Child Rights Defenders and how to become one

Posted on Posted in Children's Rights, Empowerment

In the wake of the 30th anniversary of the The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC), Humanium hopes to shine some light on the children who have been fighting for human rights, child rights defenders, and those wanting to become one.

Child Rights Defender and DGD

In recent years, child rights defenders have received much more attention. This can be witnessed through the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child’s 2018 Day of General Discussion (DGD), focused on the theme “Protecting and empowering children as human rights defenders.” (OHCHR, n.d.) The meeting considered how to bring about a global movement for children human rights defenders, with the inclusion of children, States, National Human Rights Institutions, the UN, civil society and the private sector.

Child Rights Connect organized a Children’s Advisory Team, with 21 child advisors, from 19 countries. With the committee’s goal to include children, there were 34 child speakers and motivators. (Child Rights Connect, n.d.) With these actors, the goal was to identify what needed to be done for child rights-related “laws, policies and practices to take adequate account of children as human rights defenders.” (OHCHR, n.d.) This discussion followed after Child Rights Connect’s launch of the first global programme on children human rights defenders in 2017.

Humanium is member of Child Rights Connect (CRC), the Geneva organization that drafted the UN Convention on Children’s Rights 30 years ago. It is connected as an NGO (non-governmental organization) with the UN human rights system in order to establish sustainable change. It defines child rights defenders as “children who take action to promote their human rights, the rights of their peers or the rights of others (including adults)” (Child Rights Connect, n.d.). The United Nations Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner (OHCHR) considers a similar definition. (OHCHR, n.d.)

Issue with Child Rights Defenders, and Child Rights Connect

According to Article 1 of the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, “everyone has the right, individually and in association with others, to promote and to strive for the protection and realization of human rights.” (Child Rights Connect, n.d.)

However, unfortunately, children are often discriminated as they are not recognized as responsible enough to lead an activist movement. (Fauconnier, 2019) The main issues child rights defenders are visibility and protection. How to become a child rights defender, and how to be protected?

As recognized by Child Rights Connect, children’s rights defenders can gain visibility locally, nationally, regionally, or internationally. Many of these children do not know that there are institutional frameworks aimed at protecting them, and granting them visibility and protection in their activism. Child Rights Connect is trying to change the situation for these children, and they have done much for child rights defenders. The organization is well placed for this as it works closely with the The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), the UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights defenders and many other experts. It can thus truly put the children in contact with the UN. (Child Rights Connect, n.d.)

The United Nations Major Group for Children and Youth

Another association that works closely with the UN and children is The United Nations Major Group for Children and Youth. It is the UN official space for children and youth under 30, engaging them in the making of “sustainable development policies at all levels.”

The areas include intergovernmental and allied policy processes at the UN. They give children a space onto which they can voice their opinions regarding UN policies. Furthermore, they facilitate the subjects regarding sustainable development, and the UN system so that children can enhance their understanding. You can get involved online via their website, and become a member of the Children and Youth International (CYI), the legal entity of UNMGCY. (United Nations Major Group for Children and Youth / Children and Youth International, n.d.)

Defence for Children’s International

Another association that aims at including children in their actions is Defence for Children International. Considering children as advocates of their own rights, DCI advocates children’s participation as one of their pillar. On the governmental level, they are pushing States to ratify the Third Optional Protocol to the UNCRC, which permits children to submit complaints about violation of rights. DCI tries to ensure child participation in all of its activities, “including child-led submissions for the UNCRC Committee,” which is a gateway to the UN.

They also allow children to reflect on the meaning of being a child rights defender. For example, on the International Day of the African Child in 2018, the International Secretariat of the DCI with country partners held a meeting with children on which they collected their experiences and opinions on what it means to be a child rights defender. (Defence for Children International, n.d.)

Children on the UN stage

The UN has been open about welcoming children on stage. In 2013, Malala Yousafzai was invited to speak about girls and boys’ right to education, and the Taliban’s actions, a terrorist group that shot her in the Swat Valley of Pakistan in October 2012. (Theirworld, n.d.)

Recently, Greta Thunberg, a 16 year old protesting the world’s lack of attention towards climate change, participated at the UN summit. She first gained international attention at the UN COP 24 on climate change in December 2018. (CBS, 2019) Children are thus able to find a gateway through the United Nations. There are organizations and systems in place to grant them easier access to that right, even if children are still found to be discriminated.

How to become a child rights defender?

There are indeed many issues that children are exclusively facing today, and this is why the fight for child rights defenders is crucial. By making it easier for them to speak, we get one step closer to equality. Organizations in direct or indirect connection with the UN have been able to engage children in their activities, so that they have better access to the UN.

At Humanium we value empowering children. Each project emphasizes autonomy and sustainable development, which considers children’s own right to their fight. You, our reader, also have the opportunity to get involved. By contacting the websites of organizations, you can participate in meetings, and global movements through which you can meet children willing to fight the same cause, in the hope of raising awareness at the UN.

It is important to remember that there are systems in place which help you do so. This is the first step to take if you want to become a child rights activist. Indeed, think about what you want to fight for, study the rights that you consider infringed, and contact an organization which can help you built a community of like-minded people, and eventually gain visibility.

Together we can make the world a better place for children.

Written by Leah Benque


CBS (2019, May 29), “Teen climate activist Greta Thunberg meets with world leaders and “starstruck” Schwarzenegger,” CBS News. Retrieved from CBS News:

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Child Rights Connect. (n.d.), “United Nations Entry Points,” Child Rights Connect. Retrieved from Child Rights Connect What We Do:

Defence for Children International. (n.d.), “Child Participation,” Defence for Children International. Retrieved from DCI Child Participation:

Fauconnier, Maureen. (2019, April 16), “Children Human Rights Defenders: a need for empowerment and protection of our children,” Humanium. Retrieved from Humanium:

Theirworld. (n.d.), “Malala Yousafzai’s speech at the Youth Takeover of the United Nation,”Theirworld A Brighter Future for Every Child. Retrieved from Theirworld Explainers:

United Nations Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner (OHCHR). (n.d.), “Day of General Discussion: “Protecting and Empowering Children as Human Rights Defenders”,” United Nations Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner. Retrieved from OHCHR Committee on the Rights of the Child:

United Nations Major Group for Children and Youth / Children and Youth International. (n.d.), “Get involved,” United Nations Major Group for Children and Youth. Retrieved from UNMGCY Get Involved:

United Nations Major Group for Children and Youth / Children and Youth International. (n.d.), “Who are we?,” United Nations Major Group for Children and Youth. Retrieved from UNMGCY About: