The Hague fails to safeguard children's rights

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The Netherlands wants to set an example for other countries when it comes to human rights but a report by Defence for Children claims that The Hague does not adequately protect children's rights.

The organisation compared Dutch treatment of children's rights with the articles in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and says that The Hague leaves a number of groups out in the cold: the children of foreigners, children in care and those with special educational needs.

According to Jolien Verweij of Defence for Children, the Netherlands is still not wholeheartedly carrying out a number of important articles in the convention. Furthermore, the government has made massive budget cuts that could have a deleterious effect on child welfare.

Verweij: "The cabinet has already announced lots of budget cuts and if you read the plans carefully, then you'll see that they haven't checked to see what effect these cuts will have on child welfare. It has already been proven that growing up in poverty and social deprivation can have serious, negative effects on children, including their development at school and their chance of being a victim of child abuse. This is why we are so concerned."

The Netherlands could ensure that the poverty of parents has less of an effect on children by acknowledging the right of children to their own welfare benefits. It is one of the articles in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child that The Hague has not ratified or opted out of.

There are also a number of other articles in the convention that the Netherlands pretty much ignores says Verweij: "The Netherlands has already been censured because it tries minors as adults starting at the age of 16. It's one of the things prohibited by the UN child rights convention. The current government plans to make the laws covering juveniles even tougher; the government is looking to find new ways to punish instead of helping children and keeping them out of trouble in the future. Repression seems to be the order of the day."

Some 80 organisations working in various ways for children's rights support the report's conclusions. The organisations cover a wide terrain ranging from support groups for child abuse victims to giving children a voice in the design of their own playgrounds.

Children's ombudsman
The vast majority of children in the Netherlands enjoy a far better quality of life than their counterparts in many other countries but Verweij points out that the UN child rights committee judges a country on its capacity to protect children. "The Netherlands has got the money and the resources to take good care of all the children in the country but the children of immigrants, vulnerable kids in care and children who need special education get left out."

However, that doesn't mean that the Netherlands hasn't made any progress according to the yardstick laid down by the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. Last year, The Hague finally appointed a children's ombudsman.

On Monday, children's ombudsman Marc Dullaert published some shocking statistics: some 300,000 children in the Netherlands live below the poverty level, 3,000 children have been waiting for residency permits for several years and 111,800 children are victims of some form of child abuse.

In an interview with De Telegraaf, Dullaert said, "the Netherlands is rated as the fourth happiest country in the world but many forget that a large group of people are in serious trouble and children are suffering because of it."