A ‘revolution’ in how we see the rights of children

Thirty years ago, the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child presented its take on juvenile justice: a child is the best judge of his or her situation. The treatyexternal link was a relatively easy one for the international community to rally behind. It has been signed by 196 states. Lawyer Jean Zermatten was the first Swiss to sit on the UN’s Committee on the Rights of the Childexternal link (CRC) and later became its president. In an interview with swissinfo.ch, Zermatten shares some of the moments and insights that helped shape a career devoted to the cause. swissinfo.ch: Throughout your long career working on child rights, which issue most moved you? Jean Zermatten: One situation in particular physically paralysed me, a visit to a prison in Nicaragua. Forty-three children were crammed into a cell of 43 square metres. The building was covered by a corrugated roof and there were just two barred windows. The heat was suffocating and the smell was unbearable. There was neither water nor toilets, and the children just had a hook fixed to the ceiling, like in a butcher’s shop, from which to hang their things. The noise was hellish. It was horrendous. After leaving, I couldn’t speak for the whole day. I could open my mouth, but nothing came out. It was a physical manifestation of the shock. Thankfully, after this, I managed to contact government representatives and convince them to close the prison.
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