Guide for parliamentarians

A Parliament is "a representative body of individuals to whom the people have entrusted the responsibility of representing them by laying down the legal framework within which society shall be governed and seeing to it that these legal conditions are implemented in a responsible manner by the Executive" - from IPU and UNESCO, A guide to parliamentary practice, A handbook, 2004.

Parliamentarians are therefore, above all, representatives of the people. They are opinion leaders who can play a great role in the dissemination of information within the society and have considerable influence. The parliament has many functions that it can use to shape the laws, policies and institutions of a country for the full realisation of all children's rights.

The parliament legislates

Article 4 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) sets out the overall obligation of the State "to take appropriate legislative, administrative and other measures" to implement the rights guaranteed by the CRC.

The CRC implies that "legislative reform" is one of the most effective entry points and strategies to advance children’s rights. It also suggests that legislative reform alone is not enough and it should be combined with efforts to implement the new laws.

Even in countries where legislative initiatives lies with government, the parliament can still reject or amend a draft law.

Initiatives of legal reform should start by mapping national laws related to children’s rights in order to assess their compliance with the CRC. All legislations should be harmonised with the CRC and new laws should be issued in order to guarantee all the rights recognised to children.

As stressed by the Committee on the Rights of the Child on many occasions, any legal reform should recognise the interdependence and indivisibility of children's rights: All rights should be respected. In its recommendations to Benin, the Committee welcomed "the measures taken to strengthen the legal framework on the right of the child and to bring the national legislation into conformity with the Convention, notably the Persons and Family Code and the draft Children’s Code." However, the Committee noted that this legislation in some areas was not coherent (particularly on issues of violence against children) and that other national legislation was not brought in conformity with the CRC.

In a number of countries, the parliament votes on the ratification of international instruments. In that case, MPs should push for the ratification of the optional protocols to the CRC, the Optional Protocol to the Convention the Rights of the Child on the involvement of children in armed conflict and the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography, or in the case of Somalia and the United States, the ratification of the CRC.

The parliament should ensure the full implementation of the laws. One way would be to raise law awareness by developing campaigns targeting children, their parents, schools and even judges and lawyers.

The parliament should oversee the work of the government

The parliament can, in many ways, monitor the work and performance of the government as the executive body of the State.

Members of Parliament (MPs) can pressure the government to take the necessary actions to comply with international obligations arising from the CRC and other international treaties.

MPs can also push for the establishment of a parliamentary commission or a child ombudsman that can investigate complaints by children and/or their guardians for any violation of their rights.

Parliamentarians can promote debates in parliament on child rights issues and can therefore question members of the government in areas relating to children's rights such as budget allocations.


Many parliamentarians have a right to visit places of detention under their national mandate. These visits allow parliamentarians to assess the situation of people who are detained, including children. They can be play a crucial role in informing the work of parliamentarians working towards abolishing detention of migrant children, for instance. The Council of Europe has published a guide for parliamentarians to assist them in monitoring places where children are deprived of their liberty for immigration purposes, by providing information about how to plan such a visit, including useful guidance and checklists. 

Budget and resource allocation

In its general guidelines for periodic reports, the Committee on the Rights of the Child highlights the necessity of funding for legislative reform in order to incorporate the CRC into the national legal system.

Law implementation measures, such as budget and resource allocation, are essential to legislative reform.

The national budget is usually the responsibility of the government but in most countries, it must be approved by the parliament and usually, MPs can suggest amendments to the draft.

MPs can therefore ensure that substantial resources are allocated to children's rights. The budget allocation should include all aspects of children's rights.

The budget should also cover awareness raising campaigns - including law awareness, mechanisms that ensure proper access to the judicial system such as availability of financial assistance and training of professional and civil servants working for and with children.

Institutional reform

MPs can initiate reforms of the existing institutions so that they are in line with human rights standards and take into account all aspects of children's rights.

Laws must be revisited and enforced to ensure accountability and transparency of institutions, institutional capacity should be built, such as training judges on children's rights so they refer to the CRC and other instruments in their decisions.

MPs can facilitate the establishment of independent monitoring systems such as child rights commissions and a child ombudsman.

Examples of institutional reform

After the ratification of the CRC a large number of governments prioritised children’s rights enough to establish government departments that serve as focal points for children, as well as special task forces to work on urgent issues. These range from child protection units within ministries of welfare, as in Eritrea; to ministries dealing exclusively with children’s issues. In the case of Denmark, a ministerial committee on children was created with a parallel committee of civil servants that handles the government’s youth policies.

Source: Nundy, Karuna, Global Status of legislative reform related to the CRC, UNICEF, 2004, p.28.

The Child Protection Authority in Sri Lanka has been quite effective, drawing on the advantages of being a national, inter departmental authority and hence with the authority to implement recommendations more directly. Its activities include the adoption of measures to prevent child abuse and protect and rehabilitate child victims; development of prevention and awareness activities; recommendations for legal reform; monitoring of progress of investigations; and maintenance of a database for planning child protection interventions. Its major gap has been the weak participation of NGOs.

Source: Nundy, Karuna. Global Status of legislative reform related to the CRC, UNICEF, DPP, 2004 , p. 25.

Further information:

What should NGOs do?

NGOs have a big role to play to make sure the Parliament fulfils its obligations towards children. The bullet points below are examples of the many things NGOs can do:

  • NGOs should establish partnerships with the governments while remaining independent and autonomous;
  • NGOs should advocate for the implementation of human rights standards relating to children’s rights by promoting law reform and awareness raising campaigns;
  • NGO's should be involved in the drafting of the laws and policies;
  • NGO's should monitor the implementation of these rights and report on violations;
  • NGOs should advocate for proper training of judges, police officers and others on children’s rights.