The rights of children have been described in the UN’s Convention of the Rights of the Child. But given that the convention must accommodate 194 countries with widely different cultural practices, the convention is too unspecific and allows for the rules to be interpreted differently. This is one among the many aspects that AU’s children and human rights experts will be focusing on during their 4-year chairmanship of the UNCRC centre “Hope for Children”.
Until the end of 2018, the Department of Law at Aarhus BSS (Aarhus University’s business school) will hold chairmanship of the UNCRC Policy Centre “Hope for Children”. The university received the good news from Director General Joseph Varughese. The centre aims to protect and advocate the rights of children, e.g. through the work of leading researchers in the field, dissemination of their research and collaboration with children’s organisations around the world.
Debunking the myths about the UN children’s convention
Postdoc scholar Caroline Adolphsen, who conducts research on children’s rights, is the new chairman of the centre. She will be flanked by Jens Vedsted-Hansen, who is internationally recognised for his human rights research, and criminal law expert Nicolaj Sivan Holst. For the next four years, they will be addressing the shortcomings of the UN children’s rights convention and disseminating their experiences with Scandinavian practices to countries that are less successful in securing children’s rights.
“In the treatment of children’s cases, the legislation often states that the case has been processed in accordance with the UN children’s convention. But in many ways the convention is so broad and unspecific that it can cover almost anything. It goes without saying, since 194 countries have acceded to the convention, including countries like Pakistan, Eritrea and Qatar. During our chairmanship term, we would like to debunk some of the myths surrounding the UN’s Convention of the Rights of the Child,” explains chairman Caroline Adolphsen and proceeds to emphasise that in France, for instance, corporal punishment is still allowed, and the US, as one of the very few UN member states, has not acceded to the convention.
Denmark also runs afoul of the convention
We do not need to go abroad to encounter problems with children’s rights. In fact, even though Denmark and Scandinavia are very advanced in this field, there are still children in Denmark who get stuck e.g. in connection with divorce cases, matters of religion or imprisonment, explains Caroline Adolphsen.
“For instance, according to the convention, children and adults are not allowed to serve time in prison together, but this happens in Denmark to a wide extent due to a lack of prison space and suitable detention facilities. We have also been criticised for holding children in custody for too long. We have introduced video interrogations in criminal cases about sexual abuse, so the child doesn’t have to go to court and give a statement. But this practice doesn’t apply in social or divorce cases, and it can be very hard for children to be involved in cases like these. So, there are a lot of aspects we need to address,” she says.
Can children exercise freedom of religion?
In the cross field between children’s rights and human rights lies the issue of religion, which we know to be a fundamental human right. But what if a child wants to be free of a particular religion?
“As a rule, children are under parental authority until they turn 18. But this may give rise to conflict if a child for instance wants to liberate him or herself from a given religion and perhaps exercise a different religion than his or her parents. When should children be allowed to exercise their freedom of religion without breaking with the principles of the Danish Act on Parental Responsibility? This is one of the many topics that we’ll be dealing with and addressing from an international perspective,” says Caroline Adolphsen.
Caroline Adolphsen, postdoc and chairman of the UNCRC Policy Center
Department of Law, Aarhus BSS
Tel.: +45 8716 5479