Pretoria - Champion for children’s rights and veteran law expert in this field at the University of Pretoria’s Law Faculty, Professor Ann Skelton, has been re-elected to the UN Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner’s committee on the rights of the child.
Skelton’s new term will take effect from March and run until February 2025.
The committee consists of 18 independent experts nominated by their countries.
They are voted in by a majority of the 196 states that ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
It oversees the implementation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child. Its members review the progress of the 196 states and issue recommendations. It also drafts authoritative statements on children’s rights known as general comments and holds discussion days with stakeholders and children.
Since 2014 the committee has also been receiving individual complaints and requests for inquiries under its communications procedure.
Skelton, who has headed the Centre for Child Law at the university, racked up several notable achievements during her first four-year term of office. She led the drafting of General Comment 24 on the rights of children in the child justice system and she is current chairperson of the working group in communications.
Skeleton is the first holder of the Rotating Honorary Chair on the enforcement of children’s rights.
She said she was relieved and happy to be re-elected.
“I acknowledge the support of the Department of International Relations and Co-operation at the missions in Geneva and New York as a key factor in my successful re-election, as the process is very political.”
Skelton added that continuity for treaty body committees was important. “When I was elected the first time, I felt I was joining a movie that was halfway through. It’s a highly complex system and there is so much to learn. Four years sounds like a long time, but actually it flashes by, and at four years in, you feel like you’re on top of it and really able to make a contribution. So I am very glad to be able to continue with the work that we have already started.”
Skelton enjoys the challenge of dealing with complex legal issues such as extra-territorial jurisdiction – which the committee recently grappled with in a case regarding a complaint against France for refusing to repatriate the children of foreign fighters in camps in northern Syria.
Another case she is looking forward to is about the impact of climate change, brought by 16 children against several states. The committee usually meets thrice annually, for a month each time, in Geneva, Switzerland.
On gender-based violence, she said the committee issued a warning early in the Covid-19 pandemic this was a major risk for children during lockdown, and that channels for them to report violence would be reduced as they were confined to their homes.
“This is particularly relevant for South Africa, with so many children living in poverty and in overcrowded households. Although corporal punishment in the home was abolished through a Constitutional Court case in 2019, we have not yet seen the kind of campaigns and programming support needed to change attitudes and help parents to make adjustments toward positive parenting.”
International Relations and Co-operation Minister, Dr Naledi Pandor, said: “Her re-election will ensure continuity to the work of the committee. Her re-election will also contribute to gender diversity in the committee, her rich expertise notwithstanding.”