What is an Ombuds for Children?
The names, mandates, functioning and activities of independepent human rights institutions for children vary from country to country and between regions within a country. International standards provide guidelines on the key elements of such institutions and the activities that should be carried out by them. According to ENOC Standards, "individual states will need to design a model appropriate to their governmental and legal systems, which takes account of existing institutions and makes the most effective use of available resources."
Among the common characteristics of independent human rights institutions for children are:
- Established by legislation;
- Independence, at both financial and political levels;
- Pluralistic representation of the various elements of the civil society;
- Geographically and physically accessible to children;
- Broad mandate, including powers to carry out investigations, monitor institutions where children spend time, advocate on behalf of children's rights, denounce children's rights violations and raise awareness of the human rights of children among children and adults;
- Child participation, efforts to promote respect for the views of children in all matters affecting them and to adapt the office for listening and communicating with children;
- Partnerships and cooperation with a wide range of actors at national, regional and international levels.
The CRC Committee considers that independent human rights institutions for children should carry out the following activities:
- Undertake investigations into any situation of violation of children's rights;
- Conduct inquiries on matters relating to children's rights;
- Prepare and publicize opinions, recommendations and reports;
- Keep under review the adequacy and effectiveness of law and practice relating to the protection of children's rights;
- Promote harmonization of national legislation, regulations and practices with the CRC and its additional Protocols and other international human rights instruments ;
- Ensure that national economic policy makers take children's rights into account in setting and evaluating national economic and development plans;
- Monitor, review and report on the Government's implementation of children's rights;
- Encourage ratification of, or accession to, any relevant international human rights instruments;
- Promote public understanding and awareness of the importance of children's rights and undertake human rights education;
- Take legal proceedings to vindicate children's rights in the State or provide legal assistance to children;
- Engage in mediation or conciliation processes before taking cases to court, where appropriate; and
- Provide expertise in children's rights to the courts.
The main strength of these institutions lies in their independence, which enables them to keep children's rights, and in particular the best interest of the child, at the core of their work. Direct interactions with children give them the legitimacy and authority to speak out on behalf of children and make children's voices reach decision-makers. They can influence public debate and policy change and build alliances in a strategic manner based on the knowledge and experience they have gathered from their daily work on the ground.