From the perspective of the rights of a child, the most important agreement on human rights is the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. It covers all essential human rights concerning children: civil rights as well as political, economic, social and cultural rights, plus rights regarding an adequate standard of living.
The Convention on the Rights of the Child was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on 20 November 1989 and came into force in 1990. Three optional protocols to the Convention have also been adopted, the first of which concerns military conflicts, and the second the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography. Finland has ratified these protocols. The ratification process of the third optional protocol relating to communication of complaints is still ongoing in Finland.
In Finland, the Convention on the Rights of the Child came into force in 1991. It is part of Finland’s legislation system. The Convention binds all government and municipal authorities as well as private partners carrying out official duties.
The Convention on the Rights of the Child has been a remarkable improvement in the development of children’s rights. It recognises that a child is a holder of human rights (a legal subject), not merely an object of law. The principles of the children’s rights include protection against all forms of discrimination, promoting the best interest of the child, every child’s inherent right to life and development as well as the right to express themselves.
The implementation of the Convention of the Rights of the Child and the fulfilment of said rights are monitored by the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child. The signatory states must submit periodical reports on the measures taken to implement the rights and on their progress to achieve these rights. On the basis of the reports, the Committee provides each state with recommendations of the measures that they should take in order to meet the requirements defined in the Convention. The last time that Finland submitted its report to the Committee was in 2008, and it received the latest recommendations based on the report from the Committee in 2011. One part of the reporting is to conduct a hearing behind closed doors with non-governmental organisations, where these organisations can raise issues regarding the compliance of the Convention and fulfilment of children’s rights to be considered by the Committee and the signatory state.
This alternative reporting allows NGOs an opportunity to point out any problems in children’s and families’ everyday lives that the state should intervene on. The Central Union for Child Welfare has coordinated an alternative report for the hearing of the NGOs, where the partners include not only member organisations but also other key representatives of civil society stakeholders. In addition to the delegation representing the NGOs and other civil society stakeholders, the hearing has been attended by the Parliamentary Ombudsman’s office and the office of the Ombudsman for Children. Due to its special status, the Finnish Committee for UNICEF is closely involved in all phases of the reporting process.
The fulfilment of children’s rights in Finland requires a far better knowledge of the Convention among both the specialists and the public. To promote this, the Ministry of Education and Culture formulated a national communications strategy for the children’s rights in 2010, which concluded that a permanent cooperation structure must be created for the communications efforts concerning children’ rights among the various organisations, and the communications must be based on extensive collaboration between the government, NGOs and partners working within the church. The main responsibility for the communications cooperation is with the government. The Central Union for Child Welfare has offered to coordinate the cooperation related to the Convention on the Rights of the Child, and a special fixed-term funding has been granted for this task.
The communications network’s main responsibilities include the compilation of up-to-date information about children’s right on the lapsenoikeudet.fi website, coordination of communications regarding children’s rights, sharing knowledge of children’s rights through campaigns as well as planning and organising the Children’s Rights Week events. The Children’s Rights Week is celebrated every year around the Universal Children’s Day on 20 November. The children’s rights communications network together with other partners also managed to ensure that the flag is flown on the Universal Children’s Day.
The Convention on the Rights of the Child is the foundation for the lobbying activities carried out by the Central Union for Child Welfare. One of the key points from the lobbying perspective is the child and family impact assessments, the aim of which is to guarantee that children’s interests are always considered in all operations concerning children. The child and family impact assessment is used to judge how different solutions affect the wellbeing of children and families, changes that take place and the fulfilment of children’s rights in general. Implementation of the obligations set out in the Convention on the Rights of the Child requires that all measures and decisions by the government and municipal authorities that affect children either directly or indirectly are assessed. According to the Committee, child impact assessment should consider the consequences that matters such as legislation, plans of action and resourcing of funding have on children and the fulfilment of their rights. It is an important part of child impact assessment that children’s views are heard and considered.