Menu: The concept of Ombudsperson | Why establish an Ombudsperson? | An Ombudsperson for children | The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) | Why an Ombudsperson for children? | Activities of an Ombudsperson for children | Further information
The Concept of Ombudsperson
Ombudsperson offices are often referred to as Independent Human Rights Institutions. An ombudsperson or ombudsman means “Representative”. Other words sometimes used to refer to a similar role include: Commissioner, Bureaux, mediator, and defender.
An ombudsperson is an individual who acts as a “citizen defender”, dealing with complaints from the public about injustice and maladministration by government agencies. Some receive complaints from individuals and might have the authority to mediate between citizens and authority. Others might have the power to bring cases to court.
The first such role was established in 1809 in Sweden and was called an Ombudsman for Justice. Today, ombuds person -like institutions exist in over 100 countries in Europe, Latin America, Asia and Africa. They may focus on a specialised field, such as an ombudsperson for children.
An office provided for by the constitution or by action of the legislature or parliament and headed by an independent, high-level public official who is responsible to the legislature or parliament, who receives complaints from aggrieved persons against government agencies, officials, and employees or who acts on his own motion, and who has the power to investigate, recommend corrective action, and issue reports (Ombudsperson Committee, International Bar Association Resolution, 1974)
- To improve the performance of public administration
- To improve government accountability to the public
To improve citizens' access to the administration
Some essential characteristics of an Ombudsperson include:
- Independence from the government: an ombudsperson should stand above party politics, be totally impartial and fair and be able to criticise and make recommendations [See also the Paris Principles]
- Broad powers to investigate: ombudsperson must be free to look into any issue that falls within their mandate without prior approval from the authorities.
- Offices must be adequately resourced, free from government financial control and able to handle complaints free of charge.
The first specialised ombudsperson for children was established in Norway in 1981. The role of an ombudsperson for children is to:
- Promote and protect the rights and interests of children
- Improve access to existing rights
- Promote recognition of human rights not yet embodied in legislation or practice
Different countries have different systems, so there may be either a separate children’s ombudsperson or children’s rights commissioner, or there may be focal points for children’s rights which exist within general human rights commissions or ombudsperson offices.
Read more here
The Committee on the Rights of the Child, the body responsible for monitoring the implementation of the UNCRC, has consistently emphasised the vital role of children’s ombudspersons in monitoring, promoting and protecting children’s rights.
It has encouraged States parties to the UNCRC to develop independent human rights institutions for children, which should be given a broad mandate in law, specific functions, powers and duties relating to children and their rights as per the UNCRC. More specifically:
1. Article 4 of the UNCRC states that: “governments must undertake all appropriate legislative, administrative and other measures for the implementation of the rights recognised in the CRC”
2. General Comment No 2 on the role of independent national human rights institutions in the promotion and protection of the rights of the child.
3. The Committee published ‘General Measures of Implementation’ for the UNCRC which outlines broad ways in which the Convention can be implemented. General Measure number two concerns the development of independent human rights institutions for children.
Children are a particularly vulnerable group: they are vulnerable to human rights violations and are dependent on adults
Children have no political power: they have no vote and no access to lobbies that influence government agendas
Children have limited access to complaints mechanisms, legal systems and courts
Activities of an Ombudsperson for children
These would include:
Influencing policy makers and practitioners to take greater account of the rights of children
Providing a voice for children and a channel of communication between children and government
Ensuring that children have effective means of redress when their rights are violated
Monitoring the government’s compliance with the CRC (article 4), including monitoring the government’s reporting obligations, and p roducing a supplementary report to the official State party report
Raising awareness of child rights among children and adults by p roducing and disseminating information about children’s rights and the UNCRC, training professionals working with children, working with the media to increase awareness, etc.
In their work, Ombudspersons should ensure that:
- Their work is directly informed by the views of children;
- The views of the children are reflected in proposals, reports, responses, research and strategies;
- Structures are established through which children’s views can be directly and effectively represented.
CRIN has compiled a list of national human rights institutions specifically for children or with departments or deputies with a mandate that explicitly covers children.
Training pack on ombudspersons, developed by the European Network of Ombudspersons for Children (ENOC) for all those involved in the development of independent institutions for children.
CRC General Day of Discussion on Article 4 of the CRC: Responsibility of States, click here for information and submissions
Ombudsmen are key defenders of human rights – their independence must be respected, Commissioner for Human Rights, Council of Europe
Website of the European Network of Ombudspersons for Children
The Ibero-American Network of Ombudpersons for Children was set up in November 2007