IFSW meets the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child
The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child welcomed a discussion with the International Federation of Social Workers (IFSW) on 1 February 2008 at the Palais Wilson in Geneva. The meeting enabled an exchange of views and laid foundations for joint work in the future. IFSW was represented by myself as IFSW President and Ellen Mouravieff-Apostol, the IFSW Main Representative to the UN in Geneva.The meeting arose out of discussions over several months involving some of the members of the Committee and IFSW representatives to the UN in Geneva. IFSW has given great significance to the work of the Committee and to the importance of the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC). However we have been concerned that the committee seems to have given greater attention to legal and juridical issues and that this needed to be balanced by greater awareness of practical, social issues involved in implementation of the Convention. Social workers are one of the main professions internationally supporting implementation of the Convention, at individual, family and community levels, so we wanted to encourage this awareness.
IFSW has had formal representative status at the UN for most of its 50 years. There are teams working at the UN in New York, Geneva, Vienna and Nairobi. All team members do the work on a voluntary basis; they ensure that the voice of social work is heard when the UN is debating social issues. IFSW works closely with other Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) and often makes joint statements with our colleagues. We have an especially close relationship with our two sister organisations, the International Association of Schools of Social Work (IASSW) and the International Council on Social Welfare (ICSW). The IFSW Main Representative in Geneva, Ellen Mouravieff-Apostol, has a close working relationship with a number of UN agencies and global organisations based in Geneva working with children and had a close working relationship with UNICEF. Waltraut Kerber-Ganse is also a key member of the IFSW Geneva team and she played the lead role in organising the meeting with the CRC.
The Committee on the Rights of the Child
The membership of the Committee on the Rights of the Child is made up of 18 independent experts who are ‘persons of high moral character and recognised competence in the field of human rights’. They are elected for a term of four years by States parties in accordance with article 43 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child. Members serve in their personal capacity and may be re-elected if nominated.
Several members of the Committee have an interest in social work and have contacts with social workers. Maria Herczog from Hungary joined the Committee in 2007; she is a former President of the Hungarian Association of Social Workers and had previously served on the IFSW World Executive. Lothar Friedrich Krappmann from Germany is Professor of Sociology of Education at the Freie Universität in Berlin and Guest Researcher (post-retirement) at the Max Planck Institute for Human Development and Education. They were both especially helpful in facilitating the meeting and IFSW is most grateful for their assistance.
It took some time to finalise the date for the meeting because the Committee holds only 3 sessions a year, usually lasting around 2 weeks. Their main business is discussion of accountability reports from the representatives of states which have signed the Convention. The Committee issues a report on each country’s progress towards implementation of the Convention and highlights any issues which need improvement.
The date for the meeting with IFSW was finally agreed as the last day of the 2008 winter session. The meeting took place in the Palais Wilson, the global headquarters of the UN work on human rights and the base for the Committee on the Rights of the Child. Most of the Committee members were present in the large room where they hold their public sessions.
Meeting the Committee
In my introduction, I spoke about the global role of the Federation in more than 80 countries, working through national organisations representing more than 510,000 social workers. I emphasised IFSW’s close working relationship with IASSW and ICSW. I welcomed the approach adopted by the Committee since its creation, aiming to work collaboratively with states parties to improve compliance with the Convention and to enhance the situation of children throughout the world and I suggested this mirrored the basic approach of social work, needing to find points of common interest and build on strengths.
IFSW tabled a background paper including issues which had been identified through consultation with IFSW member organisations and Executive members.
The specific issues were grouped under the following headings:
- Poverty and Social Exclusion
- Planning and Provision (including service improvement)
IFSW also provided copies of the IFSW training manual giving guidance on social work practice and implementation of the Convention, which has been available from the IFSW office in Bern, Switzerland for several years. The manual was welcomed by Committee members.
The subsequent discussion ranged over a wide range of issues and included exploration of the role and training of social workers and their approach to working with children, young people and families. Committee members recognised the value of the social work profession in promoting the rights of children in practical ways and there was discussion of possible areas for future co-operation to enhance the well-being of children throughout the world. IFSW is considering work to develop operational guidance on implementation of two core principles in the Convention, namely ‘best interests of the child’ and ‘participation of young people and children’ and will discuss this with Committee members.
After almost two hours of exchanges, the Committee’s Vice-Chair, Kamel Filali, who acted as Chairperson on this occasion, thanked the IFSW President and Ellen Mouravieff-Apostol, for their visit and their presentations. Recognising the many obstacles that still need to be overcome to reach the full implementation of the Convention, he was grateful for the contribution of social workers in many fields, not least in preventing child right violations through work with parents and the community.
I thanked members of the Committee for their kind invitation to IFSW and generous welcome and said IFSW would continue joint work on these important issues for children and families.
This was a welcome and highly significant meeting for global social work with the Committee on the Rights of the Child. Social workers are one of the main professional groups supporting implementation of the Convention in a practical way. IFSW welcomes continued co-operation with the Committee (and our other NGO partners) and will ensure that we take up the challenge to develop some practical guidance on the specific issues raised.
Above all, it was good to hear Committee members recognising the key role of social workers in work with children and families and emphasising the central importance of social work in upholding implementation of the Convention. The meeting was good for the profile and standing of social work and I hope will help to enhance the rights of children and young people.