Children Gain Access to International Justice

Sara Austin - 16th April 2014

This week marks a major breakthrough in international justice for children. It is a turning point in a deeply personal battle of justice for children that I have fought for the past 15 years. I have dedicated my life to defending the rights of children around the world, particularly the most vulnerable children. Through my work at World Vision, I have had the opportunity to travel extensively to do research, programs, and policy work to empower children affected by extreme poverty and exploitation. I have advocated for the implementation of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) and have worked hand in hand with children, NGOs and governments to help realize the rights the CRC contains.

Through my experiences, I was struck over and over again by the fact that so many of the children I met were living lives that were starkly different from those promised to them by their governments. The CRC was a shining beacon of hope for all of the possibilities that life could hold for children. And yet, day in and day out I met children who were fighting to survive, let alone thrive.

As an advocate, I was using all of the tools available to me to bring about change, and yet even the United Nations was struggling to hold governments accountable. Year after year, children and NGOs have submitted reports to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child concerning the gaps in progress. And year after year, the UN Committee has issued stern conclusions and recommendations to governments. But the pace of change has been painfully slow.

When the opportunity arose during my graduate studies at Oxford to develop a dissertation on the rights of children, I wrestled with what I could contribute that would make a meaningful change in the lives of the children I had met. The biggest gap that I saw was that while 193 States had ratified the CRC, nothing tangible could be done to ensure that children received justice when their rights were systematically denied.

Through that process, I developed a proposal for the creation of the 3rd Optional Protocol to the CRC (OP3 CRC), and went on to launch and lead the global campaign that helped bring this law into force on April 14, 2014. It was a tangible contribution that I could make towards protecting the rights of children and to helping ensure that they receive the justice they so urgently need.

The OP3 CRC allows children, groups of children or their representatives, who claim that their rights have been violated by their State, to bring a communication/complaint to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child. It also allows any interested party to provide information about grave or systematic violations of children’s rights to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child through an inquiry procedure.

The challenge is that this procedure is only available to children if their State has ratified the OP3 CRC. Children have waited too long for this moment, and many more will continue to wait for their governments to take tangible action to bring their rights into reality. As the international community prepares to mark the CRC’s 25th anniversary this November, I urge the members of the UN to refrain from delaying justice any longer. I commend the 10 Member States that took swift action to ratify the OP3 and ensure its entry into force, and I am encouraged by the 45 States that have signed the protocol and are taking steps towards ratification. I urge the remaining 138 States that have ratified the CRC to also ratify the OP3 without delay.

We simply cannot afford to let more precious lives slip away while rationalizing delays in providing timely justice. In the spirit of the promises made to children when the CRC was first created 25 years ago, UN Member States should show children that their rights really do have meaning by immediately ratifying the OP3 CRC.


Author profile

Sara L. Austin is a Director at World Vision Canada and a Steering Committee Member of the International Coalition for the Optional Protocol for the Convention on the Rights of the Child.


Sarah Austin, ‘Children Gain Access to International Justice’ (OxHRH Blog, 16 April 2014) <> [date of access].

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