We are pleased to welcome this guest post from Sarah Field. Sarah is a human rights practitioner with global experience supporting the rights-based development of the rule of law, a Post-Doctoral Researcher at the Faculty of Law, University College Cork and the founder of the developing legal advocacy project — askingthechildquestion. This posting is part of a series probing the paradoxes and consequences of children’s invisibility within peace processes and the challenges and possibilities for more inclusive processes.
Over 1,000 days of conflict in Syria, the impact on Syria’s nine million children continues to deepen. Scan a selection of media headlines focusing on the deliberate targeting of children by all sides, or the conflict’s domino effect on children’s broader rights; review some of the statistics the 11,000+ deceased children, one million child refugees, unknown numbers of detained children, or simply read the findings of the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Syria.
What are these reports if not a call to action? Why, then, are children — 43 per cent of the Syrian population —invisible within the peace agreements to date? There is no reference to children within Geneva Communiqué I and just one reference within the Communiqué of the London 11.
Of course, the reasons for children’s invisibility are complicated (see ‘believing in the possibility of an inclusive peace’). Indeed framed by the political challenges of securing a peaceful solution, the inattention to children may be viewed as justifiable. History, though, tells us another story — within, and between, these challenges, there are possibilities for asking the human rights question generally and the child question specifically.
These possibilities are sparked, at least in part, by those very same political challenges: the fractured, stalling form provides space; the hybrid legal character ensures enhanced regard for international law; and the frequent-conflation of principled commitments to human rights and political imperatives (including of advancing the peace momentum) opens space for asking the human rights question.
The question, then, is how: how to ensure children’s rights ‘in’ and ‘through’ the process. To an extent the answer is simple: fulfilling those promises our representatives made to children over twenty-four years ago through the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child whose signatories include the Syrian Arab Republic. Two commitments within the CRC are of particular relevance to the context of decision-making towards peace agreements: the legal obligations to ensure the best interests of the child and assure respect for children’s views within decision-making affecting them.
A possible beginning is to appoint a legal representative to the process with a mandate to ask the child question, in other words to raise the subject of children and their rights. Without such a structural response, there is no certainty that the child question will be asked as the Syrian peace trajectory edges falteringly forward. History suggests the politicking of the space will, at best, limit and at worst preclude consideration of children’s rights and interests.
If the child question remains unasked, the possibility of outcomes for children ‘in’ and ‘through’ the process is reduced. And, since the present pre-negotiation agreements are likely to transform, at some stage, into more substantive negotiations (some of which may even acquire constitutional status), the outcomes of these negotiations may have influence and impact now and into the future.
As Geneva II (planned for 22nd January 2014) edges ever nearer, now is surely the time to ask the child question.