Netherlands failing on children's rights
The first annual report on children's rights in the Netherlands from the United Nation's children's agency UNICEF and the Defence for Children organisation indicates that the Netherlands is failing to comply with the International Convention on Children's Rights. Sebastiaan Gottlieb* reports.The criticism mainly targets the country's treatment of children who are living in the Netherlands illegally. As a result, the organisations say it's time for the appointment of a children's ombudsman.
This year, for the first time, UNICEF and Defence for Children have published a report of the state of children's rights in the Netherlands, reflecting the findings of a panel of five experts who examined the way in which the country handles things such as child abuse, child healthcare, care and welfare provision for children and young people, and young people who come into contact with the criminal justice system. In three of these five fields the Netherlands has been judged to be failing in some way.
According to the head of Defence for Children, Jan-Pieter Kleijburg, the Netherlands is failing particularly when it comes to respecting the rights of children who are in the country illegally. As he explains,
"Under the Convention on the Rights of the Child, there is actually no such thing as an 'illegal' child. All children residing within the borders of a country must enjoy the same rights. But that's still a difficult issue in the Netherlands, even though it would be easy to change that."
In the Netherlands, such 'illegal' children are still ending up in cells even though this is in total violation of international treaties. Mr Kleijburg says the country could also improve the way it deals with child abuse. He points particularly to the circumcision of girls, which he says is not getting sufficient attention. There's also a need for more child psychiatrists to provide treatment for the victims of child abuse. Mr Kleijburg says that this new annual report is not only intended for the government authorities in the Netherlands:
"It is indeed the task of the political world to see to it that children's rights are better upheld, but certainly too of the entire judicial system. Judges should be making better use of that [Children's Rights] convention. The same goes for professionals who work with children. They, too, should be paying more attention to the pedagogical values that are represented in that convention."
Lack of knowledge
The two organisations argue that there's a lack of knowledge about children's rights in the Netherlands. The organisations themselves are partly to blame for this because they have previously failed to draw sufficient attention to the issue. They're also making a case for schools to focus more on the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which was adopted by the United Nations in 1989.
Back in 2002, the Dutch Children's Rights Collective (Kinderrechtencollectief), of which Defence for Children and UNICEF are members, already pointed out that the Netherlands was not observing children's rights properly.
The organisations are happy with the fact that the country now has a special government minister for young people and the family. The minister, Andre Rouvoet of the smallest coalition party, the Christian Union, is there to coordinate the policies of the various ministries which have a role in the care and welfare of children and young people. It is, incidentally, Mr Rouvoet who will be presented with the new annual report from the children's welfare organisations.
On the basis of this report, Labour member of parliament Khadija Arib concludes that it's time for the Netherlands to create the post of a children's ombudsman:
"There's actually no independent body which stands above all the parties and really fights for the interests and rights of children."
She believes a special ombudsman could act as an ever-present 'thorn in the side' for politicians and welfare workers alike, always ready to point out where children's interests are not being served either properly or at all.
UNICEF and Defence for Children support the idea of an ombudsman for children, for while they write in their report that the situation of children in developing countries is - relatively speaking - a cause for much greater concern, that doesn't mean that there isn't also a need to focus proper attention and effort on the situation of children here in the Netherlands.
* RNW translation (tpf)
[Copyright Radio Netherlands 2008]