CRC Elections: Kirsten Sandberg (Norway)

Kirsten Sandberg, from Norway, has served on the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child for four years. She is the current Chair. When she is not at the UN, she teaches child law and children’s rights  at the University of Oslo. Prior to her work as a university professor, Kirsten served as a judge in a Norwegian county court. She has cooperated extensively with NGOs and given a number of lectures on the Convention on the Rights of the Child to NGOs and other professionals.

Read Kirsten's CV and her interview with CRIN in 2010.

1. Why do you want to stand for re-election?


I find the work of the Committee extremely important and I know what I can contribute now that I have been here three years. It takes time to really get to grips with this work and it would be good to be able use the experience and knowledge that I have gained for another period. I would also love to continue working on all children's rights issues in an international setting. Now that the new complaints mechanism has come into force, I also believe it's important because I've been involved in developing the working procedures for this.

2. What do you feel you’ve achieved during your time with the Committee?

The work of the Committee is a joint responsibility, and I think I have been contributing actively in all aspects of our work. As Chair, it has been important for me that we develop our working methods further, to make our work more effective. I've been able to use my skills as a lawyer to help develop the General Comment on the best interests of the child. But I've also been involved in many other areas including emphasising to States the importance of children’s participation, action against discrimination against girls, support to families to enable them to take care of their children and most recently I've been involved in developing guidelines on children's participation in the work of the Committee.

3. When we interviewed you in 2010, you said that the children's rights issue that needed more attention was violence against children and children’s participation. Has this changed and how have your years on the Committee influenced your view?

I still feel that the problem of violence against children is crucial. If anything my time with the Committee has made me aware of so many different aspects of the problem that need to be dealt with. The same is true of children's right to be heard. It seems like an obvious thing to say, but children's participation is still tokenistic in so many ways. There are more children's councils and children's parliaments who say interesting things but they're still not listened to. The same is true of children’s views in judicial and administrative procedures and many other areas of their lives.

That said, during my time with the Committee, I've become aware of so many other important issues. Birth registration, for instance, is a vital right because if a child is not registered at birth they receive no other services, so it is an access point for all other rights. Similarly, access to quality education for all children is crucial to children's empowerment.

4. Children continue to be disproportionately affected by poverty and the budget cuts States are making as a result of the financial crisis. How do you think the children's rights community can work more effectively to protect children's rights in this context?

States must avoiding making cuts that damage children's lives. In fact, some States that have reported to us recently have been able to protect spending on children, even though they have had to make cuts elsewhere. This must be addressed completely from a children's rights perspective. We have just started developing a general comment on public spending for children’s rights, which will give guidance in this respect.

5. In our monitoring of children's rights issues, we have noticed a growing trend for States to pass laws restricting children's access to information, particularly about issues like sexuality and sex education. They use ‘child protection’ arguments to justify these. What do you think about this and what more can be done to promote children’s access to information?

There are two ways children's right to information can be violated: one thing is to actively obstruct children's access to information; another is to fail to provide children with information that they should have. Both are important for children's freedom of expression and for their knowledge about vital issues. It doesn't make sense for States to limit children's access to reproductive education for reasons of protection, since it has the effect that children are not protected. If States do not want girls to get pregnant, why don't they actively provide sexual and reproductive information? Much more needs to be done with child friendly campaigns, awareness raising and the media.

6. In January 2014, the Committee reviewed the Holy See's record on children's rights, and in particular the widespread institutional sexual abuse of children. What more do you think can be done to protect children from sexual violence in religious institutions more generally?

There are many different aspects to this. These cases should not be swept under the carpet when they happen like they have been in the past.. When cases get reported the offender must be removed from his post entirely and not be transferred to another parish. The Church must also take this issue seriously by cooperating with State authorities in the investigation and prosecution of these offences, as it says it now does. All priests and other church staff should be educated on this issue (even though it seems obvious), including on reporting.  There may be a lot more to come, we haven't begun to touch the surface in some regions like Eastern Europe and Africa.

Also, children should be taught to recognise the signs of abuse and be able to tell other adults when this happens.Those who are around the child must be aware of signs and be willing to take the child seriously if he or she tries to tell about such things happening.

6. There is a lot of talk about ensuring that children's rights are addressed across all UN bodies. In reality, children's rights are still not addressed systematically across the board. What do you think can be done to better 'mainstream' children's rights and how do you think the Committee can help with this?

It's very important to use the concluding observations of other treaty bodies; this is something we already do.

And regional bodies?

That's a good question. We're establishing a level of cooperation with the Council of Europe, and we use the decisions of the European Court of Human Rights. There is cooperation with other regional bodies, too, for instance members of the Committee on the Rights of the Child meet regularly with the African Committee and Inter-American Commission. Committee members from the regions who keep us up to date informally on what's happening, although it's true that we haven't used the recommendations of these bodies systematically. We have also recently been involved in some cooperation with the World Bank when they were revising their safeguarding principles. We gave input on making these children's rights focused.

7. If you were to continue to be Chair of the Committee, what change would you make to how it works?

Something I’ve been working on is to make our dialogues with States as focused as possible. It's difficult to prioritise issues, because there is no hierarchy of rights. However, for some of the bigger, more complicated countries, we've now established taskforces of four or five Committee members, instead of having only two rapporteurs so that they can really pinpoint the important issues. These members will lead the dialogue with States, and if any other members wish to ask questions, they must be funnelled through these members so that they can assess priorities. This has been quite successful in cutting down the time for questioning and making the dialogue more structured.

8. NGOs and independent human rights institutions do of course have opportunities to contribute to the review of State parties by the Committee. But how do you think the Committee can work more effectively with civil society, including national organisations, in its work to interpret areas of children's rights in the CRC?

I believe that we should should have a participatory process for devising general comments. We need to work out to what degree and how best to do this. We have already done this to a great extent with the General Comment on children's rights and business and on health, with support from Child Rights Connect and UNICEF. In the case of children's rights and business, regional hearings were held. Regional hearings are quite a good system because the people in charge of organising these know the best way of getting participation from that region. The General Comment on best interests was more difficult because that is more of a legal topic so this was done in a simpler way.

Where we are completely dependent on civil society is in the implementation process. We simply don't have the capacity to introduce a follow- up procedure at the moment so we have to rely on civil society and UNICEF to pick up the issues we raise and use them in the best possible way.

9. The Committee on the Rights of the Child is the only UN treaty body that lacks a follow-up procedure. If you were to develop such a procedure, what would it look like?

At the moment, we have a backlog of 90 state reports, so are not able to dedicate time to developing a follow-up procedure. But if we could, we could ask States for a report one or two years later. However, this might be difficult as we should really involve civil society and national human rights institutions as well. The other option - if human and financial resources were really no obstacle - is for two of us to a make country visit a year or so after the State has reported.

10. Now that the complaints mechanism has entered into force, how do you think the Committee can help ensure that it is accessible to children?

We are asking States to make the complaints mechanism known in their country. In addition, the office of Marta Santos Pais [UN Special Representative on Violence against Children] has developed a child friendly version of the procedure. We really would like to develop a child friendly version of our website if we had the resources.




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