Innocenti Research Centre
Innocenti Working Paper
THE RIGHT OF CHILDREN TO BE HEARD:
CHILDREN’S RIGHT TO HAVE THEIR VIEWS TAKEN INTO
ACCOUNT AND TO PARTICIPATE IN LEGAL AND
Innocenti Working Papers
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This publication forms part of a continuing effort by the UNICEF Innocenti Research Centre
(IRC) to document and analyse the efforts made by governments to implement the
Convention on the Rights of the Child, in particular the general measures of implementation.
It focuses on an issue raised in the 2007 IRC study on Law Reform and Implementation of the
Rights of the Child, and complements the 2005 Innocenti Insight on The Evolving Capacities
of the Child, by Gerison Landsdown, which analyses the child’s right to be heard and
participate in decision making in the family, the community and other social institutions.
Readers citing this document are asked to use the following form:
O’Donnell, Daniel (2009), ‘The Right of Children to be Heard: Children’s right to have their
views taken into account and to participate in legal and administrative proceedings’,
Innocenti Working Paper No. 2009-04, UNICEF Innocenti Research Centre, Florence.
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THE RIGHT OF CHILDREN TO BE HEARD:
CHILDREN’S RIGHT TO HAVE THEIR VIEWS TAKEN INTO ACCOUNT
AND TO PARTICIPATE IN LEGAL AND ADMINISTRATIVE PROCEEDINGS
a Senior Child Rights Consultant, UNICEF Innocenti Research Centre
Summary: This paper addresses the right of children to be heard in any judicial or administrative
proceeding affecting them. It introduces the subject based on examples from the laws and practices of 52
countries around the world, shedding further light on a topic covered in the UNICEF Innocenti Research
Centre publication Law Reform and Implementation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child (2007).
Section 1 analyses the text of article 12.2 in the light of other provisions of the Convention on the Rights
of the Child and other norms of international human rights law.
Section 2 reviews the legislation of selected countries, including laws that establish fixed limits
concerning the age at which a child can or must be heard in various types of legal and administrative
proceedings (such as child protection proceedings, family law proceedings, criminal proceedings in
which the child is a witness). It also addresses laws that establish other criteria (such as maturity, ability
to understand, risk of adverse psychological consequences) for such purposes.
Section 3 explores the reasons that underlie the criteria such as age limits used in different legal systems
for determining when a child will be heard in legal or administrative proceedings.
Section 4 concerns how laws are applied in practice in different legal systems, including the flexibility
of the criteria as applied in practice and the extent to which the views of children are actually taken into
Section 5 reviews efforts made by selected countries to make children’s participation in legal and
administrative proceedings child sensitive, such as by making the courtroom less intimidating, barring
repeated interrogation on sensitive subjects and establishing new modalities of cross-examination.
Section 6 reviews the advances made in some countries in recognizing children’s right to legal services
and legal representation. This is vitally important in enabling them to exercise the right to be heard and
to have their views taken into account in legal and administrative proceedings.
Section 7 contains findings and recommendations.
This paper is addressed primarily to child rights advocates, researchers, legal practitioners and other
professionals working in the area of children and the law. Further research is needed document good
practices and to complement this introductory, global overview with studies focusing in more detail on
different regions or legal traditions and specific types of proceedings.
Keywords: rights to be heard, child participation, legal and administrative procedures, judicial or
Acknowledgements: Preparation of this publication has been financed by the Government of
Sweden, whose long-standing support for IRC’s research on implementation of the Convention on the
Rights of the Child is acknowledged with gratitude.
IRC also acknowledges with thanks the comments and suggestions on an earlier version of this study
made by participants in the Expert Group Meeting on the Preparation of the General Comment on
Article 12 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child hosted by IRC in November 2007, including
in particular Jaap Doek, former Chair of the Committee on the Rights of the Child, and three members
of the Committee, Moushira Mahmoud Khattab, Lothar Krappman and Lucy Smith.
This study was prepared under the direction of Susan Bissell, Chief of the IRC Implemention of
International Standards Unit, with the overall guidance of Marta Santos Pais, IRC Director. Research
assistance was provided by Clara Chapdelaine, editorial assistance was provided by Catharine Way
and Ann Bone and administrative assistance by Sarah Simonsen.
“This is, and has always been, a case about children, their rights and the rights of their parents
and teachers. Yet there has been no one here or in the courts below to speak on behalf of the
children. No litigation friend has been appointed to consider the rights of the pupils involved
separately from those of the adults. No non-governmental organization … has intervened to
argue a case on behalf of children as a whole. The battle has been fought on ground selected by
Baroness Hale in Regina v. Secretary of State for Education and Employment and others (Respondents)
ex parte Williamson (Appellant) and others,
decision of 24 February 2005, United Kingdom,  UKHL 15, para.71