This week, history was made as the 193 member states of the United Nations recognised the harm that institutions cause children and called for institutions to be progressively eliminated.
The United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) can seem little more than a theatre where world leaders stamp their mark on the global news agenda in set piece grandstanding—often for the audience back home. However, beyond the headline-grabbing speeches, each year the UNGA makes important decisions affecting the lives of people around the world. Its Resolutions recommend action for all United Nations Member States to take on a wide variety of topics from human rights to education, development, climate, violence against children, and peace and security, among others. Whilst we shouldn’t over-state their importance or confuse them with binding Conventions or Treaties, UNGA Resolutions are hugely symbolic political moments that can shift global perceptions of an issue and push it up the world’s collective agenda.
“Whilst we shouldn’t over-state their importance… UNGA Resolutions are hugely symbolic political moments that can shift global perceptions of an issue and push it up the world’s collective agenda.”
This year’s UNGA Resolution on the Rights of the Child (ROC) was just such a moment. With its theme of ‘children without parental care’ it offered a rare opportunity to shine a light onto the plight of millions of children worldwide living in institutions and highlight the importance of tackling family-child separation through systemic reform of care systems.
Seizing the opportunity, Hope and Homes for Children—with like-minded organisations large and small, from every part of the world—came together to mobilise our collective advocacy efforts. Together we developed a set of Key Recommendations, eventually endorsed by more than 250 organisations which proposed language that underlined commitments already made by UN Member States and suggested measures and actions needed to move the implementation forward.
The strength of the Key Recommendation is that they were written using existing commitments made by governments in other international fora; UN Committees, statements, Resolutions, UN Guidelines etc. This meant that the text we agreed was already in ‘UN language’ and pre-tested. Through our existing networks, the original drafters were able to connect with other organisations around the world and our numbers grew. We drew on the expertise of partners too, including receiving support from Hope and Homes for Children’s partner, global law firm Allen & Overy, to help us translate the recommendation into other UN languages.
This set of Recommendations was then used by advocates everywhere to highlight the issue of children without parental care, seeking to influence those negotiating this important Resolution.
“The text we agreed was already in ‘UN language’ and pre-tested. Through our existing networks, the original drafters were able to connect with other organisations around the world and our numbers grew.”
The Resolution, formally adopted by the UN General Assembly on 18 December, includes many of the recommendations the coalition made and represents a major step forward. It is particularly notable for its recognition of the harm that institutions can cause children and its call for institutions to be progressively eliminated, the first time the UN General Assembly has acknowledged that orphanages are an unacceptable way to care for children and action must be taken to end them.
The UN’s 193 member states have also clearly communicated their global commitment to strengthen families and the care that they provide all children, prevent unnecessary separation by addressing its root causes, put an end to child institutionalisation by progressively replacing it with family and community-based care, and address some of the drivers supporting it—including orphanage volunteering.
In a crowded global environment, the perspectives of organisations focused on child protection and care reform can easily be lost in major debates. The Sustainable Development Goals for example, whilst laudable in so many ways do not once directly address children in institutions or the impact that neglect and institutionalisation can have. Working together in this way clearly demonstrates a groundswell of interest in this topic, from organisations large and small around the world, amplifying our collective voice.
“In a crowded global environment, the perspectives of organisations focused on child protection and care reform can easily be lost in major debates… Working together in this way clearly demonstrates a groundswell of interest in this topic, from organisations large and small around the world, amplifying our collective voice.”
And while UNGA Resolutions are political, not legal, this Resolution represents real progress because it gives us a new global consensus—commitments that all countries of the world have agreed to. A world without orphanages is possible, and advocates worldwide now have a new tool to use to convince governments to act and make orphanages a thing of the past.
Nolan Quigley is Global Advocacy Advisor at Hope and Homes for Children, and a representative in the coalition of organisations that drafted the UNGA Resolution Recommendations.