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Sara led the charge to give children the power to appeal directly to the United Nations (UN) when their rights are violated.
June 5, 2014
Alumna Champions Children's Rights
The rights of children worldwide stand to be vastly improved as a result of a new international law that was championed by alumna Sara AUSTIN'93.

Working tirelessly on a global campaign, Sara led the charge to give children the power to appeal directly to the United Nations (UN) when their rights are violated. The new law—the United Nations Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child for a Communications Procedure—enables children to take their cases directly to the UN.

Sara developed the proposal for the legislation through her dissertation for the Masters of International Human Rights Law at the University of Oxford in 2005. She then went on to launch the campaign, advocating at the UN in Geneva and New York, and knocking on the doors of governments in Ottawa, Tokyo, Seoul and beyond. It culminated in April 2014, when Sara delivered a speech at the UN Headquarters in New York as the law went into effect.

"Children are the most vulnerable citizens in many countries," said Sara. "The idea to develop this law came from my many years working with children living in extreme poverty and exploitation. I worked with a coalition of NGOs relentlessly pushing the UN to make this law a reality for the millions of girls and boys who grow up abused, ignored or neglected."

The new legislation allows children, groups of children or their representatives to submit a complaint about violations of their rights by their government directly to the UN. For those countries which have ratified the Optional Protocol, children's complaints will then be fielded by the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, who will investigate and force governments to provide children with justice.

Countries that have ratified the Optional Protocol so far include Albania, Bolivia, Gabon, Germany, Montenegro, Portugal, Spain, Thailand, Slovakia and Costa Rica. Canada has not yet backed the initiative, so Sara and her colleagues continue to press for their support.

"This legislation is a huge victory, but the work is far from finished," Sara said. "The original 1989 Convention on the Rights of the Child is the most widely ratified convention in UN history, with only three countries choosing not to ratify. If we can get as many countries to ratify the third Optional Protocol, it will mean a drastically different future for children worldwide whose lives are marginalized every day."

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