Making children's rights a reality

Children's rights based approaches identify and address the underlying causes of rights violations, address gaps in realising children's rights and implement policy and practice changes. This is achieved through strengthening the capacity of duty-bearing institutions and individuals and by increasing their accountability for the achievement of children's rights. The rights based approach also strengthens the capacity of rights holders, in this case children and young people, to take action to achieve their rights and to hold duty bearers accountable; the aim being to make sustained improvements to the lives of individuals, particularly the most marginalized.

The children's rights based approach has a number of benefits to service delivery for children and young people. Whereas needs-based approaches tend to address symptomatic problems of children and young people through welfare provision, children's rights based approaches address the root causes of children's rights violations and support children and young people to participate in achieving their legal entitlements. Through this approach the end result of what we are trying to achieve for children is made clear and children's active participation is acknowledged. Their participation can be through action in their own lives and through claiming their rights from those who have been identified as responsible duty bearers.

Children rights based approaches recognize both that children are capable human beings and that they have particular needs. But rather than starting with generalized assumptions of needs, what has been called a deficit model of childhood (Thomas 2004), children's rights based approaches start with agreed declarations of enforceable rights and a commitment to children and young people's participation in achieving these.

The children's rights based approach has a number of benefits over needs based and other approaches to service delivery for children and young people.

Needs based approach

Rights based approach

Welfare aims, charity Legal entitlements, claims, guarantees, justice, equality, freedom
Voluntary Mandatory
Address symptoms Address root causes
Partial goals (e.g. 80% of children are immunised) Complete goals – all people have the same rights (80% immunisation coverage means that 20% of children have not been immunised and right has not been realised).
Hierarchy of needs (some needs considered to be more important than others) e.g. food before education Rights cannot be divided, they are indivisible and interdependent.
Needs vary according to the situation, the individual and the environment Rights are universal (the same everywhere).
Providing welfare services (object of needs) Empowering (subject of rights). Rights holders are empowered to claim their rights.
Determination of needs is subjective Rights are based on international standards.
Short term perspective, filling gaps Long term perspective
Children deserve help Children are entitled to help
Government ought to do something but nobody has definite obligation Governments have binding legal and moral obligations.
Children can participate in order to improve service delivery Children are active participants by right.
Given scarce resources some children may be left out All children have the same right to achieve their potential.

The benefit of planning and delivering services based on these rights based frameworks, rather than perceptions of children's needs have been summarized by Save the Children, UNICEF and the Danish Institute for Human Rights.

Benefits of a children's rights based approach

A clear, shared long term goal (regarding the fulfilment of human rights) A commitment to achieving agreed rights can provide a goal shared by everyone along with the standards to measure progress towards it.
Accountability The responsibilities of governments, donors, the private sector, communities and individuals are identified and various ways in which they can be held accountable have already been developed and tested.
Empowerment The active participation of disadvantaged and discriminated-against groups is seen as essential to achieving social justice, non-discrimination and pro-poor development.
Equity There is a strong focus on justice, equality and freedom and a willingness to tackle the power issues that lie at the root of poverty and exploitation. There is a commitment to reach the most excluded.
Greater impact and effectiveness Because of its emphasis on accountability, empowerment and activism the rights-based approach is seen as being more effective in the fight against injustice, poverty and exploitation.
An integrated approach Rights-based approaches incorporate what is widely regarded as “good development practice” into one overall holistic approach.

The children's rights based approach is closely linked to human rights based approaches which have emerged from development work and are based on core components. Rights based approaches have shown that people’s quality of life can be improved through "people centred", empowering, and participatory practices which focus on the achievement of their rights, rather than rely on the trickle down effects of economic development. These empowering practices focus on using international declarations and local laws to hold states, and other parties, responsible for fulfilling the rights they have agreed to. Rights based approaches are a package and it is their systematic and complete application that makes them so effective.

Core components of a children's rights based approach

Focus on children A clear focus on children, their rights and their role as social actors.
Holistic view of children Considering all aspects of a child while making strategic choices and setting priorities.
Accountability A strong emphasis on accountability for promoting, protecting and fulfilling children's rights across a range of duty-bearers from the primary duty bearer – the state, (e.g. local and central government) to the private sector, the media, child-care professionals and other individuals with direct contact with children.
Supporting duty bearers Consideration of the ways in which duty bearers could be helped to meet their obligations through technical assistance, budget support and other forms of partnership.
Advocacy The importance of advocacy, public education and awareness raising
Non-discrimination A commitment to the inclusion of the most marginalized children
Participation The promotion of children's effective participation in and to challenging discrimination on such grounds as gender, class, ethnicity, (dis)ability, etc.
Best Interests Consideration (with children) of the impact on children of policy, legislation, budget, programme choices
Survival and development A focus on both the immediate survival of children as well as a commitment to ensuring the development of their full potential
Children as part of a community An understanding of children's place in their families, communities and societies and the role that their parents and other carers have in defending their rights and guiding children's development.
Root causes and broad issues A focus on the underlying causes as well as immediate violations.
Partnerships Building partnerships and alliances for the promotion, protection and fulfilment of children's rights
Information, and knowledge Facilitating access to and understanding of children's rights for children themselves.

The children's rights based approach process looks like this:

Making children's rights a reality