Universiteit Leiden

nl en

Symposium on ten years of progress for children's rights: OPIC

In a collaborative effort between the Leiden Children’s Rights Observatory, the Leiden Law Academy, UNICEF and the Petitions Section of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, a symposium held last week commemorated the tenth anniversary of the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on a Communications Procedure (OPIC).

Held in Leiden, the Netherlands, the symposium served as a platform for reflection, collaboration and strategic planning concerning access to justice for children. A diverse array of stakeholders including academics, professionals, government officials, non-governmental organisations and young people gathered to discuss the progress made over the past decade and chart a path forward for enhanced access to justice for children across the globe through the OPIC. The conference was sponsored by the Janivo Foundation, the Adessium Foundation and the Gravin van Bylandt Foundation.

Day 1 and Day 2

Day 1 began with an opening ceremony moderated by Professor Ton Liefaard, Head of Department of Child Law and Health Law and initiator of the Leiden Children’s Rights Observatory. The ceremony featured speeches from distinguished guests including Professor Ann Skelton, Chair of the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, Anna Batalla from the Petitions Unit OHCHR and Bo Viktor Nylund, Director of UNICEF Innocenti – Global Office of Research and Foresight.

The conference’s first keynote session offered critical reflections on the past ten years of OPIC. The first keynote, ‘OPIC Taking stock of the last 10 years, an insider’s perspective’, was delivered by Benoit van Keirsbilck, Chair of the OPIC working group of the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child and provided valuable insights into the protocol’s evolution. The second keynote, ‘A critical appraisal of 10 years of OPIC’, was presented by Ton Liefaard and offered a comprehensive analysis of the protocol’s impact and a reflection on OPIC’s efficacy and normative legitimacy. This keynote session was followed by a series of presentations that gave an insider’s perspective on OPIC, featuring members of the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child. This set the scene for the conference.

The day concluded with a welcome reception hosted by the municipality of Leiden. During the reception, Francisco Vera, a 14-year-old climate and child rights activist, gave an inspiring speech highlighting the importance of child and youth engagement in the pursuit of justice for children.

Day 2 featured keynote lectures on children’s access to justice and reflections from treaty bodies such as the Africa Committee of Experts on the Rights and Welfare of the Child and the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women. Paper presentations explored stakeholder involvement and building child-centred pathways to OPIC.

One session, which was chaired by Francisco Vera, emphasised the importance of child and youth engagement in shaping policies and practices that affect their lives.

Throughout the event, the spotlight was on the key role of stakeholders in promoting and protecting children's rights through various mechanisms, including independent children's rights institutions, civil society, the judiciary and governmental bodies. The presentations highlighted each stakeholder group’s unique contribution, from encouraging ratification and directly engaging with OPIC to advocating for children's rights on both a national and international level.

Strategic litigation efforts were also discussed, with a particular focus on supporting applicants with individual communications that challenge collective expulsions and associated border violence experienced by children. Lessons learned from the OPIC procedure underlined the importance of addressing systemic issues and obstacles to accessing justice for vulnerable children, and particularly those affected by migration and border policies.

The symposium concluded with a closing discussion that reflected on the broader agenda relating to children’s access to justice. This session was moderated by Professor Ton Liefaard, with input from Professor Ann Skelton, Benoit van Keirsbilck, Anna Batalla and Bo Viktor Nylund. The closing reception was provided by De Gruyter Brill.

Side events

Several side events were organised as part of the conference, which enriched the discussions and outcomes. These events included a closed meeting with the Dutch government and the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, where State Secretary Maarten van Ooijen reiterated the government's commitment to ratifying OPIC. In addition, an academic seminar with the Child Friendly Justice European Network (CFJ-EN) focused on ‘Bridging the Gap - Exploring Academia's Role in Collaborative Advancements of Child-Friendly Justice in Europe’ and resulted in the signing of a memorandum of understanding (MOU) between the CFJ-EN and Leiden University. The first expert roundtable was organised in collaboration with the Committee on the Rights of the Child in preparation for the upcoming General Comment on ‘Children’s Rights to Access to Justice and Effective Remedies.

Conference outcomes and report

Overall, the symposium provided a comprehensive overview of OPIC’s achievements, challenges and future directions in terms of advancing children's rights on a global scale. Bringing together diverse perspectives and expertise enabled participants to reaffirm their commitment to ensuring that children have meaningful access to justice and to giving children a voice in decisions that affect their lives. As a result, the conference broke new ground and paved the way for the promotion and reinforcement of access to justice for children across the globe. Leiden University remains committed to contributing to this cause through its research, education and many other activities in the field of children’s rights and children’s access to justice.

Stay tuned for the conference report, which will be published by the Leiden Children's Rights Observatory within the next few weeks.

This website uses cookies.  More information.