The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child is an international agreement created in 1989 to protect the safety and well-being of children. The fundamental principle of the Convention is that all children are considered human beings with their own individual rights. The Convention has been signed by nearly 200 countries and Canada has been a member country (or “State party”) since 1991.
The Convention includes 54 “articles” which outline recommendations for protecting children’s rights in various contexts. “General Comments” are released on special topics to help State parties interpret and follow certain recommendations.
Children in the Youth Justice System
Two articles in the Convention (37 and 40) are focused specifically on children’s rights in the context of the justice system. General Comment 24 (GC24) was released in September 2019 to outline special issues related to children’s rights in this context. An important focus of GC24 is how courts deal with the application of criminal law to children with neurodevelopmental disabilities. GC24 states that:
Children with developmental delays or neurodevelopmental disorders or disabilities (for example, autism spectrum disorders, fetal alcohol spectrum disorders or acquired brain injuries) should not be in the child justice system at all, even if they have reached the minimum age of criminal responsibility. If not automatically excluded, such children should be individually assessed.
GC24 in Practice
Canada is obliged, by law, to follow the recommendations outlined in the Convention. GC24 clarifies the stance taken by the Convention on children with neurodevelopmental disabilities who are involved in the justice system. However, in practice, justice professionals may be unaware of these issues.
To help translate this information, we have recently released a CanFASD Policy Alert for policy makers and service providers. An overview of the Convention and GC24 is provided, and we discuss the relevance of these documents for children and youth with FASD.