ASEAN and Child Rights
The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) is a regional intergovernmental organization composed of countries in Southeast Asia. Currently, there are 10 member states, namely, Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia, Indonesia, Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Malaysia, Myanmar/Burma, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Viet Nam.
The ASEAN Charter serves as the overall institutional framework and grants legal status to the organization. The ASEAN Charter provides for the norms, rules and priorities of the organization. The said document stipulates the objectives of the organization to maintain peace and stability in the region; to promote political, economic and social cooperation; to alleviate poverty and narrow the development gap; to strengthen democracy, good governance and rule of law; to protect human rights and fundamental freedoms; to enhance the well-being and livelihood of peoples in ASEAN; and to promote an ASEAN identity that fosters awareness and respect of diverse history and culture of the region.
ASEAN primarily works in the spirit of cooperation and dialogue between member states. The key principles that Charter upholds include respect for the independence, sovereignty, territorial integrity and national identity of member states. The Charter limits member states from interfering in each other’s internal affairs. Such principles hinder ASEAN from addressing human rights issues that are deemed as sensitive matters within the realm of the state’s internal concerns.
How has ASEAN addressed child rights?
All ten member countries have ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. Many have also ratified the Optional Protocols. Because of this, all governments as well as ASEAN are expected to come up with agreements and programmes to make child rights a reality in the region.
ASEAN has made commitments for children. These include the following:
Declaration of Principles to Strengthen ASEAN Collaboration on Youth (1983) – This document says that youth participation in development is recognized by ASEAN governments.
Kuala Lumpur Agenda on ASEAN Youth Development (1997) – This document recognizes that governments in ASEAN should involve youth in developing their policies and plans to address peace in Southeast Asia, economic progress and prosperity.
Declaration on the Commitments for Children in ASEAN (2001) – This document reaffirms ASEAN’s commitment in promoting the rights of children and uplifting the conditions of children. It guarantees that ASEAN is committed to create opportunities for children to express their views, advocate their rights and participate in development. It calls governments to protect children from all forms of violence, abuse, neglect, trafficking and exploitation at home, in school and in the community.
Hanoi Declaration on the Enhancement of Welfare and Development of ASEAN Women and Children (2010) – This declaration strengthens ASEAN’s commitment to ensure that women and children benefit fully from the process of ASEAN integration and community building. It also calls for the establishment of the ASEAN Commission on the Promotion and Protection of the Rights of Women and Children (ACWC) and the ASEAN Children’s Forum (ACF).
What are the bodies within ASEAN that have a mandate to protect and promote the child rights?
All bodies within the ASEAN are expected to mainstream and consider child rights into all aspects of their work. Within its structure, however, there are specific bodies that directly work on child rights.
ASEAN Commission for the Protection and Promotion of the Rights of Women and Children (ACWC)
It was established in April 2010 with a broad mandate to “promote and protect human rights and fundamental freedoms of the women and children of ASEAN”. The ACWC is expected to champion child rights in ASEAN by supporting and institutionalising child participation. ACWC is responsible to monitor the situation of children in the region and to provide assistance to member states in resolving issues and improving situation of children. The ACWC aims to encourage member states to review national legislations, regulations, policies and practices related to child rights and ensure that these are in line with the CRC. It also has the mandate to promote studies and research related to the rights of women and children.
ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights (AICHR)
It was inaugurated in October 2009 as a consultative body that is an integral part of the ASEAN structure. One of its primary mandates is to protect and promote human rights and fundamental freedoms of peoples of ASEAN. Among other functions, the AICHR was established to help enhance public awareness of human rights among the peoples of ASEAN through education, research and dissemination of information. It also has the mandate to encourage ASEAN member states to ratify international human rights instruments.
ASEAN Children’s Forum (ACF)
The ACF serves as ASEAN’s official venue for children from member states to express views about issues affecting their lives, to cooperate and work together towards regional development, and to advocate children’s rights in the region. The ACF is comprised of children who were nominated by ASEAN member states. The outcomes of the ACF shall be presented by the children delegates to the ASEAN Ministerial Meeting on Social Welfare and Development (AMMSWD). In addition, the outcomes of the ACF are expected to be shared to the other sectoral bodies including the ACWC.
The ACF takes place every two years. The first ACF took place in 2010 in Pampanga, Philippines. The second ACF will take place in 2012 in Singapore.
What is the ASEAN Human Rights Declaration (AHRD)?
The AHRD is currently being drafted by the AICHR. It will be an important document reflecting the views, aspirations and commitments of ASEAN member states towards the promotion and protection of human rights. It will serve as the standard that will guide the actions of ASEAN and its member states in making human rights a reality in the region.
The drafting of the AHRD started in 2011 by a group of representatives of ASEAN member states. ASEAN is expected to finalise and approve the AHRD within 2012 during the 21st ASEAN Summit.
Several civil society groups including CRC Asia have expressed concerns about the AHRD. There is lack of transparency and meaningful participation of civil society and other stakeholders in the drafting process. Groups have criticised the AICHR for not making public the draft text of the AHRD. There were also concerns that the AHRD will not be at par with universal human rights standards.
In 23 June 2012, the AICHR conducted its first regional consultation with civil society organizations to gather inputs on the AHRD. CRC Asia submitted to AICHR a document containing proposed child rights provisions in the AHRD.
How can children participate in ASEAN processes? Read the “Guidebook on Spaces for Children’s Participation in ASEAN”