4th World Congress on Family Law and Children’s Rights

In March 2005 in Cape Town, South Africa approximately 700 judges, lawyers and other professionals committed to children’s rights gathered at the 4th World Congress on Family Law and Children’s Rights. The venue was the Cape Town International Convention Centre. This was the fourth such meeting following the inaugural Congress in Sydney, Australia in 1993; the second in San Francsico, USA in 1997; and the third in Bath, England in 2001. It marked the 15th anniversary of the most widely ratified human rights convention of all time, the United Nations Convention of the Rights of the Child (UNCROC).

Although real progress has been made since the Convention was adopted, children are still dying in appalling numbers from preventable diseases such as malaria. Some 300,000 are child soldiers, or otherwise victims of the ultimate obscenity, war. Over 1 million are exploited every year in the multi-billion dollar sex industry. Children are bought and sold by organised crime rings and moved around the world as slaves. More than 14 million are now orphaned by HIV/AIDS; many of these will act as family heads and carry the disease themselves. 65% of the 121 million children in the world who are not in school are girls. Many more million children live in poverty and hunger.

It was these issues and many others that brought together international delegates from throughout the world and in particular from the African continent to review the success or otherwise of UNCROC in its 15 years of operation. 

Madam Graca Machel Patron of the 4th World Congress opened the event with a stirring personal call, which had the audience on their feet.

Her message was simple. Don’t hesitate to do what you can as an individual to protect the rights of children no matter how small that act might seem.  Do it now was her strong message. This theme concentrated the minds of the delegates in an area where the vastness of the task can often seem almost overwhelming. Madam Machel had been preceded by the African Children’s Choir who set an optimistic tone for the event with their stirring singing and dancing. The choir had just returned from George in South Africa where they had performed at the 46664 Concert in front of Nelson Mandela and his wife Graca Machel.

Nelson Mandela

“Each one of us – sister and brother, mother and father, teacher and student, priest and parishioner, manager and worker, Presidents and Prime Ministers, must add a voice to this call for action… “Not tomorrow, or the next week – but now…
“You can help break the silence. Talk about HIV and Aids. You can urge your leaders to do more and act now. You can show more care and compassion. You can protect our women and the next generation.”

Mary Robinson

Mary Robinson, Chair of The Ethical Globalization Initiative delivered the first Peter Nygh memorial lecture titled Harnessing Energies to Make Children’s Rights a Reality. She said: “As well as urging the United States to ratify, our message to governments must be clear and unambiguous: Keep the commitments you have made to children. The Convention on the Rights of the Child doesn’t provide all the answers, but it does provide an invaluable legal and normative framework that can help direct legislation, policies and programs with the wellbeing of children at the forefront. We must continue to use every tool available to hold governments accountable for the commitments they have made to child rights. But we must also be ready – through the harnessing of new energies – to support governments in need of help who have shown a genuine willingness to make progress. Children’s rights can’t wait. What children want from us is summed up by the poet Raymond Carver: “And what did you want?
To call myself beloved, to feel myself
Beloved on the earth”.

Carol Bellamy

Another keynote speaker at the Cape Town Congress UNICEF’s Carol Bellamy received the World Congress Human Rights Award for her extraordinary contribution to the best interest of the world’s children. As fourth Executive Director of UNICEF, Carol Bellamy led the agency from 1995 to 2005. During her tenure, Ms. Bellamy focused on five major priorities: immunizing every child; getting all girls and boys into school, and getting all schools to offer quality basic education; reducing the spread of HIV/AIDS and its impact on young people; fighting for the protection of children from violence and exploitation; and introducing early childhood programmes in every country.

Under Ms. Bellamy’s leadership, UNICEF became a champion of global investment in children, arguing that efforts to reduce poverty and build a more secure world can only be successful if they ensure that children have an opportunity to grow to adulthood in health, peace and dignity. She challenged leaders from all walks of life to recognize their moral, social, and economic responsibility to invest in children – and to shift national resources accordingly.

Ms. Bellamy left behind a fiscally sound organization with strong internal controls. During her tenure, she doubled UNICEF’s resources from roughly $800 million in 1994 to more than $1.8 billion in 2004.

Notable advances for children during Ms. Bellamy’s tenure at UNICEF include:

  • A 16 per cent drop in child mortality worldwide since 1990, with progress in every region except Sub-Saharan Africa, where AIDS and conflict have devastated health systems and community coping mechanisms
  • A 99 per cent reduction in polio since 1988
  • A 40 per cent reduction in measles since 1999
  • A 50 per cent decrease in diarrhoea deaths since 1990
  • A greater number of children in school than ever before
  • The enactment of national laws and policies in dozens of countries to better protect and service children.
  • Congress attendees at the Christel House School

She encouraged the General Assembly to allow children to take part in the UN Special Session on Children in May 2002, and hundreds did, meeting directly with Heads of State to discuss the issues affecting their lives. The ground-breaking summit adopted new global goals for children and provided world leaders with ideas and inspiration for achieving them. (A complete overview is available at http://www.unicef.org/specialsession/.) The World Congress on Family Law and Children’s Rights was honoured to present Carol Bellamy with its first Human Rights Award. These awards will be a feature of future World Congresses.

The 3rd World Congress in Bath 2001 expressed a wish to create a new non-governmental organisation, a network to advocate human rights on behalf on the world’s children. This wish became a reality in Cape Town with the launching of Children’s Rights International (CRI). The Hon Alastair Nicholson AO RFD QC will lead the new agency assisted by an inaugural Foundation Committee which includes international leaders in the area of human rights: 

  • The Rt. Hon Sir Stephen Brown (United Kingdom)
  • Professor Mick Dodson AM (Australia)
  • Mr. Stuart Fowler AM (Australia)
  • Minister for Foreign Affairs Doctor Jose Ramos Horta (Timor Leste)
  • The Hon Pat Mahoney DCNZM (New Zealand)
  • UN Special Human Rights Rapporteur Professor Vitit Muntarbhorn (Thailand)
  • Doctor Bhandra Ranchod (South Africa)
  • Professor Andrew Schepard (New York)
  • Ms Sharon Ser (Hong Kong)
  • Professor Geraldine van Bueren (London and Cape Town)
  • The Hon Justice John Van Duzer (Canada)

Click here for information about joining CRI
During the opening ceremony the Levis Strauss company was presented with Children’s Rights International’s first Leadership in Corporate Responsibility Award.

Article 32 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (1989)states that :
“State Parties recognize the right of the child to be protected from economic exploitation and from performing any work that is likely to be hazardous or to interfere with the child’s education or to be harmful to the child’s health or physical, mental, spiritual, moral or social development.” The award was made in recognition of Levi Strauss’s high level of leadership through corporate responsibility as it affects the world’s children in the area of child labour

The Nyankongo Behavior Change Group, which received the Children’s Rights International’s Human Rights Award, has meager resources. It is engaged, amongst other activities, in low cost coffin making for the victims of AIDS and educating the community as to the risks of Female Genital Mutilation. The meager profits from coffin making are returned to group members by using a revolving fund. Because they come from poor backgrounds the members use their share to feed their families. The group members cannot save and so cannot afford to buy new tools, which could expand the project. They have no audiovisual aids, generator and public address system. They confront hostile senior citizens that claim they are teaching their small girls to disobey them by not accepting Female Genital Mutilation. They have no land on which to centre their operation. They do an extraordinary job under the worst possible circumstances.

HOW YOU CAN HELP: If you would like to make a contribution to the work of the Nyankongo Group contact Children’s Rights International’s CEO Bill Jackson on bill.jackson@bigpond.com

Please see

The Hon. Alastair Nicholson

CRI’s Founding Patron The Hon Alastair Nicholson says: “Join me to put children’s rights at the forefront of government’s development agendas and importantly to ensure that the Convention is not only ratified but also applied within the countries who are signatories to it. It is my hope that CRI can do something very practical to help. My vision is that this should take the form of a three pronged approach which draws together (1) an ability to identify human rights abuses no matter where they occur through a network of reporters, (2) the capacity to provide knowledge and skills training to those working in the area and, importantly, (3) advocacy in the courts, in the media and elsewhere at no charge.” www.childjustice.org

A Message from the Joint Chairs of the 4th World Congress

‘We are delighted that we can report that the Cape Town World Congress on Family Law and Children’s Rights was a huge success. The feedback has been extraordinary. Meaningful professional relationships have been created and others renewed across the disciplines and across the world.

The Hon. Justice Rod Burr AM

In particular the focus was on Africa. Despite the difficulty of getting delegates to Africa from so many different parts of the World we were committed to the task. In pursuit of that task we were greatly assisted by those in Government and otherwise who embraced our “Support a Delegate” scheme which enabled many to attend who could not otherwise have been able to do so.

Inevitably the consequence of holding the meeting in Cape Town meant justifiably that the overshadowing concern of the Congress was the HIV/Aids pandemic, as it affects women and children, in sub-Saharan Africa and indeed the world.

On a practical note the Congress would not have been possible without the efforts of a “behind the scenes” team of committed and tireless workers. It is impossible to thank them all here but we would like to recognise their support. They know who they are.

Professor John Dewar who replaced the late Hon Peter Nygh as the World Congress’s Director of Studies is someone who we wish to thank personally. The academic programme is the heart of the World Congress and we are delighted with the number and quality of the papers presented some 120 in all. Many are available to view on this site with more still to come. 

Mr Stuart Fowler AM

Delegates visited township communities where they were welcomed by local project leaders and shown the reality of life for some 1 million people in Cape Town. Many were concerned that visiting such townships might be voyeuristic but we had made the tours ourselves with local black leaders and been reassured that this was what the communities needed. They needed awareness of and support for their brave endeavours to rise up out of the crushing poverty and provide meaningful lives for their children. Two projects in particular were highlighted, the Christel House School, previously mentioned on this web page, and the Philani Project which combines a crèche where children are cared for and given proper meals with a self help and education programme for their mothers/carers who participate in producing craft products and in programmes of health and nutritional education.

There is much to be done. The journey continues. We need your company on that journey.

We hope to see you in Canada in 2009

Justice Rod Burr AM & Mr. Stuart Fowler AM


Contact Us

We are interested in your views. If you were a delegate in Cape Town, a potential delegate for the 2009 World Congress in Canada or a interested professional, let us hear your views and ideas. Email:bill.jackson@bigpond.com

You may also contribute by joining Children’s Rights International, an initiative of the World Congress. For more information see www.childjustice.org