International children’s rights experts gather at Victoria University of Wellington

On the 30th anniversary of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, leading international experts will join the New Zealand children's rights community for a two-day symposium at Victoria University of Wellington on 19 and 20 August.

The Law School building with a blossoming red tree in front.

Associate Professor Nessa Lynch from the Faculty of Law is the lead convenor of the symposium, which will feature United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child member Justice Vui Clarence Nelson, Scottish Children and Young People’s Commissioner Bruce Adamson (a Victoria University of Wellington alumnus) and prominent children’s rights scholars Professor Laura Lundy and Professor Ursula Kilkelly.

The UN Convention of the Rights of the Child is a human rights treaty setting out the civil, political, economic, social, health and cultural rights of children. “New Zealand signed the UN Convention in 1989, but we need to maintain a strong focus progressing laws and policies based on a children’s rights framework,” says Associate Professor Lynch.

Supported by the New Zealand Law Foundation and the Michael and Suzanne Borrin Foundation, the symposium will examine issues affecting children’s rights across the care system, the criminal jurisdiction, the Family Court, and the voice of the child in matters affecting them.

“We’ve seen immense progress in New Zealand through recent legislative change, but challenges remain – such as the disproportionate representation of Māori children in care and in the youth justice system,” she says. “This event brings together academics, practitioners, public servants and those working in non-government organisations to address these difficult issues.”

The international children’s rights framework provides an important benchmark and goals with which to measure law, policy and practice, says Associate Professor Lynch. “Because of New Zealand’s constitutional structure and geographic location, we haven’t had the same opportunities to bring strategic children’s rights cases to court and advance the law, as they have in the United States or Europe.”

New Zealand has around 1.1 million children aged 0–18—just under a quarter of the population. “The Oranga Tamariki legislation that came into full force in July emphasises the importance of considering the international conventions, and there is much to learn from other countries’ experience in using the children’s rights framework to advance children’s rights,” she says. “But there are some important questions about how to best apply these to New Zealand’s particular social and cultural contexts.”

Associate Professor Lynch will chair a public panel at 5.30pm on 20 August featuring Justice Vui Clarence Nelson (United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child, Justice of the Supreme Court of Samoa), Professor Ursula Kilkelly (University College Cork, Ireland), Professor Laura Lundy (Queen’s University Belfast, Northern Ireland), Bruce Adamson (Children and Young People’s Commissioner, Scotland) and Judge Andrew Becroft (Children’s Commissioner, New Zealand).

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