ORGANIZATION OF ENOC

  • The General Assembly consists of all full members. Associate members can assist but can not vote. While members are in fact the independent institutions for children, they are represented within ENOC by the person who holds the mandate or its delegated representative. Both the General Assembly and the Bureau have decision-making powers within ENOC.

  • The Bureau consists of five persons, the past Chairperson, the current Chairperson, the Chairperson-elect, the Secretary and Treasurer of the Network.

    The Chairperson-elect, Secretary and Treasurer of ENOC are elected by the General Assembly during its annual general meeting. The Chairperson-elect is elected for a non-renewable one-year term and begins his/her functions at the beginning of the following annual general meeting of the General Assembly. The Secretary and Treasurer are elected for a one-year term and may be re-elected for a maximum of two further consecutive terms (three years in all). They take up their post immediately following election.

      Current ENOC Bureau composition (2016-2017):

    • The current Chairperson: Ms. Edita Ziobiene (Ombudsperson for Children's Rights, Lithuania)
    • The Chairperson-elect: Mr. Tuomas Kurttila (Ombudsman for Children, Finland)
    • The Past Chair: Mr. Niall Muldoon (Ombudsman for Children, Ireland)
    • The Secretary: Ms. Maria J. Larios (Deputy Ombudsperson for children's rights, Catalonia)
    • The Treasurer: Mr. George Moschos (Deputy Ombudsman for Children's Rights, Greece)
  • Ms. Polina Atanasova

    The Secretariat works in close collaboration with the Bureau to ensure the effective coordination and development of the activities of the network and the strengthening of its core administration.

    It coordinates the efforts of ENOC's members to contribute to policy development and to link with the European Union, other European and international institutions or NGOs operating in the children's rights field.

INDEPENDENT CHILDREN’S RIGHTS INSTITUTIONS (ICRIs)

The European Network of Ombudspersons for Children (ENOC) links independent offices which have been established in European countries to promote children's fundamental rights.

Aims

Inevitably and correctly, the aims and priorities of independent institutions for children will vary from state to state. They will vary according to differences in the situation of children and according to the variety of governmental and non-governmental institutions and structures affecting children and promoting human rights within states.

The following is a summary of aims of existing independent institutions; not all offices pursue all these aims (in particular, offices vary according to whether or not they deal with individual cases and complaints from children):

  • to promote full implementation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child;
  • to promote a higher priority for children, in central, regional or local government and in civil society, and to improve public attitudes to children;
  • to influence law, policy and practice, both by responding to governmental and other proposals and by actively proposing changes;
  • to promote effective co-ordination of government for children at all levels;
  • to promote effective use of resources for children;
  • to provide a channel for children’s views, and to encourage government and the public to give proper respect to children’s views;
  • to collect and publish data on the situation of children and/or encourage the government to collect and publish adequate data;
  • to promote awareness of the human rights of children among children and adults;
  • to conduct investigations and undertake or encourage research;
  • to review children’s access to, and the effectiveness of, all forms of advocacy and complaints systems, for example in institutions and schools, and including children’s access to the courts;
  • to respond to individual complaints from children or those representing children, and where appropriate to initiate or support legal action on behalf of children.

Factors for effective operation

All independent institutions for children share some of the above aims, and so it is possible to identify some common factors likely to make them effective:

The United Nations Handbook on National Human Rights Institutions suggests the following "effectiveness factors":

  • independence;
  • defined jurisdiction and adequate powers;
  • accessibility;
  • co-operation;
  • operational efficiency;
  • accountability.

Basic framework

The "Paris Principles" on the status of national human rights institutions provide a basic framework for the establishment of an independent office to promote children’s human rights. Institutions should have:

  • the competence to promote and protect human rights;
  • as broad a mandate as possible, set forth in a constitutional or legislative text, specifying the institution’s composition and sphere of competence;
  • responsibilities to provide to parliament, government and other competent bodies opinions, recommendations, proposals and reports on any matters concerning the promotion and protection of human rights - either on request or through the institutions' power to consider matters without any higher referral;
  • the right to publish opinions and reports independently, including commenting on the current state of the law and developments affecting human rights and any violations;
  • general duties and necessary powers to enable the institution:
  • to promote and ensure harmonisation of national legislation, regulations and practice with the international human rights instruments to which the state is a party, and their effective implementation;
  • encouraging ratification or accession to these instruments;
  • to contribute to the reports which states are required to submit to UN bodies and committees and to regional institutions, and where necessary to express an opinion on the subject, "with due respect for their independence";
  • to co-operate with UN and UN-related organisations and regional and national human rights institutions;
  • to help formulate programmes for teaching and researching human rights and take part in them in schools, universities and among professionals;
  • to publicise human rights and efforts to combat discrimination, by increasing public awareness - particularly through information and education and use of the media.

Methods of operation must include rights to:

  • freely consider any questions falling within the institution’s competence;
  • hear any person and obtain any information and documents necessary to assess situations falling within the institution’s competence;
  • speak out freely through the media.

The Principles propose particular guarantees of independence:

  • powers to enable effective co-operation to be established with (or in the case of a Commission with members, through the presence of) representatives of relevant NGOs, trade unions, concerned social and professional organisations (for example associations of lawyers, doctors, journalists and eminent scientists); trends in philosophical or religious thought; universities and qualified experts; Parliament; government departments (but if they are included, they should participate in deliberations only in an advisory capacity);
  • adequate funding to enable the institution to have its own staff and premises, in order to be independent of Government "and not subject to financial control which might affect its independence";
  • appointment of members of the institution by an official act specifying the duration of their mandate.

(There are additional principles for institutions which are empowered to hear and consider individual complaints and petitions).

Independence

The definition of these institutions is that they are independent of government. But the concept of independence is inevitably relative not absolute. Parliament or government generally provides most funding and there must be accountability. And to be influential, these institutions need to have a close but not a dependent relationship with government.

A detailed section in the UN Handbook on National Human Rights Institutions discusses key components of independence. The following section is drawn from the Handbook and from the experiences of developing independent offices for children:

  • Establishment by legislation: many, but not all, independent institutions for children have been established through an act of parliament, setting out their function and duties, status, powers, methods of appointment and so on. Defining the aims of an institution in relation to the Convention on the Rights of the Child provides it with the authority of international law, and accentuates independence.

    The Handbook suggests: "Ideally a national institution will be granted separate and distinct legal personality of a nature which will permit it to exercise independent decision-making power. Independent legal status should be of a level sufficient to permit an institution to perform its functions without interference or obstruction from any branch of government or any public or private entity. This may be achieved by making the institution directly answerable to parliament or to the head of state";

  • Operational autonomy: institutions must be able to set and pursue their own agenda, and conduct their own affairs independently of any other individual, organisation, department or authority. While such institutions need to be consulted by government, and are likely to be asked to do particular projects for government, government should not be able to dictate the office’s agenda, or overcrowd it to prevent it developing its own priorities and being able to respond quickly to new situations.

    Similarly, reports and recommendations from an institutions should not normally be subject to review or change by any other body.

  • Financial autonomy: the institution needs to be financially capable of performing its functions, and as far as possible finance of the office should be removed from political control, and be guaranteed for a reasonable period. For financial issues, the institution should be accountable not to government but to parliament. The institution should also be free to raise additional funds from non-government sources.

  • Method of appointment and dismissal of key staff: the process should be transparent, as far as possible independent of government, preferably by a representative body such as parliament and it should involve independent bodies including NGOs concerned with the human rights of children. "Any institution can only ever be as independent as the individuals of which it is composed. The granting of legal, technical and even financial autonomy to a national institution will be insufficient in the absence of specific measures to ensure that its members are, individually and collectively, capable of generating and sustaining independence of action" (Handbook, page 11).

    The following appointment issues need to be addressed, preferably in legislation:

    • process of appointment;
    • criteria for appointment (nationality, profession, qualifications, etc.);
    • duration for appointment, and whether key staff may be re-appointed (normally a fixed-term appointment, not too short, with the possibility of an additional term);
    • who may dismiss key staff and for what reasons (power to dismiss should only be vested in Parliament or at an equivalently high level, and only for very serious reasons);
    • privileges and immunities (for example, immunity from prosecution when performing official duties).

Recommendations for independant offices for children

UN Guidelines for the Prevention of Juvenile Delinquency (the "Riyadh Guidelines"), adopted in 1990, propose that:

"Consideration should be given to the establishment of an office of ombudsman or similar independent organ, which would ensure that the status, rights and interests of young persons are upheld and that proper referral to available services is made..." (para. 57)

The appointment of independent offices has been strongly promoted by the Council of Europe, whose "European Strategy for Children" (1996) proposes the appointment of :

"a commissioner (ombudsman) for children or another structure offering guarantees of independence, and the responsibilities required to improve children’s lives, and accessible to the public through such means as local offices".

The Strategy puts all its recommendations in the context of the Convention on the Rights of the Child. (Recommendation 1286 on a European Strategy for Children, adopted by Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, January 24 1996).

Interaction with NGO’s

In most countries non-governmental organisations (NGOs) play a key role as independent advocates for children, or for particular groups of children. Their role is recognised in the Convention on the Rights of the Child, and by the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child.

Ratification and promotion of the Convention has led to a rapid growth in the numbers and influence of NGOs promoting children’s rights; in many European countries coalitions of the NGOs working for children’s rights have been formed. NGOs’ national role is not diminished - although it may be changed - by the existence of an independent office for children established by parliament. Where such an office exists, it is likely to develop a close and mutually supportive relationship with NGOs.

In some countries non-governmental organisations (NGOs) have styled their advocacy for children as ombudsman activities (and "ombudswork" for children is a broad term which has been adopted by some commentators to cover all aspects of child advocacy, both governmental and non-governmental).