The Year in Children's Rights: CRIN's Annual Report 2016

Date: 13th December 2016
Category: General principles

CRIN's annual report aims to provide a snapshot of progress and challenges in realising children's rights globally. The report is based on information gathered from the news, at the UN and on legal reform around the world between September 2015 and December 2016.


From a year disfigured by violence and cynicism, whether bombings in Paris and Beirut, random shootings, or organised repression of dissidents in Turkey and elsewhere - the inventory needs no introduction - CRIN believe they can salvage opportunities to recharge and redirect children's rights activism.

First the report looks at where we stand as civil society. In an environment in which authorities look for respectable-sounding reasons to choke out free speech and claw away the right to privacy, we must have the courage to work outside the system to challenge power that refuses to admit fault.

In 2016 those both in and coveting power sought to co-opt children's advocates and other challenging voices in their attempts to sharpen divisions and dampen dissent. Teachers were exhorted to surveil children's behaviour and internet use to identify any possible 'radicalisation'. This happened most notably as part of the UK's Prevent programme but also in France, Australia and beyond. Privatisation of education persisted, promoted as part of development aid and bolstered by the private sector's funding of the Sustainable Development Goals. Intimidation and harassment of human rights activists continued the world over, but the UK Charities Commission took a more insidious path, discouraging NGOs from speaking out publicly about how the decision to stay in or leave the European Union would affect them. And that's without mentioning the global impact of the US election results and attendant rhetoric of intolerance.

Children's views on these and other world events were marginalised, but their stories of protest are instructive. Children in Brazil occupied schools, outraged at the poor quality of education and in defiance of police brutality. Schoolchildren in the UK confronted NGOs and UNICEF over their use of emotive pictures of children, declaring them undignified. Children in Ethiopia, Angola and elsewhere lost their lives in protests defending democracy. All these children showed a refusal to compromise in the face of power, whether its source was overtly hostile or professing to act in their interests.

At a time in which civil society's independence is jeopardised by restrictions imposed by governments shutting down debate, and by donors insisting that all work must result in a grand total of how many children have been 'saved', we too must remain authentic and stick to our principles. Children's rights work will always be adversarial because it requires holding those in power to account. It also necessitates long-term commitment and complex discussions that can never be quantified meaningfully by ticking boxes and counting children. We must therefore have the courage to speak out and show solidarity with others who are willing to do the same. This is all the more important at a time when the United Nations' moral authority has been repeatedly punctured by its mishandling of child sexual abuse revelations and surrender to political pressure on children's rights issues: we must all now act as the guardian of our values.

The need to question our positions is true within as well as outside the children's rights movement. We want to encourage debate without fearing that this will not always result in consensus. CRIN have instigated new debates about ending the detention of children and proposing criteria for setting minimum ages and are planning others.