Optional Protocol 3 to the UNCRC: A Communications Procedure
Optional Protocol 3 to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) on a Communications Procedure (hereafter referred to as OP3 CRC) is an international human rights treaty that allows children, groups of children or their representatives, who claim that their rights have been violated by their State to bring a communication, or complaint, before the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child.
It allows children to approach the UN if their rights are not being protected in their country and they have exhausted all domestic remedies to seek justice.
It also allows any interested party to provide information about grave or systematic violations of chid rights to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child (through the inquiry procedure).
What kind of violations can be raised?
Children, groups of children or their representatives can bring communications, or complaints, concerning the violation of rights guaranteed under the UNCRC, the Optional Protocol to the UNCRC on the sale of Children, child prostitution and child pornography, and/or the Optional Protocol to the UNCRC on the involvement of children in armed conflict, if their State has ratified those treaties.
But they will only be able to use this international procedure if their State also ratifies the OP3 CRC, and only after the OP3 CRC has become international law, or 'entered into force', i.e. after 10 States have ratified the OP3 CRC. This took place on 14th April 2014.
Where are we now?
As of 8th February 2016, 25 States have ratified OP3 CRC. The first 10 States to ratify and secure its entry into force were Thailand, Gabon, Germany, Bolivia, Albania, Spain, Portugal, Montenegro, Slovakia and Belgium.
50 States have signed OP3 CRC, indicating their intention to ratify.
At the UK's examination at the Human Rights Council under the Universal Periodic Review in 2012, the UK Government was urged to ratify the new Optional Protocol. Alongside other children's rights alliances and the four Children's Commissioners across the UK, Together is also encouraging the UK and devolved governments to sign up to the Optional Protocol.
The Scottish Government has welcomed the Optional Protocol in principle and "would be minded to offer measured support for its signature and ratification in the future." However, the Scottish Government states that before doing so, "it is important to better understand exactly how the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child intends to apply the Protocol."
In the UNCRC UK draft 5th periodic report to the UN Commitee on the Rights of the Child, the UK stated that it is "still considering how this Optional Protocol might add practical value for people in the UK." The UK Government has committed to "keep the matter under review in light of emerging information about its application in practice."
The UK Government has still not signed OP3 CRC, stating that the UK has effective laws under which individuals may seek enforceable remedies in the courts if their rights have been breached. However, the failure to incorporate the UNCRC into a domestic law means that it cannot be relied on directly in the courts. The importance of giving children the right of individual petition to the UN Committee through the ratification of the Optional Protocol has been highlighted by the UK Joint Committee on Human Rights.
OP3 CRC resources
A child-friendly leaflet has been developed by Child Rights Connect to inform children about the new protocol to the UNCRC on a communications procedure.
The office of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General (SRSG) on Violence against Children launched a child-friendly guide to the UNCRC's complaints procedure.
The guide is entitled Raising Understanding Among Children and Young People on the Optional Protocol on a Communications Procedure. It aims to raise children's awareness about their rights and enhance their confidence to speak up and seek support.
The Child Rights Information Network (CRIN) has produced a toolkit explaining how the complaints procedure works, and includes an annotated guide, as well as a comparative guide to other international communications procedures of the UN.
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