of the Convention on the Rights of the Child and how it affects their respective areas of responsibility. What we see in general is that the Swedish decision-making structures - from the Riksdag and the government to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Sida lack both organization and resources to seriously give weight to the child rights perspective in Swedish development policy. Many development assistance initiatives are carried out today without any analysis of how they affect children and their rights. The very lack of child impact assessments was also something that the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child pointed out after its most recent review of Sweden.
On the way from word to deed, we hope that both government and responsible officials take advantage of the skills and commitment of civil society organizations. Children's rights issues are far too important to get caught up in beautiful words and solemn promises. Children often have rights and always rights - let us together do everything we can to ensure that these rights are also realized.
Carolina Ehrnrooth, Secretary General, Children's Fund
Anna Hägg-Sjöquist, Secretary General, Plan Sweden
Elisabeth Dahlin, Secretary General, Save the Children
Catharina Gehrke, Secretary General, SOS Children's Villages
Véronique Lönnerblad, Secretary General, UNICEF Sweden