New treaty would empower child survivors of torture

School children rally against torture in Sierra Leone with IRCT member Community Association for Psychosocial Services (CAPS). The new treaty creates a mechanism for children to bring their complaints of human rights violations, such as torture, before an international body.

Tuesday, the new Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child opened for signature. The treaty will create an international complaints mechanism for children who have experienced human rights violations – the last of the core human rights instruments to gain a complaints procedure.

Importantly, the first 10 states to ratify it will be decisive actors in bringing the mechanism alive, since it will enter into force upon the 10th ratification. This post is an encouragement and tribute to the States that will take the lead in implementing this crucial measure for the enhancement of children’s rights worldwide.

When entered into force, children or their representatives will be able to bring complaints of human rights violations before a committee of international experts, when and if domestic courts fail to remedy violations. This is a major step towards strengthening the rights of the child, and giving children a status as equal rights-holders to adults.

However, is it justifiable and reasonable to make children go through an international complaints procedure for alleged human rights violations? Especially when the process of going through judicial procedures includes a high risk of re-traumatisation? It is genuinely difficult even for adults to overcome the psychological pressure involved in such a procedure, where the victim is required to often continuously re-tell the traumatic event and alleged violation is continuously discussed and requiring for explanations and re-telling the story.

While this holds true, and we can all agree that no child should ever be forced to undergo such procedure without full consent and awareness of the implications of doing so, we must not forget that children, just like adults, are survivors rather than victims and that bringing the wrongs committed against them to justice is crucial for the protection of their rights and future well-being.

In working on IRCT’s project on children and torture, it has become clear that where national complaints mechanisms are ineffective or non-existent, tortured children are left unable to seek redress. Furthermore, we have seen cases where children who are tortured have had to face their perpetrator in court. As a result, they are subjected to repercussions and threats from their perpetrators not to file a complaint.

We must take this opportunity to expose the horrific practice of child torture by bringing it to the international level. We encourage States to sign the Optional Protocol for the CRC, as to provide this much-needed mechanism for children to take up their rights and find justice for the crimes perpetrated against them.

Please see the IRCT’s press release calling on states to sign the Optional Protocol to the CRC here.

Line, a sociologist specialising in human rights, implements the research project on children and torture in Asia.

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