July 2023

Child Human Rights Defenders (CHRDs) are ‘all individuals that promote and strive for the protection and realisation of human rights and fundamental freedoms at the national and international levels’, under the age of 18. CHRDs constitute a group characterised by intersecting vulnerabilities as both children and human rights defenders and are subject to intimidation and rights violations due to their public involvement and action to defend human- and children’s rights.

The research and publication of the ad-hoc position statement come from ENOC’s recognition of the value of the public action that CHRDs take, the expression of grave concerns about the violations they experience, and the denunciation of the lack of clear and CHRDs-tailored mechanisms that uphold their rights as both Children and HRDs.

The “UN Declaration on human rights defenders”[1] affirms under Art 12 that all human rights defenders, therefore without any distinction on age, must be protected by States from any violence, threats, retaliation, or discrimination. However, the Declaration is not a binding document and does not create legal obligations for UN members to develop national legislation on the matter. At the European level, both the Council of Europe and the European Union have respectively recommendations[2] and guidelines[3] protecting HRDs, but no mechanism exists centering around CHRDs as a specific vulnerable group that requires a separate set of standards.

It is of utmost importance that Child Human Rights Defenders are the main focus of specific legislations that protect them to a higher degree due to their intertwining vulnerabilities. Being active in the public eye, CHRDs are subject to a wide range of human- and children's rights violations, inter alia being excluded and prevented from taking part in a meaningful manner in decision-making processes, being prevented from accessing clear and age-appropriate information on their rights, the potential dangers of being active in public, and the available remedies and support mechanisms to turn to when needed.

Taking into consideration the specific needs of CHRDs, the available international and regional mechanisms protecting HRDs, and recognising the pressing need to fill the legal void around CHRDs as a specific vulnerable category in need of protection, ENOC urges all concerned actors to endorse and support the following key recommendations (more in the position statement):

  • States should publicly recognise the critical role played by CHRDs
  • States should effectively protect CHRDs in the exercise of their rights, ensure they have access to child-friendly information about their rights, effective support and remedies (including those before Ombudspersons / Commissioners for Children), and ratify the Optional Protocol to the CRC on Communications Procedures to enable CHRDs to submit complaints to the Committee and seek effective remedy;
  • European and International HR organisations should develop standards and tools that specifically promote, protect and defend CHRDs as a separate group of HRDs;
  • The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child should systematically include specific recommendations on CHRDs in its concluding observations to States parties;
  • The UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders should specifically acknowledge the role of CHRDs in all of its activities;
  • Independent Children’s Rights Institutions (ICRIs) and National Human Rights Institutions (NHRIs) should play a prominent role in strengthening the legal status of CHRDs; helping them claim their rights, and seeking redress for violations.

[1] Declaration on the Right and Responsibility of Individuals, Groups and Organs of Society to Promote and Protect Universally Recognized Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms” (1998), available here.

[2] Recommendation CM/Rec(2018)11 of the Committee of Ministers to member States on the need to strengthen the protection and promotion of civil society space in Europe, available here.

[3] EU Guidelines on Human Rights Defenders (adopted in 2004, updated in 2008), available here.