Putting the Dutch children’s ombudsman on the map
In the last five years the Dutch children’s ombudsman has developed into a full-fledged supervisory body monitoring compliance with children’s rights in the Netherlands. A fuller engagement with its statutory tasks, greater involvement of children and strengthening the autonomous position of the children’s ombudsman will help this National Human Rights Institution further establish itself.
These conclusions are drawn from the evaluation of the Children’s Ombudsman Act (Wet Kinderombudsman), conducted by a multidisciplinary team from Leiden University (Department of Child Law, Institute of Private Law, Institute of Public Administration and Leiden Institute of Education and Child Studies), with support from ZonMw and commissioned by the Ministry of Health, Welfare and Sport.
Statutory tasks of the children’s ombudsman
The main task of the children’s ombudsman is to promote compliance with children’s rights. The Children’s Ombudsman Act sets out the following specific tasks: providing adequate information and raising awareness, providing advice on policy and legislation, conducting research on compliance with children’s rights – on its own initiative or in response to complaints – and monitoring the way other relevant organisations deal with complaints made by children. In his work, the children’s ombudsman needs to take as much account as possible of the views of children.
Expanding to the Caribbean region
Since its establishment in 2011, the children’s ombudsman has given priority to some specific aspects of these tasks, such as conducting research and providing information to professionals and policy-makers on children’s rights and the ombudswork itself. This means that other tasks have received less priority, such as the provision of information and raising awareness about children’s rights among children and supervising complaint bodies of other institutions. In exercising its statutory tasks, the children’s ombudsman has collaborated with other stakeholders in the field of children’s rights. One of the recommendations made in the evaluation report is to extend the exercise of statutory tasks to the Caribbean part of the Netherlands, in order to enhance the compliance with children’s rights in this part of the Kingdom.
Children and the Children’s ombudsman
As part of this study a survey was conducted among 975 children. The results show that 48% of younger children (10-12 years) and 72% of older children (12-18 years) have heard about the children’s ombudsman, the majority of them from television. They know that the institute strives for children’s rights and they understand the issues that are addressed. Nonetheless, the children’s ombudsman could work on making the institute even more widely known among children. Moreover, providing information and raising awareness about children’s rights, specifically to vulnerable groups of children, should receive more attention in the future. The children’s ombudsman is obliged to take into account the opinions, interests and perceptions of children. This can be achieved by having children participate in research or in determining the areas of interest.
Strengthening the autonomous position of the children’s ombudsman
The children’s ombudsman is a substitute ombudsman; it has its own statutory tasks and it is accommodated at the institute of the national ombudsman, allowing the Children’s ombudsman to benefit from the status of a High Council of State. Moreover, the synergy between both institutes yields positive results for how the statutory tasks of the Children’s ombudsman, especially the ‘ombudswork’, are implemented. The study looked into ways of enhancing the autonomy of the children’s ombudsman without impairing the synergy between the children’s ombudsman and the national ombudsman. The report recommends separating the term of appointment of the children’s ombudsman’s from that of the national ombudsman. The report also recommends providing the children’s ombudsman with a separate budget from Parliament to ensure greater autonomy. These kinds of measures will improve the way the statutory tasks regarding the monitoring of compliance with children’s rights are exercised.
This study consists of three subsections: 1) a legal analysis of the statutory framework, 2) a public administrative analysis of the organisation and a comparative analysis of European children’s ombudspersons, and 3) an overview of practical experiences concerning the children’s ombudsman. The multidisciplinary research team was made up of legal experts, public administration experts and social scientists with specific knowledge of international children’s rights within the context of the Netherlands, national human rights institutions, complex administrative organisations and the perceptions of children. A broad spectrum of research methods was used, including legal desk research, document analysis, interviews and surveys. In total interviews were held with 48 people.