by Antonella Invernizzi and Jane Williams, eds.. Farnham, England : Ashgate Publishing, 2011. 372pp. Hardcover $134.95. ISBN 978-1-4094-0531-3
Reviewed by Nessa Lynch, Faculty of Law, Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand.
This edited volume has as its subject matter the child-specific human rights treaty - the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC). The stated aim of the volume is to analyse a selection of “contemporary debates in relation to the human rights of children, resituating them within visions which informed the text of the [CRC]”. The volume's content drawn from contributions to a one-day conference in Swansea in 2008 attended by experts in the area of children’s rights. Thus, there is a valuable spread of perspectives. Authors range from established and emerging academics, to those working inside the United Nations bureaucracy, to representatives of non-governmental organisations.
The volume contributes to the literature in two principal ways. First, bearing in mind the almost quarter century since the establishment of the first child-specific human rights treaty, the volume reviews and reconsiders the theoretical foundations of the CRC. It reiterates that the CRC conceptualises children not solely as objects of concern whose interests need to be protected, but as autonomous individuals capable of possessing and exercising civil, political, economic and social rights. This novel approach is particularly demonstrated in the Article 12 right to participation. Consideration is given in the book to the importance of re-imagining aspects of the implementation of the CRC, such as monitoring and communication mechanisms. Second, the contributions in this volume analyse the legal framework of the CRC and its relationship with other children’s rights instruments. It considers and analyses the practical and contemporary application of the CRC in areas such as evidence based policy and law making, child poverty, child health and discrimination.
As to the first aspect, Freeman (‘The Value and Values of Children’s Rights’) grounds the volume in theory by reviewing the arguments for children’s rights, emphasising that conceptualising children solely as deserving of protection fails to recognise children’s autonomy, and he rejects a paternalistic approach. He stresses the importance of a rights-based approach to tackling contemporary issues such as the prevalence of child abuse. Cantwell, (‘Are Children’s Rights still Human?’) speaks to the difficulties of conceptualising a treaty which has almost universal acceptance and covers such a wide area of rights. His critique of the difficulties of terminology (pp.43-46) is particularly timely. Tobin (‘Understanding a Human Rights Based Approach’) unpacks the meaning and content of a ‘rights-based’ approach to children. He rightly identifies that the nebulous definition of the term allows [*98] governments and organisations to ‘invoke or co-opt the term to serve whatever subjective interests or objectives are being pursued’ (p.88). A coherent and constant framework which sees children’s rights as a social contract has enormous potential to improve the lives of children. Doek (‘The CRC: Dynamics and Directions of Monitoring its Implementation’) and Van Bueren (‘Acknowledging Children as International Citizens: A Child-sensitive Communication Mechanism for the Convention on the Rights of the Child’) both employ a normative lens to the legal framework of the CRC. Van Bueren argues for the establishment of a communicative mechanism for children, as it would truly recognise children as citizens, and fully implement the right to participation embodied in Article 12 of the CRC. Van Doek reviews the reporting mechanisms of the CRC, considering that the time may be right to consider a Committee power to take urgent action where there are violations of children’s rights occurring in a state party’s jurisdiction (see also Kilkelly at pp.182-185).
As to the second aspect, that of analysis of the contemporary application of the CRC, Ennew’s chapter (‘Has Research Improved the Human Rights of Children? Or Have the Information Needs of the CRC Improved Data about Children’) makes an important contribution in providing empirical data on the content of reporting and highlighting the lack of child-specific research data. The next four chapters provide close legal analysis of the legal framework of the CRC, its operation, and its relationship with other children’s rights instruments. Kilkelly (‘Using the Convention on the Rights of the Child in Law and Policy: Two Ways to Improve Compliance') underscores the practical usefulness of the CRC for children. Using examples from her own empirical research, she demonstrates how the CRC can be used as a benchmark through the process of rights auditing. She further analyses the use of the CRC’s key principles in ‘strategic litigation’ even where the treaty has not been formally adopted in domestic legislation. Stalford and Drywood’s contribution ‘Using the CRC to Inform EU Law and Policy-making’ is a highly original analysis of the relationship between the CRC and the EU’s legal framework. As they note, children’s rights have more recently come onto the EU’s agenda as the Union moves away from a purely economic focus. They demonstrate how the CRC is increasingly being woven into the EU legislative framework and used as an interpretive tool in judicial decision making. Gran (‘The Roles of Independent Children’s Rights Institutions in Implementing the CRC’) considers the role of Ombudsman-like institutions. As is a theme of this volume, empirical research is used to comment on the importance of these institutions in providing an independent voice for children. William’s contribution ‘Multi-level Governance and CRC Implementation’ is a fascinating analysis of how the traditional concept of a treaty being a relationship with the state party is in practice a complex set of relationships, particularly where a state may have devolved governments. The relationships with non-governmental organisations are also considered.
The last four chapters consider the application of children’s rights frameworks and instruments to key [*99] issues affecting contemporary children. Croke and Crowley (‘Human Rights and Child Poverty in the UK: Time for Change’) argue that children’s rights instruments have the potential to hold the UK government to account for child poverty, or at least to ventilate the issue at an international level. Webb (‘An Exploration of the Discrimination-Rights Dynamic in Relation to Children’) turns the human rights lens to the issue of discrimination. She analyses discrimination against children in the UK context and internationally. Particularly of interest is the consideration of the possible conflict between rights and values for children. Goldhagen and Mercer’s chapter (‘Child Health Equity: From Theory to Reality’) draws parallels between the principles of medical ethics and the key principles of children’s rights, and argues that the CRC should provide a framework for policy and service delivery in the area of child health and wellbeing. The final contribution (‘Our Rights, Our Story: Funky Dragon’s Report to the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child’) is a fitting conclusion to the volume. It speaks to the experience of a Welsh organisation dedicated to ensuring the voice of children and youth is heard at a national and international level.
Taken as a whole, the volume combines retrospective and prospective analysis of the conceptual foundations of the CRC with pragmatic discussion of its contemporary application. In this the volume is a valuable addition to the scholarly literature on the CRC and children’s rights. Of particular originality is the close analysis of the legal framework of the CRC, notably by Kilkelly and Stalford and Drywood.
The volume will be patently of interest to those pursuing academic research and study in the area of law, sociology, political science and social policy, as those disciplines intersect with children’s rights. Some contributions (Stalford and Drywood, and Funky Dragon) will be of particular practical use to legislators and policy makers, and non-governmental organisations.
Copyright 2014 by the Author, Nessa Lynch.