In December 2015, the Dutch Children’s Ombudsperson published the fourth Children’s Rights Monitor. The monitor presents data regarding a wide variety of children’s rights issues accompanied by a critical analysis regarding the implementation of children’s rights in the Netherlands. However, to further improve the implementation of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child a children’s rights impact assessment should be made for every new law and regulation that affects the life of a child living in the Netherlands.
The Children’s Rights Monitor
In December 2015, the Dutch Children’s Ombudsperson published the fourth Children’s Rights Monitor. The monitor relies on an advisory report prepared by the Department of Child Law and the Institute of Immigration Law. The fifth monitor will be prepared and published this year.
The Children’s Rights Monitor is the result of an assessment of the rights of children in the Netherlands, as enshrined in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (hereafter: CRC). It analyses how the rights of children in the Netherlands (including the Caribbean part of the Kingdom, i.e. Bonaire, St. Eustatius and Saba) are safeguarded and whether the position of children can be improved in any way. The CRC and the recommendations drawn up by the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child (hereafter: UN Committee) in June 2015, serve as a basis for the analysis. The monitor consists of six domains; 1) Family situation and alternative care; 2) Protection against exploitation and violence; 3) Deprivation of liberty and juvenile justice; 4) Adequate standard of living; 5) Education; 6) Young immigrants. Each domain contains statistical information on the position of children, provided by the Dutch Bureau for Statistics. In addition, the monitor includes descriptions of legislation and legislative changes, policy developments, relevant case law and scientific studies on children and their rights in the Netherlands. The Dutch government was asked to provide information concerning new policy and legislative developments, which it complied with cooperatively.
Data collection and monitoring of children’s rights
The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child is the monitoring body of the CRC (art. 43 CRC). Every five years, states parties to the CRC have to report to the UN Committee on their compliance with the rights set forth in the Convention. The UN Committee assesses whether countries adhere to the CRC and makes recommendations for improvement. International and national monitoring are closely connected. Therefore, the UN Committee recommended the Netherlands in 2009 to establish an independent mechanism to monitor children’s rights such as an ombudsman for children (Concluding Observations, 2009, art. 8). With the installation of the Children’s Ombudsman in 2011, the Netherlands implemented this recommendation (De Kinderombudsman).
Furthermore, the UN Committee has underscored the importance of collecting disaggregated data on all areas covered by the CRC. The UN Committee states that “It is essential not merely to establish effective systems for data collection, but to ensure that the data collected are evaluated and used to assess progress in implementation, to identify problems and to inform all policy development for children. Evaluation requires the development of indicators related to all rights guaranteed by the Convention” (General Comment No. 5, 2003, para. 48). With the Children’s Rights Monitor a set of indicators has been developed to assess the implementation of children’s rights in the Netherlands.
Assessment of children’s rights in the Netherlands
The Children’s Rights Monitor can be seen as an example of a document in which the disaggregated data as collected by the Dutch Bureau for Statistics and other governmental bodies is evaluated. Both quantitative and qualitative data are used to make an assessment of the progression that is made and to identify problems with regard to the implementation of children’s rights. Moreover, it is the aim of the Children’s Ombudsman to inform and to influence policymaking with regard to issues concerning children by means of the monitor. By issuing the Children’s Rights Monitor the Children’s Ombudsman has taken over the task of the government to make a comprehensive assessment of children’s rights and to disseminate this evaluation to the public, as asked for by the UN Committee. This work of the ombudsman is implicitly welcomed by the Dutch government, as is shown by its mentioning of the fact that the ombudsman has set up an “independent Children’s rights monitor” to measure progress in the implementation of children’s rights in its report to the UN Committee (Fourth periodic report of the Netherlands, 2013, para. 25).
Moreover, the Children’s Rights Monitor can be seen as the product of a mutual cooperation between the Dutch government and a monitoring body of the government; the Children’s Ombudsman. Both parties seem to win from this cooperation. The Children’s Ombudsman has a report in hands with which he can flag certain issues, in which he can critically assess government policy and with which he can press for change. The government can show the international community, including the UN Committee that the Netherlands takes data collection regarding children seriously and that it is used to improve the situation of children throughout the Kingdom. This is for example shown by the elaborate reaction that the government gives on the recommendations made in the monitor (see: Kamerstukken II 2013/14, 31 839, nr. 314; Kamerstukken 2014/15, 31 839, nr. 462).
Points for improvement
Despite the increased efforts of the Dutch government to improve the situation of children and to implement the recommendations made by the UN Committee, some areas of concern remain. First, the UN Committee notes in the Concluding Observations of 2015 that “data on some areas of children’s rights, in particular with respect to child maltreatment, youth care, children with HIV/AIDs and children in street situations, children in conflict with the law, foreign children, sexual exploitation and trafficking are either not complete or not up to date and that there is no central system to regularly collect data with both qualitative and quantitative indicators in all areas of children’s rights throughout the Kingdom” (Concluding Observations, 2015, para. 16). The final remark refers inter alia to the lack of data available for the Caribbean part of the Netherlands.
Moreover, the Dutch government does not make explicitly clear whether new laws effectively fulfill the rights enshrined in the CRC. This would be possible when a children’s rights impact assessment is made for every new piece of legislation affecting children (see also: The Children’s Rights Monitor 2014 – Assessing the rights of children in the Netherlands). With the introduction of such a mechanism from the start of the development of new laws and regulations it can be assessed whether the basic rights of children are met. By means of a children’s rights impact assessment it can be assessed whether the interests of children become secondary to, for example, economic interests. Moreover, such an assessment instrument can make the government more aware of how to concretely implement children’s rights in national legislation and policies.
To conclude, it is posed that the Children’s Rights Monitor does not merely serve as an assessment instrument, but it also has the aim to further the knowledge and understanding of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child among government officials and other professionals working with children (see art. 42 CRC). The actual impact of the monitor on the awareness and knowledge of professionals concerning the practical implications of the CRC is an important subject to study in the future.