Child Rights Impact Assessments

The Child-rights Impact Assessment (CRIA) is a tool that helps policy and legislation comply with the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) General Comment No. 14, para 99 and:

  • Sees children as active rights holders rather than passive recipients of adult actions
  • Predicts the impact of proposed policy, legislation, regulation, budget or other administrative decisions on children and the enjoyment of their rights
  • Tracks with ongoing monitoring and evaluation the impact of the measures on child rights
  • Is built into Government processes at all levels as early as possible and on a continuing basis in the development of policy and other general measures for good governance of child rights
  • Maximizes positive impacts and avoids or mitigates negative impacts on child rights and well-being (CRC, General Comment No. 14 on the right of the child to have his or her best interests taken as a primary consideration (GC No. 14), para 35)

The Committee on the Rights of the Child has repeatedly promoted the use of CRIA as a general measure of the implementation of children’s rights. CRIA, like Privacy or Environmental Impact Assessments, is a methodology and a decision-making tool that helps provide quality assurance in terms of child rights implementation in major policy-proposals, or legislative or law reform matters. CRIA can also help ensure that existing, or proposed public policy, or legislative decisions, generally comply with the CRC. The tool helps decision-makers identify impacts that are positive or negative, intended or unintended, direct or indirect and short-term or long-term.

Canada’s rebuttable presumption that domestic laws comply with international treaty obligations supports the use of CRIA. Knowledge of this tool and how it impacts policy-making and legislation can help legal professionals both in advancing arguments and determining issues in court for better child rights enforcement. Further, using CRIACRIA can support the lawyer’s role in policy-making with respect to how child rights-based analysis can and should inform the legislative process.

What is a CRIA and What Does it Do?

  • It is a tool for assessing and reviewing the potential impacts of any proposed or existing law, policy, program, or particular decision on children and their rights
  • It uses the CRC as the framework to assess these impacts: impacts can be positive or negative, intended or unintended, direct or indirect, and short-term or long-term
  • It is different from a child impact assessment as a CRIA uses the CRC framework and recognizes children as holders of broad based rights rather than passive recipients of adult actions
  • It aims to understand how the matter under assessment will contribute to, or undermine, the fulfillment of child rights and well-being so positive impacts are maximized and negative impacts are avoided or mitigated

Three Steps to Complete a CRIA

The CRIA is intended to be simple yet meaningful. UNICEF uses three basic steps to review proposed or past actions or decisions:

  1. Select, Screen and Scope
  • identify what could be assessed and what will be assessed
  • consider using clusters of rights under the CRC to simplify the process
  • if a law or policy already exists, CRIA can be designed as a monitoring and evaluation process to identify effects and unforeseen impacts on children
  1. Assess
  • Analyze law, policy or regulation and identify potential impacts on children based on various sources such as: academic literature, experts (including children and civil society organizations), jurisprudence, General Comments and Concluding Observations from the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child
  • Use different tools depending on the time frame and depth of the analysis such as detailed modelling of potential impacts on children
  • Engage relevant government departments responsible for the policy area or law
  • Assess the key child rights in issue:
    • The four core guiding principles of the CRC: non-discrimination; the best interests of the child; life, survival, and development; and participation children (articles 2, 3, 6 and 12)
    • Other relevant CRC articles identified during the screening process
  • Formulate recommendations (in partnership with key departments and/or levels of government involved in the development and implementation of the policy), setting out potential amendments, enhancements and alternative policies to address any concerns that have arisen through the CRIA process
  1. Communicate
  • Publicize and communicate the CRIA results and recommendations to inform the decision-making process, encourage ownership of the results and enable transparency
  • Communicate internally or externally to government and across government in a coordinated way as much as possible, depending on the stage of the decision-making process or action

International Law

  • CRC Articles 4 and 42: Canada and the provinces and territories’ role in relation to general measures of implementation for children’s rights

Interpretive Sources

Case Example

  • CRIA and the Victims and Witnesses (Scotland) Bill
    • The Government introduced a bill to support victims and witnesses and establish a national forum for adults placed in institutional forms of care as children
    • One of the bill’s provisions required victim statements for persons under 14 years of age to be made by a person caring for the child
    • CRIA focused on CRC Articles 3(1) (best interests) and 12(1) (child participation) and found the provision violated Article 12(1) and was inconsistent with s. 2(2) of the Age of Legal Capacity (Scotland) Act 1991 where a person 12 years or older has the testamentary capacity, including legal capacity, to exercise by testamentary writing any power of appointment.
    • Recommendations made through the CRIA to strengthen the bill included lowering the age from 14 to 12 years.

Canadian Law

CRIAs are relatively new in Canada but have been used by all levels of government and in New Brunswick, Saskatchewan, and Nova Scotia with initiatives underway in Quebec, Ontario, Alberta and the Yukon.

Case example

The New Brunswick CRIA model adopted in February 2013 requires all memoranda to executive council submitted after that date that bring forward new or amending legislation or major policy decisions for Cabinet consideration to be subject to a CRIAA. The tool has also been applied to departmental policy decision-making processes at the ministerial level and is used by the Child and Youth Advocate’s Office in preparing its own external CRIA reviews. A Primer on the NB CRIA modelCRIA and published CRIA reviews by the Advocate’s Office are available on the Advocate’s website.

Case Law

Inglis v. British Columbia (Minister of Public Safety), 2013 BCSC 2309, is a case where child rights violations may not have occurred had a CRIA been done prior to a public policy decision. The case involved the Mother-Baby program at Allouette Correction Centre for Women (ACCW) which was offered to accommodate women giving birth while incarcerated, and allowed infants to remain with their mothers. The program was cancelled in April 2008. The Court found this violated the Youth Criminal Justice Act rights of babies and their mothers to stay together during incarceration and that the corrections system was obliged to accommodate and respect these rights. The Court found the following themes in the CRC relevant to the Court’s analysis (at para 364):

  1. Family as the fundamental social unit is entitled to protection by the state.
  2. Special protection should be afforded to mothers, before and after childbirth, and children.
  3. The best interests of the child is a primary consideration in all actions taken by the state concerning children.
  4. A child shall not be separated from his or her parents against their will except with due process and where it is necessary in the best interests of the child.
  5. Except for those limitations that are demonstrably necessitated by the fact of incarceration, incarcerated persons retain their residual rights and freedoms.
  6. The state’s responsibilities with respect to prisoners shall be discharged in keeping with its fundamental responsibilities for promoting the well-being and development of all members of society.

Special Considerations

  • Children can participate directly in CRIA processes, in particular CRIAs can be very effective for engaging minority or marginalized children and youth.
  • CRIAs may stand-alone or be part of another type of impact assessment (e.g. environmental), should be adapted to your level of decision-making but not reduced to a simple checklist.
  • There is no single blueprint or template for a CRIA although there are many common characteristics between those that have been developed.
  • CRIA is a valuable tool for government departments who do not serve children as children are often not on the radar in those departments.
  • CRIA contents may or may not be publicly disclosed: role of solicitor-client and Cabinet privilege.
  • The impact of rights for Indigenous children can be measured and addressed.

Practice Essentials

  • CRIAs may be a useful source of information to strengthen your case where they are required.
  • The CRIA approach can assist in developing Child Rights Based Analysis for Court or other Decision-Making, or public policy bodies.
  • Ensure you follow a prescribed sequential stage process in completing a CRIA: measure and evaluate the effectiveness of the methodology.
  • Adapt CRIA to your level of decision-making.
  • CRIA should not be reduced to a simple checklist as this is not well suited to a quality scoping or analysis.
  • CRIA tools and manuals are intended to be an aid to the user and not a substitute for professional judgment: various tools and manuals can be consulted and adapted to particular needs and circumstances.
  • Consider weight to be given to various impacts: whether direct or indirect, mild or severe, short-term or long-term etc.