New Zealand, Britain, Sweden and Norway each have one and last week it was announced that by the end of 2012, Australia will have a National Children’s Commissioner. Sitting within the Australian Human Rights Commission, the National Commissioner’s role will be to promote the rights, well-being and development of children and young people in Australia. The Commissioner will raise awareness of issues affecting children, undertake research and education programs and monitor the Government’s legislation, policy and programs relating to children’s rights, well-being and development (Attorney General for Australia, 2012).
The responsibilities of the National Commissioner are in line with the General Measure of Implementation (GIM) of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which states the importance of establishing co-ordinating and monitoring bodies to ensure that all children enjoy all rights of the Convention (UNHCR, 2003).
The Convention on the Rights of the child is the most ratified treaty in the world. Yet this strong show of commitment by governments is not always reflected in action. In many countries, some of the rights set out in the Convention are yet to be incorporated into national legislation meaning that although the commitment has been made at an international level, there is no legal instrument at a national level to ensure its implementation.
In Australia assessments of the quality of child well-being have shown some poor results, despite the country being a signatory to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, developed, wealthy and peaceful with low levels of poverty.
Drawing on a UNICEF IRC 2007 publication, ‘Child poverty in perspective: an overview of child well-being in rich countries’, in 2008 UNICEF Australia partnered with the Australian Research Alliance for Children and Youth (ARACY) to develop a unique report card on the wellbeing of young Australians. With the absence of internationally-agreed upon indicators of child well-being, the CRC is an ideal source of guidance and was applied in both studies to assess the situation for children. In the Australia study eight dimensions of child well-being were used for analysis:
- Material well-being
- Health and safety
- Educational well-being
- Behaviours and risks
- Subjective well-being
The findings of the report revealed that Australia’s progress was behind that of many other developed nations in some indicators. Indigenous Australian babies were found to have the lowest birth weight in the OECD and Australia ranked 20th of 27 countries for infant mortality. Teenage pregnancy rates were significantly higher than the OECD average and those for Indigenous young Australians were the highest in the OECD. School achievement for Indigenous young Australians was in the bottom 10% with only two other countries achieving lower scores, Mexico and Turkey (ARACY, 2008).
These results are indicative of how achieving and maintaining child well-being can be a complex process. The presence of peace, economic prosperity, social protection and welfare and, regulatory frameworks are all important factors that contribute to an environment conducive to promoting the well-being of children. However, other strategies are required to ensure delivery on commitments and that the specific needs of disadvantaged populations are met.
The assurance of children’s well-being requires a holistic and multidimensional approach and coordination across ministries and between actors to ensure the social, physical, nutritional, cognitive and emotional developmental needs of children of all ages, living in all different contexts, are met. Additionally, the implementation of initiatives requires monitoring and evaluation and the measurement of progress to ensure accountability and the effective use of resources.
The move by the Australian government to prioritise children and their needs through the nomination of a National Commissioner demonstrates recognition of the importance of children’s rights and well-being and is a hugely positive step towards achieving progress in these areas and improving the situation for all children in Australia.
Australian Research Alliance for Children and Youth (ARACY), 2008, the ARACY Report Card on the Well-being of Young Australians: Technical Report, ARACY, CanberraAustralian Research
Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNHCR), 2003, GENERAL COMMENT No. 5 (2003), General measures of implementation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child (arts. 4, 42 and 44, para. 6), (Accessed 08.05.2012), Available at: http://www.unhchr.ch/tbs/doc.nsf/898586b1dc7b4043c1256a450044f331/3bba808e47bf25a8c1256db400308b9e/$FILE/G0345514.pdf
Save the Children Australia, 2010, National Children's commissioner: Our Position, Policy, Research and Advocacy Department, (Accessed 07.05.2012), Available at: http://www.savethechildren.org.au/resources/position-papers/national-childrens-commissioner.html
UNICEF IRC, 2006, The General Measures of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, (Accessed 07.05.2012), Available at: http://www.unicef-irc.org/publications/415