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The rights of Indigenous children around the world – still far from a reality
  1. Sarah L Woolley
  1. Sarah L Woolley, Bristol Royal Hospital for Children, Upper Maudlin Street, Bristol BS2 8HW, UK; davidandsarahsmith{at}googlemail.com

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The principle of “all children, all rights” is still much too far from being a reality. (General Kofi Annan)

There are approximately 300 million Indigenous peoples, defined as those peoples who “consider themselves distinct; and are determined to preserve, develop and transmit to future generations their ancestral territories, and their ethnic identity in accordance with their own cultural patterns, social institutions and legal systems”,1 and they live in nearly every country on earth.2 In some countries they are a majority and in others, a minority.

Recognising their special status, international law entitles Indigenous peoples to specific rights and protection including the rights to enjoy their culture, religion and language, and to preserve their collective identity. International awareness of Indigenous peoples’ rights has increased significantly in recent years, yet Indigenous children remain amongst the most marginalised groups in society. With higher birth rates than national populations, children make up a higher proportion of Indigenous populations3 and, wherever they live, Indigenous children share the common bond of social disadvantage. Compared to non-Indigenous children, they have lower birth registration rates, lower vaccination rates, a higher incidence of malnutrition, higher mortality rates, lower rates of school enrolment, higher rates of school dropout and a greater chance of being placed in the child protection system.4

This article examines the status of Indigenous children internationally and reviews the human rights instruments available to protect them. It aims to complement an article published in 2007 on child protection in South Asia.5 Discussion on all children’s rights is complex and immense. This article focuses on some of the basic rights that all children are entitled to.

INDIGENOUS CHILDREN’S RIGHTS

Colonisation has had a dramatic impact on Indigenous peoples and internationally they struggle for survival. Child removal, social dislocation, community dislocation, mental health problems, marginalisation from core …

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Footnotes

  • Competing interests: None.

  • i United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, United Nations Draft Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People (UNDDRIP), United Nations Working Group on Indigenous Populations, United Nations Working Group on the Draft Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples

  • ii Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDH) 1948, International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) 1966, International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) 1966, Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (CERD) 1966, Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) 1989, International Labour Organisation (ILO) 1989, Declaration on the Rights of Persons Belonging to National or Ethnic Religious and Linguistic Minorities 1992, Rio Declaration on Environment and Development and Agenda 21 1992, Convention on Biological Diversity and Indigenous Knowledge 1992, Vienna Declaration and Program of Action 1993, Report of the International Conference on Population and Development 1994, Durban Declaration and Program of Action 2001, Resolution on Indigenous Peoples within the Framework of the Development Cooperation of the Community and Members States 1998, Proposed Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples 1997

  • iii Universal Declaration of Human Rights 1948 Article 15, Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness 1961 Article 1, ICCPR 1966 Article 24, American Convention on Human Rights 1969 Article 20, Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women 1979 Article 9, African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child 1990 Article 6, International Convention of the Protection of the Rights of all Migrant Workers and Members of their Families 1990 Article 29, European Convention on Nationality 1997 Article 6

  • iv For example, approximately 21% of Ecuadorian and 45% of Brazilian Amazonian children are unregistered: “Amazon Sub-regional Programme”, Executive Board, Country Programme recommendations E/ICEF/2002/P/L.28 (UNICEF, 2002). The national rates of birth registration in Ecuador and Brazil are 70% and 80%, but amongst Amazonian children only 21% and 45% are registered.

  • v UNCRC 1989, CERD 1966, ICCPR 1966 Article 27, UN Declaration on the Rights of Persons Belonging to National, Ethnic, Religious and Linguistic Minorities 1992, Draft Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, A/HRC/1/L.10, Articles 14 and 15 (see www.ohchr.org, accessed 27 January 2009)

  • vi CERD 1966, ICCPR 1966, Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities 1995, UN Declaration on the Rights of Persons Belonging to National, Ethnic, Religious and Linguistic Minorities 1992, UNESCO Declaration of the Principles of International Cultural Cooperation 1966, UNESCO Universal Declaration on Cultural Diversity 2001, UNESCO Convention Against Discrimination in Education 1960, UNCRC 1989

  • vii Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, Report on the Situation of Human Rights of a Segment of the Nicaraguan Population of Miskito Origin and Resolution on the Friendly Settlement Procedure regarding the Human Rights Situation of a Segment of the Nicaraguan Population of Miskito Origin. Case No. 7964 (Nicaragua); Inter-American Commission on Human Rights Case No. 7615 (Brazil); Ominayak, Chief of the Lubicon Lake Band v. Canada, Communication No. 267/1984; Lovelace v Canada, Communication No. 24/1977

  • viii Rio Declaration on Environment and Development 1992, UN Convention on Biological Diversity 1992

  • ix UNCRC 1989 Article 28, ICESCR 1976 Articles 13 and 14, ICCPR 1976 Article 27, Convention against Discrimination in Education 1960 Article 5

  • x Despite being in draft form for more than a decade, this Declaration still has not be adopted by the UN member states.

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