Our work at the United Nations – making change happen at the Human Rights Council

Many countries' flags flying in the wind

Would you like to understand more about how we work with the UN and how this brings about change? As the United Nations (UN) gathers this week for its 77th annual General Assembly in New York, we’re taking the opportunity to shed light on how we work across the UN system to ensure global commitment to eliminating orphanages.

In today’s blog, I’ll be explaining how we work with the Human Rights Council. And later in the week I’ll be talking about the treaty body process (part 2) and increasing accountability to children (part 3). 

Ensuring governments commit to change 

What is happening inside orphanages today, now, is impacting 5.4 million children, leading to lifelong consequences that impact upon the next generation too.  

Orphanages confine and regiment the lives of children in ways that dramatically increase the threat of abuse and neglect. 

In a recent study…

> 0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 0 0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 0 %

Over half the children in institutional care had experienced physical or sexual abuse. (1)

To end this outdated and harmful practice, and transform systems so that no child has to suffer the harm associated with institutionalisation, we must not only change practices on the ground, but ensure states are held accountable to honouring children’s right to family life at the highest level.  

This is where our advocacy work comes in. 

For the last six years, my colleagues and I in the global advocacy team have worked with partners and United Nations (UN) experts to bring about the global elimination of institutional care of children. We do this through engaging with United Nations systems in a number of ways: through treaty bodies; the General Assembly and the Human Rights Council. Through United Nations resolutions, we seek political commitment to end the use of orphanages, globally. At the same time, we ask the UN Human Rights Mechanism to hold states accountable to those commitments. 

Our successes at the Human Rights Council

The UN Human Rights Council is a United Nations body whose mission is to promote and protect human rights around the world. It has 47 elected members who serve three-year terms, and is based in Geneva in Switzerland. 

At the Human Rights Council (HRC), we work in two ways:   

  1. Firstly, we engage with the development of relevant resolutions of the HRC;
  2. And secondly, we’re involved with the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) process.  

1) Influencing HRC resolutions

As an example, in 2019, we were part of global advocacy efforts to ensure that child protection system reform was central to the final text of the Annual Day on the Rights of the Child Resolution at the Human Rights Council.  This resolution was about empowering children with disabilities for the enjoyment of their human rights, including through inclusive education. Read that resolution here. 

We regularly work with partners like Child Rights Connect, Save the Children, UNICEF, Better Care Network and others on this kind of advocacy. In 2022, we advocated together for positive language on families, reunification and child protection system reform in the Annual Day on the Rights of the Child Resolution, entitled Rights of the child: realising the rights of the child and family reunification. 

The language in these resolutions is so important, because it changes the mindset and discussion amongst state actors, away from acceptance of orphanages as a way to care for children, and towards family-based care.  

The wording of these resolutions is an indication that we are winning the argument that orphanages are unacceptable. 

2) Working through the Universal Periodic Review Process 

The Universal Periodic Review (UPR) process is a review of how each UN member state fulfills its human rights obligations and commitments. It happens every 4.5 years, and is an inclusive process – this means that UN entities – such as UNICEF, UNDP and the World Health Organisation (WHO), as well as civil society organisations such as Hope and Homes for Children and other UN member states – are involved. Unlike the treaty body process, the UPR process is led by UN member states, not committee members. 

In 2022, we’ll submit our first country alternative report to the UPR. A Country alternative report is a short document written by us, that outlines

  • the current state of child protection system reform in a country,
  • any associated human rights violations
  • wording for recommendations that could be used by UN member states when making recommendations to countries under review.

The Country under review is obliged to act on those recommendations and is supported by the UN system to help them achieve those goals.  

We hope that other UN member states and UN bodies such as UNDP and UNICEF, will provide capacity-building support to the country under review, to bring about comprehensive child protection system reform.  

Part 2 – demystifying our work with treaty bodies

Next, I’ll be discussing how we work with treaty bodies to hold countries to account on children’s rights and the rights of persons with disabilities.


(1) From C. L. Gray and others, ‘Prevalence and Incidence of Traumatic Experiences Among Orphans in Institutional and Family-Based Settings in 5 Low-and Middle-Income Countries: A Longitudinal Study’, Global Health: Science & Practice, 3 (2015a), 395–404 <https://doi.org/10.9745/GHSP-D-15-00093>.