THIS YEAR marks exactly one century since the watershed document that has come to be the Convention on the Rights of the Child was written. The document was drafted by British social reformer Eglantyne Jebb in 1923, in the aftermath of World War I, then adopted by the League of Nations, the precursor to the UN.
And yet today children all over the world caught up in conflicts still suffer. This country, which signed the convention in 1990, is now a part of this sorry situation.
The case made by international non-governmental organisation Human Rights Watch (HRW) on Tuesday is a strong one.
The response of the Government, however, to the intervention by HRW officials on behalf of children and women from this country stranded in Syria, was needlessly defensive and failed to provide adequate assurance that our international obligations are being upheld.
According to the HRW, more than half of the 100 nationals said to be in camps in north-east Syria are children. Of these, one 17-year-old boy reportedly said he was tricked by his father into believing he was going to Disneyland.
While the government in 2018 established a multi-disciplinary committee to work on the issue, the HRW expressed concerns that there has apparently been no instance of repatriation.
“We are concerned that we are not seeing anything,” said HRW advocate Jo Becker.
The Government, however, has noted the situation involves serious national security implications. It may also be mindful of the need for a degree of confidentiality when dealing both with minors as well as people linked to terrorist actors.
But innocent children should not be made to pay for the sins of the father.
If we are serious about children’s rights, we need to ensure the official approach to this issue does not place them in jeopardy.
Unfortunately, given the dire conditions of many of these camps, that is exactly what is happening.
Worse is the prospect of the Government, in adopting the wrong approach, inadvertently fuelling resentment and fostering the very thing which it fears through radicalisation.
There is often the legitimate worry that children are used by radical groups for their own ends. One way to deal with this might be to prosecute the adults involved to the fullest extent of the law in confidential proceedings.
What is not useful is the Government being prickly and reacting to the HRW’s intervention by describing it as “misleading.” The State should be working with organisations such as the HRW and drawing upon its networks, expertise and data.
Too often is government policy upended by needlessly defensive communications.
For the sake of the children, better should be done.