Civil society organisations and non-governmental organisations - Childrens Rights Reform

Civil society organisations and non-governmental organisations

CSOs and NGOs

A civil society organisation (CSO) or non-governmental organisation (NGO) is any non-profit, voluntary citizens’ group which is organised on a local, national or international level (UN).

This could include many different kinds of organisations, such as: community groups, labour unions, indigenous peoples' movements, faith-based organisations, professional associations, foundations, think tanks, charitable organisations, and other not-for-profit organisations (World Bank).

Role of civil society in children’s rights legislative reform

Civil society, represented through CSOs and NGOs, can play an important role in advocating and pressuring the government to engage in legislative reform, and in helping to increase political support (Kilkelly et al. 2021). They can flag gaps in current legislation.

  • Some CSOs and NGOs have a comprehensive approach towards children’s rights. However, often CSOs and NGOs have specific focus areas, which make them important stakeholders for specific elements of a comprehensive children’s rights legislative reform. Gathering input from CSOs and NGOs with different focuses and areas of expertise helps to ensure that the legislation will not omit any areas. This should be kept in mind when the aim is to reform legislation in a comprehensive manner, and it requires coordination from the government to properly use the input provided.
  • CSOs and NGOs can play an important role in the follow-up of the recommendations from UN and regional human rights bodies, which can provide important input for children’s rights legislative reform: Save the Children, How to Advance Children’s Rights using Recommendations from United Nations and Regional Human Rights Monitoring and Review Processes (2022)

CSOs and NGOs can make substantial inputs in children’s rights legislative reform. In fact, CSOs and NGOs specialised in children’s issues have in-depth knowledge on the issues faced by children in their countries and often engage directly with children. They are thus in a privileged position to make recommendations for legislative reform, and provide advice on what would be the implications of a particular legislation on children.

E.g.: Groupe Enfance, a coalition of 19 NGOs for children’s rights in France, advocated for the inclusion of children’s rights as one of France’s priorities in the 2021 legislation on development and the fight against global inequalities. This legislation explicitly mentions children’s rights, and underlines the importance of the CRC and its four general principles, equality between girls and boys worldwide, and girls’ right to participation.

CSOs and NGOs can support an inclusive and participatory legislative reform process, including by promoting and supporting the participation of children.

E.g.: In 2017, Brazil approved Law 13431/2017, known as the Law on Protective hearing of children and adolescent victims or witnesses of violence. The drafting and approval of the law are a concrete example of how concerted efforts by different sectors of society can influence good legal practices based on multi-sectoral and interdisciplinary partnerships. This initiative came from an initial alliance between NGO Childhood Brazil and UNICEF’s Country Office, subsequently promoted by the Parliamentary Front for the Promotion and Defence of Children’s Rights. Besides these actors, a Working Group, created in 2015 to discuss the legislative proposal, benefited from contributions from actors from the justice system, law enforcement agents, ministries and professional councils.

CSOs and NGOs can also improve public and political awareness about the importance of children’s rights and the need for legislative reform. They can be an important catalyst to garner public support for legislative reform.

  • They can engage with the media and carry out public education, creating space for public engagement in the legislative reform process (see Media section, below).
  • They can also offer education and training on children’s rights and the importance of the legislative reform processes in this regard.

CSOs and NGOs play an important role in the implementation of the legislation, e.g. by offering education and training to stakeholders and professionals, although the overall responsibility to implement and monitor lies with the government.

CSOs and NGOs can keep States Parties accountable (UNICEF Working Paper 2010). They can monitor and evaluate the implementation of the legislative reform. For example, they can conduct independent impact assessments, carry out research and collect data.

For more information: UNICEF (2010)