There is a growing consensus that the measures put in place around the world to stem the spread of Covid-19 have had a devastating impact on children’s rights.
When you shut schools and move to online learning, you risk undermining children’s right to education – particularly those from poorer backgrounds without digital access or those with special educational needs and disabilities. When you close playgrounds and restrict social interaction, you deny children their right to play. When you shut children in their homes, it becomes harder to fulfil their right to protection from violence or their right to be heard.
Few could deny measures were needed to protect children’s right to health. But it could be argued that the negative impact of those measures on their other rights could have been better anticipated, and even mitigated, if governments had assessed the potential impact of their decisions before making them.
A little less action, a little more conversation
At its simplest, a child rights impact assessment (CRIA) is a set of questions that help professionals to understand how their proposals will protect, advance or, conversely, violate children’s rights. It then helps them to plan how to mitigate any negative impacts.
Crucially, a CRIA offers a framework to critically assess whether the best interests of the child, one of the guiding principles of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC), are at the heart of the proposed action or policy.
As well as bringing research and analysis to bear on decisions that affect children, CRIAs also increase the legitimacy of, and public support for, local government decisions. Publishing CRIAs provides a record of the deliberations that took place, the evidence on which decisions were based, the conclusions reached, and the mitigations identified to limit any negative impact on children and their rights.
CRIAs are not currently mandatory in the UK, but the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child called for them to become a statutory obligation at all levels of government in its last review of the country’s children’s rights record.
Making the best decisions for, and with, children and young people
Decisions are made every day about children’s lives. Most of the time, they exclude the very people they will affect. With no vote, limited power to speak up on their own behalf and less access to complaints mechanisms than adults, a CRIA can be a powerful tool for including children in decision-making.
At the local authorities partnering with the UK Committee for UNICEF (UNICEF UK) through its Child Friendly Cities and Communities programme, CRIAs are becoming as familiar and standardised as equality impact assessments – used in strategic planning and commissioning, policy development, problem-solving, programme prioritisation, budget-setting, as well as service design and delivery.
For example, in an inner London borough a CRIA exposed why young people were not accessing their local substance misuse service, despite high levels of need in the area. Young people who used the service were invited to give evidence to inform the CRIA and it soon became apparent that they were avoiding visiting the service as it was located near a cultural centre where they may have bumped into friends or family members. Based on this evidence, the CRIA proposed an outreach provision in different safe and accessible locations, leading to an increase in uptake.
In Scotland, the only place in the world to produce a CRIA on its Coronavirus Act, exemptions were made to rules around social gatherings so that children and young people could continue to enjoy their right to leisure and play.
Would the same decisions have been made at the beginning of the pandemic had CRIAs been carried out in other nations? Possibly. But a CRIA would have helped to expose the knock-on effects and put forward mitigations that could have alleviated much of the hardship facing the world’s children 16 months on.
Read more about the Child Friendly Cities and Communities programme