Education: What rights does your child have?
Edith van Ruitenbeek is a lawyer, mediator and partner at Van Hilten Advocaten & Mediators, a practice which specialises in (inter)national family law.
When moving from one country to another for job reasons, one of the issues expat parents have to deal with is choosing the right school for their child(ren). As parents, you want the best conditions for obtaining the necessary diplomas for facing the global future. After all, the kids of today often already consider the world to be theirs.
A child's right to access education (Art 28 of the Convention) is considered to be very important. Without a doubt, with a good education, children are better prepared for their future. The Netherlands offers a wide scale of opportunities for primary, secondary and academic education.
For students, many options for exchange programmes or platforms for developing skills and further knowledge are often within reach. Sometimes even international grants are offered; not just for university students, but also for vocational training. Options can also entail complications, however – for instance, when the emotional well-being of the children in the new country threatens to become compromised.
This is likely to happen when (expat) parents expect their children to be cognitively able to cope with all the demands of school, as well as extracurricular language lessons and/or religious education so as not to lose touch with their culture of origin: something that is made possible by the large offer of education in the Netherlands.
Parenting plan and children’s rights in divorce cases
As a lawyer and mediator specialising in family law, with an international practice, I have often seen parents in a divorce situation who have different nationalities and backgrounds or religions, thus giving rise to a situation in which the children are “caught in the middle”. For the sake of the children, a high-conflict divorce should be avoided at the very least, as this can cause severe trauma.
This is a situation I always try to prevent by asking the divorcing spouses to think as parents, instead of ex-partners, right from the beginning and to consider their children’s rights as well. When I have the opportunity to sit with parents and draw up a parenting plan, I try to make them see that this plan, in fact, ties into the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
The fact that the State requires parents to come up with a parenting plan that protects the interests of the children is based on the Convention (Art. 5), emphasising the responsibilities, rights and duties of parents.
When making a parenting plan, the first issue to consider is the right of the children to live with both parents or maintain personal relations and direct contact with both parents on a regular basis (Art. 9 of the Convention). School, in most cases, comes next, taking into account Art. 28 of the Convention: the right of the child to an education.
Schooling and education, however, can easily become a major issue in (expat) divorce situations. Especially as expat children often have two nationalities (sometimes even four) and in many cases speak several languages. In those cases, I always point out their right to leisure time as well!
Unfortunately, children sometimes have to face conflicts of a different order. As can be witnessed, children’s exposure to armed conflict has increased in recent years. Despite progressively more robust international norms and monitoring, a greater number of children are facing attacks on schools and hospitals, acts of war, life in a refugee camp, or trafficking.
When children have to move from one country to another just to survive, most of their rights are violated at some point.
The Children's Rights Moot Court 2019
To garner attention for human rights, and children’s rights in particular, I was happy to be participating again as a “judge” for The Children's Rights Moot Court Competition 2019, which was organised by Leiden University’s Law School, from April 3 to 5, 2019, in Leiden. The participating student teams plead a fictitious case that involved a dispute between a child and a state.
I embrace the initiative to invite students from all over the world – who themselves have had access to education – to focus on children’s rights, by pleading a fictitious individual petition brought before an International Court on the Rights of the Child that has been given jurisdiction to adjudicate disputes under the Convention of the Rights of the Child for the purpose of the Moot Court Competition.
This year’s case was about a 12-year-old boy who wanted to take action at the highest level to raise international attention for the harsh conditions of children who have to work in gold mines. The boy, while fleeing from the civil war in his home country to a neighbouring country, had fallen prey to a group of traffickers, who under false pretences brought him and several other children to the main gold mining region to work as child labourers in the mine.
This mine is owned by a powerful private mining company, with more than 12.000 employees globally and has its headquarters in Europe. Besides having to carry out high-risk work, the boy was not paid at all, had to live under terrible living conditions and was subjected to sexual exploitation.
An NGO, representing the boy and his fellow former child workers collectively, decided to bring a case against the state for violations of the Rights of the Child as recognised by the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and related international standards, and to demand remedies from the state involved, including compensation under international law.
This was an important case, especially given the fact that global companies are now pressured to carry out more and more assessments of their human rights practices by their customers. With global options comes global accountability.
Edith van Ruitenbeek is a lawyer and partner at Van Hilten Advocaten & Mediators, Nassaulaan 15, The Hague and De Lairessestraat 129, Amsterdam.