Enhancing Children’s Rights in South Asia

UNICEF

Whilst attending Law Asia’s Annual Conference in Colombo, Sri Lanka last summer, BWL’s Counsel, Rule of Law and Human Rights expert, Antje Kunst, met with an NGO that works with children with disabilities and a Buddhist monk engaged in social issues. The trio came up with the idea of bringing Janis McDavid, a young German student and motivational speaker who was born without arms and legs, to Sri Lanka.

Their goal was to change the perception of Sri Lankans towards children with disabilities and to advance their rights under international law, including the UN Convention of the Rights of the Child. The timing could not have been better, as Sri Lanka had just ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD)[1]

A few months later the team was joined by Lalith Ganhewa, a Sri Lankan radio journalist and producer from Berlin and the President of Lanka Help e.V. Deutschland, a humanitarian organisation helping inter alia persons with disabilities in Sri Lanka. After months of hard work involving civil society (e.g., NGOs, academia, media, business etc.), the government of the Southern Province and members of the diplomatic and donor community in Sri Lanka, a tour was organised. In December 2016 and January 2017, Janis delivered motivational speeches to Government officials, NGO representatives, youth leaders, university students, business leaders and other citizens, some senior officials within Embassies and the UN, as well as conducting interviews with the media.  The tour, in respect of which Antje played a crucial coordination, communication and planning role, was very successful.

In March 2017, a second tour took place and Janis provided a motivational speech before the Sri Lankan business community at a Rotary district conference. This time Antje, a former Senior Legal Adviser at the UN, was, together with UNDP Sri Lanka, involved in organising a motivational session in front of the staff of all UN Agencies, including their adolescent children.

The two tours motivated and helped raise awareness in mainstream Sri Lankan society as well as the UN and the diplomatic community in Sri Lanka, of matters important for the implementation of the UNCRPD and the UNCRC, including the importance of inclusive education and parenting.

To ensure the realization of the rights of children during adolescence, in December of last year the UN’s Committee on the Rights of the Child published a new General Comment [2] providing guidance to States on the necessary measures. The Committee stated “the potential of adolescents is widely compromised because States parties do not recognize or invest in the measures needed for them to enjoy their rights.” UNICEF South Asia’s goal to promote investment by state parties in the 340 Million adolescents in South Asia prompted the Deputy Head of the Regional Office South Asia to invite Janis to a conference held in May 2017 in Nepal. Janis opened the conference, which was attended by senior officials of all UNICEF South Asia’s country offices, with a keynote motivational speech which Antje helped to prepare, covering the topics of investment in, and fulfilment of, children’s rights, including in adolescence, leaving no child behind. His speech, which was widely disseminated in the social media and which was also addressed to the young people of South Asia, was focused on motivating that group to advocate for the realization of their rights.

Janis’ successful appearance in Nepal prompted the UNICEF Bangladesh country office to follow suit. In July 2017 Janis delivered motivational speeches to UNICEF’s HQ and field staff in and near Dhaka, the aim of which was to drive the achievement of results by its staff, including by ensuring the the fulfilment of rights of children. He also spoke to around 100 adolescent club members in the Mirpur slum with a view to enhancing their motivation to work as social change agents, which was supported by UNICEF.

The advancement of human rights, in particular of the most vulnerable members of society, i.e. children and young adults, including those with disabilities, requires a committed government machinery, supported by a motivated UN staff (e.g., of UNICEF), as well as motivated rights’ holders, e.g., the millions of adolescents and children and their caregivers in South Asia. Antje’s pro-bono work in South Asia was aimed at contributing positively to this noble endeavour.

Antje is very grateful to all those who helped to make this ambitious project a success, in particular to Martin Henrich – Rainbow-Project Baddegama; Samitha Baddegama Thero; Lalith Ganheva – Lanka Help e.V. Deutschland; Zahabia Adamaly; Lasanthi Senarath Attanayake & colleagues, Kelaniya University and the International Centre for Ethnic Studies; Rakitha Karunaratne and his team, German Goethe Institute Sri Lanka; Senake Amerasinghe – former Rotary District Governor and his team; Banthe Devananda; Una Macauley, Dilupa Fernando and their team at UNDP Sri Lanka; Philippe Cori and his team at UNICEF Regional Office for South Asia; Sara Bordas Eddy and her team at UNICEF Bangladesh Country Office; and of course, Janis McDavid.

 

[1] The purpose of the convention is to promote, and protect the full and equal enjoyment of all human rights and fundamental freedoms by all persons with disabilities.

[2] General Comments provide authoritative interpretations of children’s rights under the Convention.

 

Antje Kunst

Counsel, Rule of Law and Human Rights Expert

antjekunst@brettonwoodslaw.com

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