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Call to Action SDG16+: Justice for Children, Justice for All

The Justice for Children global initiative is launching a Call to Action to place children at the heart of justice in every nation of the world, at the United Nations.

The work led by project director Professor Jennifer Davidson, Executive Director of the University of Strathclyde Institute for Inspiring Children’s Futures, in collaboration with many outstanding internationally-recognised partners, including the Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General on Violence against Children and the Child Justice Advocacy Group, with Terre des hommes and Defence for Children International.

This Justice for Children, Call to Action provides a strategic vision that actively puts children at the centre, affirms children’s rights and promotes their capabilities and opportunities, and vigorously targets the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. It is explicitly focussed on injecting momentum into the next steps for the implementation of the UN SDG16; the goal to “promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all, and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels.”

The Call to Action highlights ten critical Challenges that create injustice for children, impoverishing not only their lives but every society in which they live. The Call – most importantly – addresses the crucial responses that must be urgently addressed throughout the world in order for us to accelerate progress towards delivering the rights and opportunities that every child deserves. Only then will we have left no child behind.

Implementing the strategies that will deliver our vision is critical. And so the Call emphasises the paramount importance of sustained political commitment in every nation, supported by the necessary resourcing. Moreover, it highlights the need to engage all society in this effort, including both those who have traditionally championed the rights and needs of children, but also those whose decisions have a huge impact on children – albeit sometimes less directly – and have not typically been engaged in justice for children.

The first launch event was held at the Palais des Nations of the UN Human Rights Council on 4 July 2019, and hosted by the UN Ambassadors for Belgium and the Republic of Botswana. Peggy Hicks, Director of the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, and Professor Philip Jaffé, Director of the Centre for Children’s Rights Studies, were amongst the leading human rights experts speaking at the launch.

A second launch of the Call to Action took place in New York during the UN High-level Political Forum on Sustainable Development (HLPF) 2019, hosted by the Ambassador for Belgium to the UN. DCI President Mr Abdul Manaff Kemokai along with Professor Jennifer Davidson, Executive Director of the Strathclyde-based Institute for Inspiring Children’s Futures, and Dr Najat Maalla M’jad, UN Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Violence against Children, led the panel of experts for this event.

Peggy Hicks, Director of the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights recalled the timely launch of the call: “This is a key moment. As we celebrate the 30th Anniversary of the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), there is no better time to demonstrate global leadership, not only on behalf of those who are children today, but for the approximately 1 billion children who will be born in the coming decade: the children who will inherit a post-SDG world. In spite of near-universal ratification of the CRC, millions of children around the world continue to be left behind and their rights denied, particularly those who are the most discriminated against or living in precarious situations of vulnerability – such as children in detention, on the streets, in institutions or in migration situations. Children also suffer the impacts of poverty, violence, inequality and exclusion disproportionately, due to their sensitive phase of life and development ».

Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Violence against Children also championed the Call: « Countless children involved with the justice system have a history of exposure to violence. In many states, the justice system is still not child-sensitive and used as a substitute to weak or non-existent child protection systems, leading to the stigmatisation, criminalisation and deprivation of liberty of children, including those who are the most vulnerable and disadvantaged, those living or working on the street, and those who have fled home as a result of poverty, armed conflicts, humanitarian disasters and violence.” said SRSG Najat Maalla M’jid.

Professor Philip Jaffé, Director of the Centre for Children’s Rights Studies said: “Celebrating the 30th anniversary of the Convention of the Rights of the Child should compel us to be bold and address the reality of the continued injustices that many children experience in their daily lives. As a Member of the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, I am proud to join this Call to Action to secure justice in all its forms for children everywhere. A child justice system entails secure pathways to access child-friendly institutions that will act based on the rights of the child as a primary consideration.”

Benoit Van Keirsbilck, Defence for Children International stressed: “This is why the Call to Action places particular emphasis on participation. As NGOs working in this field, we will make sure that children are at the table and meaningfully contribute to the next steps of the Call to Action and the achievement of the ambition for Justice for All.”

Justice for Children, Justice for All:
The Challenge to Achieve SDG16+ The Ten Challenges


A.    Promote justice as an enabler of children’s development

  1. Guarantee the wellbeing and inclusion of all children.
  2. Promote justice systems, whether formal or legally plural, that guarantee equal access, benefit, protection and support to children.
  3. Prevent unnecessary contact with the justice system and the criminalisation of children.
  4. Ensure the right to a legal identity for all children.

B.    Accelerate action to respond to the urgent and critical challenges

  1. Prevent all forms of violence against children.
  2. Safeguard the rights of children who have been recruited, used by or associated with armed, violent extremist and other criminal groups or accused of national security-related offenses.
  3. Eliminate arbitrary and unlawful detention and restrict the deprivation of children’s liberty to exceptional circumstances.

C.    Establish and sustain the foundations for change

  1. Promote and ensure the empowerment and participation of children in all decisions that affect their lives.
  2. Secure sustained political commitment to accelerate the achievement of high-quality justice for children.
  3. Ensure responses are based on international standards and evidence-based policies.

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