Today, the UN’s Committee on the Rights of the Child published a new General Comment on implementation of the rights of the child during adolescence at an event in Geneva.
In this blog, we look at the General Comment in the light of what Young Lives has learned about the experiences of adolescents growing up in Ethiopia, India, Peru and Vietnam.
Why does it matter?
The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child has been described as ‘children’s Magna Carta’. Children’s dependent status, their lack of voice in political and democratic process, and the lifelong consequences of early deprivation and rights violations, mean that children need specific rights and protections. The Convention represents a near-universal consensus about the fundamental rights to which children are entitled. General Comments help governments to do better at meeting their child rights obligations, by providing authoritative interpretations of children’s Convention rights. At moments of uncertainty and debate, the clarity of the General Comment’s language on adolescents’ sexual and reproductive rights offers a useful touchstone for governments and child rights advocates.
This General Comment is timely because of the intense interest in adolescence both as a window of opportunity for development, and a time of risk and danger.
Look at 2016’s State of the World’s Population
“Investments that empower 10-year-old girls can triple a girl’s lifetime income, increase a nation’s economic growth and lead to a cycle of healthier, better educated children”.
… and from almost decade ago, the influential World Development Report 2007: Development and the Next Generation with a focus on the ‘youth bulge’ of 12-24 year olds as
“… a fiscal and economic risk. A recent study estimates the yearly cost per secondary school student in Sub-Saharan Africa to be almost three times that of public cost per pupil in the primary level. Add to that the cost of addressing AIDS and non-communicable diseases, and financing the fiscal burden, difficult to manage in the best of times, can be a constraint on growth. Moreover, if youth remain unemployed for long periods, as happened when the baby boom occurred in Europe and the United States, this not only wastes human resources—it also risks misaligned expectations and social unrest that could dampen the investment climate and growth.”
None of this is necessarily incorrect, but what about the children bearing the weight of these global expectations? The world’s 1.2 billion ‘adolescents’ – those aged between 10 and 19 years - are above all human beings. Most of them are children entitled to special protection and support under international law. The General Comment is a welcome statement of the importance of ‘recognition and respect for the dignity and agency of adolescents’, as well as the need to support their rights with approaches which ‘differ significantly from those adopted for younger children’.