International and Local Experts Deliberate on International Best Practices on Safeguarding Children’s Best Interests: Enhancing Outcomes by Incorporating a Child Rights Impact Assessment Framework in Hong Kong

Plan International Hong Kong and The University of Hong Kong’s Centre for Comparative and Public Law (CCPL, Faculty of Law) jointly organised an international conference on ‘Safeguarding Children’s Best Interests: Translating policies into local practices —combating violence against children’ on 8 September 2018 at the University of Hong Kong. Given the establishment of Hong Kong’s first ever Commission on Children (CoC) in June 2018, this timely conference provided a platform for local policy makers, frontline practitioners and professionals from different sectors to convene and exchange ideas on safeguarding children’s best interests by incorporating a Child Rights Impact Assessment into policy making and frontline service provision into the local context drawing on international best practices.

Dr. Kanie Siu, the Chief Executive Officer of Plan International Hong Kong, is concerned about Hong Kong lagging behind in child rights realisation, and hopes the Conference serves as a starting point for the discussion on how international best practices can be translated into local practice and appropriately contextualised. ‘We are most delighted by the establishment of the Commission on Children in Hong Kong, which has been a long-time coming. Led by the Chief Secretary for Administration of the HKSAR government, it is believed that the Commission can coordinate different government departments well in formulating and implementing relevant policies. With the government’s newfound commitment in formulating long-term policies on children’s development, the conference gives all sectors working with children a platform for a thorough discussion on how we can optimise policy mechanisms to uphold children’s best interests – an obligation stipulated under the UNCRC.’

The Conference also served as the official launch of CCPL, Faculty of Law’s proposal to introduce the Child Rights Impact Assessment Framework (CRIA Framework) into policy, decision-making and professional practice, which was led by Puja Kapai, Associate Professor of Law at the University of Hong Kong. Kapai also launched the findings of a cross-jurisdictional research study on the implementation of the best interests of the child principle in different contexts. Kapai, who workshopped the draft CRIA Framework with cross-sector stakeholders, expressed that the tool has been well-received among civil society and multi-sector professionals. The tool comprises three distinct tiers provides a template which can be used to assess the impact of law or policy (macro), institutional or agency practice (meso) or individualised child-oriented interventions or decisions (micro). The CRIA Framework requires industry-specific refinements to align it with sector-specific criteria or indicators, demonstrates the potential it carries for effective safeguarding of children’s best interests. Stakeholders were enthusiastic that the CRIA framework could help entrench the best interests of the child as a central commitment of frontline practitioners engaged in working with children and enhance accountability. ‘Child Rights Impact Assessment helps us identify the positive and negative impact that a policy may have on children before its implementation, and ensure that no child is left behind in policy-making as it requires an indication of whether children have been engaged in the consideration or development of the decision.’ Kapai said. She further commented that this multi-tiered CRIA Framework is unique in that most CRIA tools around the world take a macro-level perspective focusing on legal or policy measures but not individual child-oriented interventions.

An array of international child rights experts, including Mikiko Otani, Member of the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child (CRC); Anne-Claire Blok, Human Rights Advisor of Plan International United Nations Office in Geneva; and Raša Sekulović, Head of Child Protection and Partnerships of Plan International Asia’s Regional Office, were invited to share their expertise on international best practices. Ms Otani delivered the Keynote Address at the conference. Otani said ‘Our role as a committee is to help the state parties find a better way how to implement their obligations. The adoption of laws and policies in and of themselves do not necessarily equate to impact. We need to go into detail to consider what is actually happening on the ground through to assess whether all the laws, policies and practices are determined by using the best interests principle. This is what the CRIA Framework is – a tool to help the government do this. It is an interesting experience for me here to see how HK is trying to build this up in its local context to make the principle of best interests of the child real and practical.’

Mr. Matthew Cheung Kin-chung, Chief Secretary for the Administration of the HKSAR and Chairperson of the Commission on Children delivered the Concluding Address for the event. ‘The HKSAR Government values every child’s rights and attaches great importance to the well-being of children. The current-term Government has set up the Commission on Children in June 2018 to address the issues that children face while growing up and has also put in place various measures to safeguard the best interests of children. The HKSAR Government will continue to listen to the views of the public and introduce effective measures to enhance our child protection mechanism.’

The conference also hosted members of the Commission on Children and engaged a wide range of delegates across different sectors including policy makers, academics, and frontline service practitioners from legal, health, social welfare and education sectors. They included, Fernando Cheung, Member of the Hong Kong Legislative Council; Dr. Chow Chun-bong, Clinical Professor of Paediatrics & Adolescent Medicine at The University of Hong Kong; Dennis Ho, Chairman of the Family Law Committee of the Law Society of Hong Kong and Billy Wong, Secretary of the Executive Committee of Hong Kong Committee on Children’s Rights.

The Conference has provided an invigorating platform for cross-disciplinary collaboration. To continue these efforts and building on past efforts towards driving systemic change to strengthen the protection of children in Hong Kong, the CCPL and Plan International Hong Kong will compile a report of the discussion and salient themes which emerged from the conference and publish it for child-rights advocates and practitioners interested in advancing a rights-based approach to incorporating children’s best interests and their voices in policies and practices affecting them.

(From left to right) Ms. Puja KAPAI, Associate Professor, Faculty of Law, University of Hong Kong

, Ms. Mikiko Otani, Member, United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child

, Ms. Anne-Claire Blok, Human Rights Advisor, Plan International United Nations Office in Geneva, Raša SEKULOVIC, Plan International Asia Regional Office, Regional Head of Child Protection and Partnerships, Mr. Andrew Weir, Board Chairman of Plan International Hong Kong and Prof. Ian Grenville CROSS, SBS, QC, SC, Honorary Consultant to the Child Protection Institute attended the conference to exchange views on child protection issues.

Ms. Mikiko Otani, Member, United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child delivered a speech.

Mr. Matthew Cheung Kin-chung, Chief Secretary for Administration of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region and Chairperson of Commission on Children (L2) attended the conference and gave a concluding speech and took photo with Ms. Puja KAPAI, Associate Professor, Faculty of Law, University of Hong Kong(L1), Dr. Darwin Chen, Board Member of Plan International Hong Kong(R2) and Dr. Kanie Siu, CEO of Plan International Hong Kong(R1).

Professionals and frontline service practitioners gathered together to discuss child protection issues.