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CHILDREN'S RIGHTS AND THE SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT GOALS
After years of discussion, global consultations and fraught negotiations, the UN has adopted a final version of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The SDGs, like the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) before them, will play a significant role in the coming years in determining the global approach to international development. They will also inevitably impact children’s rights advocacy, as the new sustainable development agenda will determine the areas that will receive international donor money and will heavily influence the choice of issues NGOs focus on. This may worryingly deter organisations from addressing human rights issues that are not covered by the SDGs. The goals’ reliance on the private sector and their support of development through free trade also raises questions for rights advocates about the impact that such an approach will have on the realisation of children’s rights.
The children's rights agenda
The SDGs aim to improve the lives of children and young people through a number of clear goals and targets. They address poverty reduction (Goal 1), health (Goal 3), education (Goal 4), gender equality (Goal 5), violence against children (Goal 16.2), as well as a number of other areas that impact children's lives. Despite this apparent focus on children’s interests, the SDG discussions unfortunately left out goals and targets that explicitly address the rights of children, and the adopted agenda neglects a rights framework, failing to appropriately reference children and individuals as rights holders. Where human rights are mentioned, they appear to be deployed as a rhetorical flourish rather than presented as legally-binding commitments and standards which would guide the implementation of the agenda. In neglecting a rights-based framework, the overall narrative of the SDGs is one in which children will continue to be seen as objects of charity rather than as holders of human rights.
More free trade, more inequality
Central to the SDGs’ prescription for sustainable development for the next 15 years is the vow to promote free trade between countries and increase trade liberalisation. There is no mention, however, of States’ responsibility to measure the human rights impact of their policies and agreements. For free trade to bring real benefits for children’s rights, it needs to occur through an equitable trade system that recognises different development needs among countries and allows nations to adequately invest in and protect children and their rights. Securing human rights cannot happen without ending inequality; and though the SDGs do make tackling inequality a priority, the prescription to do so is technocratic, obscure and wholly inappropriate to the task at hand. Ultimately, the SDGs fail to take into account the systemic causes that must be addressed for a transition to a sustainable world, and they fail to understand the impact of free trade and inequality on the realisation of children’s rights.
The failure of the SDGs to reform the institutions and processes that underpin global inequality, such as the World Trade Organization, and to address worrying new mechanisms like the Trans-Pacific Partnership, Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, and the Trade in Services Agreement will also increase the challenges facing rights advocates in the coming decade.
The private sector to the rescue?
The SDGs will have significant resource implications and will be staggeringly expensive to implement, raising the question of where the funds will come from. At the global level, the total investment needed is around $5-7 trillion per year, according to the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD). While the six major multilateral development banks and the International Monetary Fund have collectively pledged US$400 billion in loans and other assistance to help countries meet their SDG obligations, the commitment by Western governments to pay 0.7 percent of their gross domestic product in aid (but often contributing far less than that), will fall a long way short of the amount required. Against the current backdrop of slower global growth and disparate national interests, governments have so far been slow to signal their desire to fund the SDGs. While passionate words were uttered at the UN Financing for Development meeting in Addis Ababa this summer, few additional resources were actually pledged.
Unlike with the MDGs, the private sector played a prominent role in the SDGs’ drafting process, and has been seen as vital in order to bridge the multi-trillion dollar funding gap. As such, throughout the SDGs the role of business in human development is mentioned in an entirely positive tone. Yet the goals fail to include mention of an adequate mechanism for corporate accountability. Nor do they take into account the negative human rights impact the private sector might have, including the risks of increasing the private sector’s role in the provision of public services, which poses a considerable threat to the safeguarding of children’s rights. Privatisation of key services is seldom regulated properly by the State, leading to the dominance of commercial interests over children’s interests. Yet it is States’ obligation to ensure that all private actors who play a role in the provision of basic services are held accountable, and that they meet minimum standards as set out in human rights law.
Targets and indicators
Many of the criticisms that were made about the MDGs’ focus on targets and its ‘tick-box’ culture have been replicated with the SDGs. This approach will have a considerable impact on the ability of NGOs to pursue the full scope of children's rights issues, with donors increasingly requiring NGOs to achieve quantifiable targets, which is easier said than done with issues that demand long-term efforts. Furthermore, while the MDGs were criticised for their limited focus on a narrow range of issues and targets, the SDGs on the other hand - with their 17 goals and 169 specific targets - are far too broad to be realistically achieved in the proposed timeframe. Concern that the size and diversity of the SDGs will undermine their implementation is echoed by the International Council for Science whose research has shown that less than a third of the SDGs are “well defined”, with some objectives not quantified and many containing contradictory tradeoffs and unintended consequences. Furthermore, research carried out by the Overseas Development Institute has shown that 14 of the 17 targets it assessed will need a “revolution” in effort and approach to speed up progress, and that based on current trends, the world will not meet any of the SDGs by the proposed date of 2030.
The reality is that sustainable development cannot be achieved without the universal realisation and protection of human rights. Unfortunately, the high-sounding rhetoric about children's rights and human rights in general at the UN is not mirrored in the content of the SDGs, nor in the methods indicated for their implementation and monitoring. Clearly, the narrative of the SDGs signifies a shift in the global approach to development - one that rights advocates should be concerned about. Responsibility has been shifted to poorer countries with insufficient resources to solve their own problems, and the overarching prescription of the SDGs is to maintain the current status quo. In many respects, despite the work that has gone into them, the SDGs now present a greater challenge for rights advocates than their predecessors.
Special features on the Sustainable Development Goals
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NEWS IN BRIEF
Access to justice
Discrimination and school admission
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ACCESS TO JUSTICE FOR CHILDREN IN OMAN
The Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) has been ratified by Royal Decree No. 54/96 (as amended by Royal Decree No. 99/96) in the Sultanate of Oman; as such, it has force of law in Oman, although it remains unclear as to its direct enforceability in Omani courts. Interpretation of any relevant national law will be done in a manner that is consistent with the CRC or any other relevant international treaty in accordance with the Basic Law. Children under the age of 18 are permitted to bring actions before national courts to challenge violations of their rights but must do so through a guardian; their father in the first instance, their father’s father or a court-appointed custodian if neither of the aforementioned is able or willing. In certain instances, a child of fifteen years of age may be authorised by their guardian or by a judge in relation to certain matters, meaning that they would broadly enjoy the same rights as adults in relation to those matters (which most likely include the right to make a legal claim).
Read the full report on access to justice for children in Oman.
This report is part of CRIN's access to justice for children project, looking at the status of the CRC in national law, the status of children involved in legal proceedings, the legal means to challenge violations of children’s rights and the practical considerations involved in challenging.
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Juvenile justice: Online training course on ‘Alternatives to Detention for Young Offenders’
Organisation: International School for Juvenile Justice
Course dates: 1 October 2015 (lasts three months)
Asia: Regional consultation on the elimination of violence against children and improved public investment in children
Organisation: Child Rights Coalition Asia
Date: 15-16 October 2015
Location: Quezon City, Philippines
Street children: Research conference - ‘Exploring different conceptualisations of street-connected children’s identities’
Organisation: Consortium for Street Children
Event date: 5 November 2015
Submissions deadline: Poster displays for research studies until 5 October
Location: London, United Kingdom
Call for submissions: Multi-Agency collaboration in child protection in South-eastern Europe
Organisers: Terre des hommes Kosovo, Child Protection Hub, DCI-Netherlands
Submission deadline: N/A
Event date: 9-10 November 2015
Location: Prishtina, Kosovo
Reproductive rights: New reproductive technologies and the European fertility market
Organisation: Erasmus University Rotterdam et al.
Abstract submissions deadline: 1 October 2015
Event date: 19-20 November 2015
Location: Santander, Spain
Health: Conference on child rights and sight
Organisation: Distressed Children & Infants International
Dates: 24 October 2015
Location: New Haven, United States
Asia Pacific: 10th Asian Pacific Regional Conference on Child Abuse and Neglect
Organisation: International Society for the Prevention of Child Abuse and Neglect
Dates: 25-28 October 2015
Location: Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
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CRIN: Legal research internship
Application deadline: 30 September 2015
Location: London, United Kingdom
CRIN: Communications Intern (French-speaking)
Application deadline: Rolling deadline
Location: Flexible, home-based
LEAK OF THE WEEK
According to secondary school textbooks in India, unemployment has increased because women have taken the jobs, donkeys work harder than housewives and complain less, it was Japan that nuked the US during World War Two, and meat eaters should never be trusted.
In light of such ‘facts’ being taught to children, maybe it’s time that India’s Central Board for Secondary Education start monitoring the country’s school books for content - which it says it doesn’t do - as otherwise it may lead more schoolchildren spelling “Gandhi” as “Gandi” and learning that the Suez Canal is in fact a “Sewage” canal.
More bizarre textbook ‘lessons’ from the BBC.
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