Independent child rights institutions and national human rights institutions - Childrens Rights Reform

Independent child rights institutions and national human rights institutions

Characteristics of independent child rights institutions and national human rights institutions

Independent child rights institutions, ICRIs, are independent institutions which monitor, promote and protect children’s rights as formulated in the CRC. The mandate and priorities of ICRIs vary from one State to another depending on the historical context, the political and governance structure and the situation of children, among other factors. ICRIs promote children’s rights, monitor and advocate, respond to complaints and encourage child participation (ENOC).

National Human Rights Institutions, NHRIs, are independent bodies which have been given the mandate to promote and protect human rights more generally.

  • NHRIs can have a mandate that also includes children’s rights, but their focus is not exclusively on children.
  • A Children’s Ombudsperson or Commissioner may be embedded in an NHRI (see Kilkelly et al., 2023).
    • For example, the Dutch Children’s Ombudsperson is part of the Dutch NHRI. Greece has positioned its Children’s Ombudsperson in a similar way (for more information, see Klep, Rap, Pattyn 2022)
  • In order to be effective and recognised by the international community, NHRIs must adhere to the standards set out in the Paris Principles, endorsed by the UN General Assembly in 1993. The Global Alliance of National Human Rights Institutions (GANHRI), in collaboration with OHCHR, grants membership and two levels of status based on the criteria set out in the Paris Principles (OHCHR).

According to international standards, ICRIs:

  • Must be legislatively mandated (ideally protected by the Constitution); autonomous and independent from government; and able to independently and effectively monitor, promote and protect children’s rights;
  • Must be competent to consider and investigate individual complaints and conduct investigations, including if brought forward on behalf or by children;
  • Must have the right to report directly, independently and separately to the public and parliament;
  • Should be established through a consultative, inclusive and transparent process;
  • Should work in accordance with the CRC (See also section WHAT);
  • Should be geographically and physically accessible to all children;
  • Should consult and cooperate with relevant bodies on children’s rights issues;
  • Should have the power to:
    • Submit recommendations and/or reports to government, parliament or other competent authority;
    • Promote and ensure implementation of children’s rights;
    • Encourage ratification of relevant human rights instruments;
    • Contribute to international and regional human rights monitoring bodies;
    • Assist in the development and execution of children’s rights education and research;
    • Raise awareness of children’s rights;
    • Support children to take cases to court;
Source and for more information: Kilkelly et al. 2023

According to UNICEF, there are four elements that underpin the effectiveness of ICRIs:


  • Maintaining a reputation of independence gives an institution legitimacy and authority, and helps an institution carry out its mandate.
  • Establishment and appointment processes impact an institution’s potential for independence and accountability.
  • Financial autonomy prevents dependence on the State and allows institutions to set priorities and make decisions without external pressure or political influence.
  • Accountability mechanisms can help to preserve independence by providing ongoing feedback on the institution’s performance that can be made available to the public.
  • It is essential that institutions remain entirely free to set their own agenda and determine their own activities (CRC GC 2, para. 25).

Child participation

  • Independent institutions should ensure that they have direct contact with children, leading to their meaningful participation in the institution’s work.
  • Child participation should be supported by clear provisions and allocation of resources.
  • The institution must be accessible to children, with mechanisms enabling them to reach out under their own initiative.

Receiving complaints on specific child rights violations

  • Independent institutions should have the capacity to respond to complaints on a spectrum of child rights violations, including issues that cannot be addressed by courts. Institutions should allow children to file complaints independently. There should also be a mechanism allowing the institution to initiate investigations into violations of child rights on its own initiative. Complaint mechanisms can further children’s rights by providing remedies to the affected child or group of children, as well as revealing broader, systemic problems and obstacles to the realisation of children’s rights.

International engagement

  • Networking with other independent institutions and human rights bodies can support institutional capacity-building, peer support, sharing of best practices and collective advocacy in support of critical issues.

ICRIs and NHRIs are important mechanisms to promote and monitor the implementation of the CRC, including legislative reform.

  • The CRC Committee considers the establishment of such institutions as falling within States Parties’ commitment to ensure the implementation of the CRC and advance the universal realisation of children’s rights (CRC GC 2, para. 1).
  • Where such institutions already exist, the CRC Committee calls upon States Parties to review their status and effectiveness in promoting and protecting children’s rights.

Role of ICRIs and NHRIs in children’s rights legislative reform

ICRIs and NHRIs can make propositions for legislative reform, or provide concrete input on the content of the legislative reform initiated by the government. Their particular expertise in children’s rights and in-depth knowledge of the situation of children in their respective states makes ICRIs and NHRIs critical stakeholders in children’s rights legislative reform.

The CRC Committee recommends that ICRIs and NHRIs should, inter alia (CRC GC 2, para. 19):

  • Keep under review the adequacy and effectiveness of law and practice relating to the protection of children’s rights;
  • Promote harmonisation of national legislation, regulations and practices with the CRC, its OPs and other international human rights instruments relevant to children’s rights;
  • Ensure that the impact of laws and policies on children is carefully considered from their development to their implementation.

E.g.: The Children and Young People’s Commissioner for Scotland advocated for the incorporation of the CRC in Scotland. It published various briefings on the UNCRC Incorporation (Scotland) Bill. It also undertook a consultation on the importance of incorporation, issued a position paper and developed a draft Bill with their Advisory Group (Children & Young People’s Commissioner Scotland). On 9 December 2023, the Scottish Parliament unanimously passed The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (Incorporation) (Scotland) Bill, which became law on 19 January 2024.

ICRIs and NHRIs also play an important role in promoting children’s participation in the legislative reform process.

  • They should have “specially tailored consultation programmes and imaginative communication strategies in order to ensure full compliance with Article 12” (CRC GC 2, para. 17).
  • Children should participate in the work NHRIs and ICRIs undertake and in the way they conduct their activities (Lansdown 2020).

E.g.: At the end of 2021, the National Human Rights Institution of Moldova (The People’s Advocate) launched a public call for a comprehensive law on human rights defenders. The Children’s Ombudsperson (which is part of Moldova’s NHRI) proposed that this law includes a specific chapter on child human rights defenders. Civil society replied to the call with a joint submission led by CRIC Moldova in order to welcome the initiative and provide some key recommendations. Child human rights defenders in Moldova started to discuss the law with the Ombudsperson, as well as with the UN Special Rapporteur on human rights defenders, during the first ever hearing with children in May 2022 (Information shared by Child Rights Connect). Child Rights Connect and CRIC Moldova are undertaking a project from November 2022 to October 2024 to ensure that children have the necessary space and means to provide input in order to ensure that the new law on human rights defenders is built on children’s views and is inclusive of children’s rights (Child Rights Connect).

E.g.: The Commissioner in Ireland spoke with children and young people about strategies for tackling bullying in schools. Three hundred children and young people from different schools across the country took part. They said that a school-wide approach to preventing bullying was needed, meaning that all parts of the school, and everyone working there, would be involved. They also expressed the need for strategies to help students deal with bullying themselves. They made a video that highlighted children’s views on addressing bullying and the ideas they believed could help schools to tackle bullying effectively. The consultation resulted in a report that featured the views of the children and young people, as well as their recommendations. It was published in 2012 and informed the Action Plan on Bullying and the Anti-Bullying Procedures for Primary and Post-Primary Schools published by the Department for Education in 2013 (OCO 2012).

ICRIs and NHRIs play a key role in the monitoring and evaluation of children’s rights legislation. They could conduct research to monitor the implementation of legislation and its impact on children’s rights.

E.g.: Between 2012 and 2017, the Dutch Children’s Ombudsperson commissioned annual comprehensive children’s rights reviews of Dutch legislation and policies, in collaboration with an academic institution (Kinderrechtenmonitor 2016)

In addition, ICRIs and NHRIs may have the mandate to hear complaints from children (or others) about violations of their rights, and to provide remedies. Such complaints could help to identify legislation (or the implementation of legislation) that is incompatible with children’s rights.

  • The CRC Committee provides that children should have the opportunity to address an ombudsman or a person of a comparable role in all children’s institutions, inter alia in schools and day-care centres, in order to voice their complaints. Children should know who these authorities or persons are and how to access them (CRC GC 12, para. 46).