Participation is key to the achievement of all human rights, including children’s rights. The Guidelines on the Effective Implementation of the Right to Participate in Public Affairs states:
Participation enables the advancement of all human rights. It plays a crucial role in the promotion of democracy, the rule of law, social inclusion and economic development. It is essential for reducing inequalities and social conflict. It is also important for empowering individuals and groups, and is one of the core elements of human rights-based approaches aimed at eliminating marginalization and discrimination.1
The Convention on the Rights of the Child recognizes participation by children as a right. It also makes clear the centrality of the role and responsibilities of a child’s parents, or where applicable, the members of the extended family or community, in achieving and maintaining all children’s rights. Parent’s participation is thus central to the promotion of parental rights
The CRC also stresses the fundamental role of a family environment, focusing on preventing unnecessary separation and supporting parents and other caregivers to care appropriately. Parent participation is required to achieve these rights.
The Guidelines for the Alternative Care of Children endorsed by the UN General Assembly in 2009 are particularly relevant here. They provide a key resource for considering the “desirable orientations for policy and practice” to support the implementation of the CRC as well as the provisions of other international instruments relevant to the protection and well-being of children deprived of parental care, or who are at risk of being so deprived. They are intended to assist and encourage governments to implement their obligations to provide a comprehensive welfare system, taking into account prevailing social, cultural, and economic conditions. They clearly state that parents have the primary responsibility with regard to bringing up their children and indicate that the state’s efforts should primarily be directed towards supporting families in their caregiving role, thereby enabling the child to remain in or return to the care of his or her parents or, where appropriate, other close family members.2
While they recognize that there are situations in which the child’s best interests are served by being placed outside of parental care, this should only be where “the child’s own family is unable, even with appropriate support, to provide adequate
care,” and that “removal of a child from the care of the family should be seen as a measure of last resort and should, wherever possible, be temporary and for the shortest possible duration”.27
The Guidelines also underline that a comprehensive child welfare system should be available to prevent the separation of children from their families. This includes measures to enhance the capacity of families limited by factors, including disability, and drug and alcohol misuse. They call for specific action to prevent discrimination against families and children based on: indigenous or minority backgrounds; poverty; religion; sex; mental and physical disability; HIV/AIDS or other serious illnesses; social stigma, notably related to socio-economic status and children born out of wedlock; and other circumstances that give rise to children being relinquished and/or removed from their families.28
The realization of these rights requires participation of all those involved, in particular, both children and their parents. Child and youth participation have often been tokenistic; parent participation has most often been non-existent.
1 United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) Guidelines for States on the Effective Implementation of the Right to Participate in Public Affairs, section 1.
2 “Guidelines for the Alternative Care of Children,” UN General Assembly (UNGA), 2010, A/RES/64/142, II. A. para. 3.