Wednesday, 16 December 2015

Harmonising the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development with children’s rights

By Patricio Cuevas-Parra, Senior Policy Adviser on Child Participation and Rights at World Vision International and CRFR PhD candidate.

For those working in international development, September 2015 marks a major milestone in the fight toward the eradication of poverty worldwide as the United Nations adopted the post-2015 development agenda. During its 69th session, the General Assembly agreed on the new global framework 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. This agenda included 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and 169 targets, which cover issues ranging from hunger and food security to climate change and sustainable ecosystems.

Over the past three years, a large number of children’s rights advocates and child-focused organisations engaged in intense consultations and negotiations with multiple parties, including governmental agencies, multilaterals, and civil society and private sector organisations. They sought to ensure SDGs were inclusive of children and their rights. Their efforts were successful. The adoption of the SDGs embodies, in the text, much human rights language, recognises children and young people as subjects of rights, and acknowledges the obligation to achieve progressively the full realisation of their rights.

As someone who has worked on children’s participation in different parts of the world, I was personally pleased to see a clear commitment to the realisation of children’s rights. I was also satisfied to read multiple mentions made of the right to participate in the declaration of the adoption of the 2030 Agenda. The SDGs underline the importance of the empowerment and engagement of children and young people as critical agents of change that should be able to participate fully in society.Nevertheless, many questions remain open. How will children’s rights be unpacked? How will the potential tension between child-wellbeing and child rights be addressed? How can we ensure that children and young people are able to participate in the implementation and monitoring of this global framework?

The SDGs have embraced a general human rights language, which is a major step forward; however, the core set of global issues affecting children have not completely been framed in relation to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC). The discussion on favouring child well-being over children’s rights has also raise some concerns. For instance, there is a preoccupation that a focus on child well-being can undermine the obligations for States Parties have ratified the UNCRC.

For Tisdall (2015), children’s well-being and children’s rights are not equivalent concepts. The former underlines a preventive and asset-based approach, which is aspirational, but can be apolitical. On the other hand, children’s rights are a set of agreed upon minimum standards where the States Parties that have ratified the UNCRC, as the main duty bearers, can be held accountable to realise those rights. So, the harmonisation of the SDGs with children’s rights requires the States Parties develop a robust connection between the targets and the agreed upon set of non-negotiable UNCRC standards, especially in accordance with its core principles of non-discrimination, the best interest of children, the right to life, survival and development and the respect for the views of children.

The SDGs seek to realise the human rights of all and call to respect these rights. However, experiences from the field have shown that children and young people still face age-based discrimination and, as a result of that, they are excluded from decision-making processes. Moosa-Mitha (2005) argues that children will often be excluded if they are considered as ‘equality-as-same’ instead of being treated as ‘differently equal members of the public culture in which they are full participants.’ I believe that this difference-centre approach can help children and young people to exercise their citizen rights on the basis of their identity as children, and prevent them from being excluded solely on the basis of their age.

My final thoughts are around the promises made by SDGs to create spaces and opportunities for children and young people to participate in the global agenda. The member states at Rio + 20 also called to ensure the active participation of children and young people in decision-making processes and in monitoring and accountability. Writing from a UK context, Tisdall (2008) argues that one of the major tasks in ensuring children’s and young people’s participation is to change institutions to a position where they are able to include children and young people as stakeholders in decision-making. The SDGs have recognised children and young people as critical agents of change and asked them to actively engage in shaping their world. This is a very promising approach that has been widely applauded by children’s rights advocates, however, it is also brings several questions. How do the international community and other key actors incorporate children and young people’s participation in global strategies, policies and legislation and; more importantly, what do children and young people think about that?

If you would like to learn more about the SDGs, check out these sites:


- Moosa-Mitha, M. (2005) A Difference-Centred Alternative to Theorization of Children's Citizenship Rights, Citizenship Studies, 9 (4), pp. 369-388, DOI:10.1080/13621020500211354
- Tisdall, K. (2008) 'Is the honeymoon over? Children and young people’s participation in public decision-making' International Journal of Children’s Rights, 16 (3), pp. 343-354.
- Tisdall, K. (2015) Children’s rights and children’s wellbeing: Equivalent policy concepts? Journal of Social Policy, 44 (4), pp. 807-823, 10.1017/S0047279415000306.
- United Nations (2015) Transforming our world: the 2030 agenda for sustainable development, A/RES/70/1, retrieved 10 November 2015 from

Patricio Cuevas-Parra's CRFR PhD project ‘All opinions matter: Children and young people leading their own research’ aims to critically explore how the process and outcomes of the participation of children and young people in their own research contribute, positively or negatively, to decision-making processes.


Do you want to develop your skills in research and consultation with children and young people? Take a look at our Continuing Professional Development courses, delivered by Dr Susan Elsley and Professor Kay Tisdall:

10-11th March 2016: Involving children and young people in research and consultation
28-29th April 2016: Using creative methods in research with children and young people

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