This month the third Children’s Rights Monitor (de Kinderrechtenmonitor 2014) has been published by the Dutch Children’s Ombudsman (De Kinderombudsman), on the basis of the advisory report drafted by the Department of Child Law. The Children’s Rights Monitor 2014 is realised with the assistance of the Dutch Bureau for Statistics, which provided detailed statistics concerning topics related to the lives of children in the Netherlands. The Dutch government was asked to provide information concerning new policy and legislative developments, which it complied with cooperatively. The Children’s Rights Monitor provides a thematic overview of the implementation of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child in the Netherlands. The monitor is divided into six chapters on the following themes: 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.
There are 3.4 million children living in the Netherlands and they form 20 percent of the total population. The Netherlands consists of a European part and ‘the Netherlands in the Caribbean’, which consists of the islands Bonaire, St. Eustatius and Saba (see Rijksoverheid). There are 5.5 thousand children on these islands under the age of 20. These three islands are overseas municipalities and therefore the rights of children on the islands are also monitored by the Dutch Children’s Ombudsman. In the Netherlands children indicate that they are very happy; among the happiest children in the world (see Unicef). However, some children are particularly vulnerable and lack the same standard of living or resources. In the Children’s Rights Monitor 2014 several groups of children are identified, whose rights are not wholly guaranteed. Three of these groups will be highlighted below.
Children who are in need of youth care
Children who are in need of youth care are particularly vulnerable, because of problems they experience in their development and upbringing. In the first place, these children are vulnerable because they experience problems which require the attention and treatment of professionals. In the second place, these children currently form a vulnerable group because of the major decentralisation operation that is currently taking place in the Netherlands. As of the first of January 2015 local municipalities will be largely responsible for implementing youth care. The main concerns are related to the major cut backs in funds for youth care and the lack of expertise and resources of municipalities to adequately distribute the right type of specialist youth care to children in need. An important question to be asked is whether the Dutch government has reasonably taken into account the best interests of the child in reforming the youth care system (art. 3 CRC). It is expected that both the quality and the quantity of the care will be affected and that children are not guaranteed the care which they were entitled to receive before, and which they will need in order to develop healthily.
Children who grow up in poverty
The Netherlands is one of the most affluent countries in the world. However, Unicef shows that the economic crisis has had an important influence on child wellbeing in rich countries. The Netherlands is named among the countries that is moderately affected by the economic crisis. In the Children’s Rights Monitor a similar conclusion is drawn. Children, especially children living in single parent households, are particularly vulnerable to growing up in poverty. On the basis of article 4 CRC, the Dutch government has the progressive obligation to keep the standard of living of children at least at the same level. With financial cutbacks affecting children, this progressive obligation is not being met. Again, local municipalities are responsible for the distribution of resources to poor families and this causes inequality in the amount and quality of available resources for children.
Children living in the Caribbean
When considering the rights of children living on Bonaire, St. Eustatius and Saba a striking lack of resources and facilities stands out. The Dutch government still has a lot of work to do in order to guarantee a standard of living that is adequate and does justice to the needs of the children living on the islands. To name just a few, a professional youth care system needs to be set up and even more so a juvenile justice system. Poverty needs to be tackled and investments are needed in (specialised) education. Although it cannot be expected that the overseas municipalities will reach the same standard of living as the European part of the Netherlands, much more attention needs to be devoted to ensuring the basic rights of Dutch children in the Caribbean.
The best interests of the child as a primary consideration
In light of article 3 sub 1 CRC the Dutch government is committed to consider the best interests of children as a primary consideration in every decision that is taken and that affects children. On the basis of the results as presented in the Children’s Rights Monitor 2014 the question can be posed to what extent the best interests of the child have been a primary consideration in the decisions that have been taken? Most notably, certain budget cuts affect children immediately, such as children who receive youth care or children living in poverty. In light of this violation of a principle right of children, the Children’s Rights Monitor calls for a ‘Child-rights impact assessment’ to be implemented. Such an assessment should take into account the impact of any proposed policy, legislation, regulation or budget which affects children and the enjoyment of their rights (General Comment nr. 14, 2013, para. 99). By introducing this type of assessment, from the start of the drafting process of new legislation and regulations, attention will be drawn to children’s best interests. In this way, more awareness will be raised among the legislator, politicians and policymakers concerning the rights of the child.