Committee on the Rights of the Children
General comment No. 14 (2013) on t he right of the child to have his or her best interests taken as a primary consideration ( art . 3 , para . 1 ) *
A.The best interests of the child: a right, a principle and a rule of procedure1-73
III.Nature and scope of the obligations of States parties 13-165
IV.Legal analysis and links with the general principles of the Convention17-457
A.Literal analysis of article 3, paragraph 117-407
1.“In all actions concerning children”17-247
2.“By public or private social welfare institutions, courts of law,administrative authorities or legislative bodies”25-318
3.“The best interests of the child”32-359
4.“Shall be a primary consideration”36-4010
B.The best interests of the child and links with other general principles of the Convention41-4511
1.The child’s best interests and the right to non-discrimination (art. 2)4111
2.The child’s best interests and the right to life, survival and development (art. 6)4211
3.The child’s best interests and the right to be heard (art. 12)43-4511
V.Implementation: assessing and determining the child’s best interests46-4712
A.Best interests assessment and determination48-8412
1.Elements to be taken into account when assessing the child’sbest interests 52-7913
2.Balancing the elements in the best-interests assessment80-8417
B.Procedural safeguards to guarantee implementation of the child’s best interests85-9918
“In all actions concerning children, whether undertaken by public or private social welfare institutions, courts of law, administrative authorities or legislative bodies, the best interests of the child shall be a primary consideration.”
Convention on the Rights of the Child (art. 3, para. 1)
A.The best interests of the child: a right, a principle and a rule of procedure
Article 3, paragraph 1, of the Convention on the Rights of the Child gives the child the right to have his or her best interests assessed and taken into account as a primary consideration in all actions or decisions that concern him or her, both in the public and private sphere. Moreover, it expresses one of the fundamental values of the Convention. The Committee on the Rights of the Child (the Committee) has identified article 3, paragraph 1, as one of the four general principles of the Convention for interpreting and implementing all the rights of the child, and applies it is a dynamic concept that requires an assessment appropriate to the specific context.
The concept of the “child's best interests” is not new. Indeed, it pre-dates the Convention and was already enshrined in the 1959 Declaration of the Rights of the Child (para. 2), the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (arts. 5 (b) and 16, para. 1 (d)), as well as in regional instruments and many national and international laws.
The Convention also explicitly refers to the child's best interests in other articles: article 9: separation from parents; article 10: family reunification; article 18: parental responsibilities; article 20: deprivation of family environment and alternative care; article 21: adoption; article 37(c): separation from adults in detention; article 40, paragraph 2 (b) (iii): procedural guarantees, including presence of parents at court hearings for penal matters involving children in conflict with the law. Reference is also made to the child's best interests in the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography (preamble and art. 8) and in the Optional Protocol to the Convention on a communications procedure (preamble and arts. 2 and 3).
The concept of the child's best interests is aimed at ensuring both the full and effective enjoyment of all the rights recognized in the Convention and the holistic development of the child. The Committee has already pointed out that “an adult’s judgment of a child’s best interests cannot override the obligation to respect all the child’s rights under the Convention.” It recalls that there is no hierarchy of rights in the Convention; all the rights provided for therein are in the “child's best interests” and no right could be compromised by a negative interpretation of the child's best interests.
The full application of the concept of the child's best interests requires the development of a rights-based approach, engaging all actors, to secure the holistic physical, psychological, moral and spiritual integrity of the child and promote his or her human dignity.
The Committee underlines that the child's best interests is a threefold concept:
(a)A substantive right: The right of the child to have his or her best interests assessed and taken as a primary consideration when different interests are being considered in order to reach a decision on the issue at stake, and the guarantee that this right will be implemented whenever a decision is to be made concerning a child, a group of identified or unidentified children or children in general. Article 3, paragraph 1, creates an intrinsic obligation for States, is directly applicable (self-executing) and can be invoked before a court.
(b)A fundamental, interpretative legal principle: If a legal provision is open to more than one interpretation, the interpretation which most effectively serves the child’s best interests should be chosen. The rights enshrined in the Convention and its Optional Protocols provide the framework for interpretation.
(c)A rule of procedure: Whenever a decision is to be made that will affect a specific child, an identified group of children or children in general, the decision-making process must include an evaluation of the possible impact (positive or negative) of the decision on the child or children concerned. Assessing and determining the best interests of the child require procedural guarantees. Furthermore, the justification of a decision must show that the right has been explicitly taken into account. In this regard, States parties shall explain how the right has been respected in the decision, that is, what has been considered to be in the child’s best interests; what criteria it is based on; and how the child’s interests have been weighed against other considerations, be they broad issues of policy or individual cases.
In the present general comment, the expression “the child’s best interests” or “the best interests of the child” covers the three dimensions developed above.
The scope of the present general comment is limited to article 3, paragraph 1, of the Convention and does not cover article 3, paragraph 2, which pertains to the well-being of the child, nor article 3, paragraph 3, which concerns the obligation of States parties to ensure that institutions, services and facilities for children comply with the established standards, and that mechanisms are in place to ensure that the standards are respected.
The Committee states the objectives (chapter II) of the present general comment and presents the nature and scope of the obligation of States parties (chapter III). It also provides a legal analysis of article 3, paragraph 1 (chapter IV), showing the links to other general principles of the Convention. Chapter V is dedicated to the implementation, in practice, of the principle of best interests of the child, while chapter VI provides guidelines on disseminating the general comment.
The present general comment seeks to ensure the application of and respect for the best interests of the child by the States parties to the Convention. It defines the requirements for due consideration, especially in judicial and administrative decisions as well as in other actions concerning the child as an individual, and at all stages of the adoption of laws, policies, strategies, programmes, plans, budgets, legislative and budgetary initiatives and guidelines – that is, all implementation measures – concerning children in general or as a specific group. The Committee expects that this general comment will guide decisions by all those concerned with children, including parents and caregivers.
The best interests of the child is a dynamic concept that encompasses various issues which are continuously evolving. The present general comment provides a framework for assessing and determining the child’s best interests; it does not attempt to prescribe what is best for the child in any given situation at any point in time.
The main objective of this general comment is to strengthen the understanding and application of the right of children to have their best interests assessed and taken as a primary consideration or, in some cases, the paramount consideration (see paragraph 38 below). Its overall objective is to promote a real change in attitudes leading to the full respect of children as rights holders. More specifically, this has implications for:
(a)The elaboration of all implementation measures taken by governments;
(b)Individual decisions made by judicial or administrative authorities or public entities through their agents that concern one or more identified children;
(c)Decisions made by civil society entities and the private sector, including profit and non-profit organizations, which provide services concerning or impacting on children;
(d)Guidelines for actions undertaken by persons working with and for children, including parents and caregivers.
III.Nature and scope of the obligations of States parties
Each State party must respect and implement the right of the child to have his or her best interests assessed and taken as a primary consideration, and is under the obligation to take all necessary, deliberate and concrete measures for the full implementation of this right.
Article 3, paragraph 1, establishes a framework with three different types of obligations for States parties:
(a)The obligation to ensure that the child's best interests are appropriately integrated and consistently applied in every action taken by a public institution, especially in all implementation measures, administrative and judicial proceedings which directly or indirectly impact on children;
(b)The obligation to ensure that all judicial and administrative decisions as well as policies and legislation concerning children demonstrate that the child's best interests have been a primary consideration. This includes describing how the best interests have been examined and assessed, and what weight has been ascribed to them in the decision.
(c)The obligation to ensure that the interests of the child have been assessed and taken as a primary consideration in decisions and actions taken by the private sector, including those providing services, or any other private entity or institution making decisions that concern or impact on a child.
To ensure compliance, States parties should undertake a number of implementation measures in accordance with articles 4, 42 and 44, paragraph 6, of the Convention, and ensure that the best interests of the child are a primary consideration in all actions, including:
(a)Reviewing and, where necessary, amending domestic legislation and other sources of law so as to incorporate article 3, paragraph 1, and ensure that the requirement to consider the child's best interests is reflected and implemented in all national laws and regulations, provincial or territorial legislation, rules governing the operation of private or public institutions providing services or impacting on children, and judicial and administrative proceedings at any level, both as a substantive right and as a rule of procedure;
(b)Upholding the child’s best interests in the coordination and implementation of policies at the national, regional and local levels;
(c)Establishing mechanisms and procedures for complaints, remedy or redress in order to fully realize the right of the child to have his or her best interests appropriately integrated and consistently applied in all implementation measures, administrative and judicial proceedings relevant to and with an impact on him or her;
(d)Upholding the child’s best interests in the allocation of national resources for programmes and measures aimedat implementing children’s rights, and in activities receiving international assistance or development aid;
(e)When establishing, monitoring and evaluating data collection, ensure that the child’s best interests are explicitly spelled out and, where required, support research on children’s rights issues;
(f)Providing information and training on article 3, paragraph 1, and its application in practice to all those making decisions that directly or indirectly impact on children, including professionals and other people working for and with children;
(g)Providing appropriate information to children in a language they can understand, and to their families and caregivers, so that they understand the scope of the right protected under article 3, paragraph 1, as well as creating the necessary conditions for children to express their point of view and ensuring that their opinions are given due weight;
(h)Combatingall negative attitudes and perceptions which impede the full realization of the right of the child to have his or her best interests assessed and taken as a primary consideration, through communication programmes involving mass media and social networks as well as children, in order to have children recognized as rightsholders.
In giving full effect to the child’s best interests, the following parameters should be borne in mind:
(a)The universal, indivisible, interdependent and interrelated nature of children’s rights;
(b)Recognition of children as right holders;
(c)The global nature and reach of the Convention;
(d)The obligation of States parties to respect, protect and fulfill all the rights in the Convention;
(e)Short-, medium- and long-term effects of actions related to the development of the child over time.
IV.Legal analysis and links with the general principles of the Convention
A.Legal analysis of article 3, paragraph 1
1.“In all actions concerning children”
(a)“in all actions”
Article 3, paragraph 1 seeks to ensure that the right is guaranteed in all decisions and actions concerning children. This means that every action relating to a child or children has to take into account their best interests as a primary consideration. The word “action” does not only include decisions, but also all acts, conduct, proposals, services, procedures and other measures.
Inaction or failure to take action and omissions are also “actions”, for example, when social welfare authorities fail to take action to protect children from neglect or abuse.
The legal duty applies to all decisions and actions that directly or indirectly affect children. Thus, the term “concerning” refers first of all, to measures and decisions directly concerning a child, children as a group or children in general, and secondly, to other measures that have an effect on an individual child, children as a group or children in general, even if they are not the direct targets of the measure. As stated in the Committee’s general comment No. 7 (2005), such actions include those aimed at children (e.g. related to health, care or education), as well as actions which include children and other population groups (e.g. related to the environment, housing or transport) (para. 13 (b)). Therefore, “concerning” must be understood in a very broad sense.
Indeed, all actions taken by a State affect children in one way or another. This does not mean that every action taken by the State needs to incorporate a full and formal process of assessing and determining the best interests o the child. However, where a decision will have a major impact on a child or children, a greater level of protection and detailed procedures to consider their best interests is appropriate.
Thus, in relation to measures that are not directly aimed at the child or children, the term “concerning” would need to be clarified in the light of the circumstances of each case in order to be able to appreciate the impact of the action on the child or children.
The term “children” refers to all persons under the age of 18 within the jurisdiction of a State party, without discrimination of any kind, in line with articles 1 and 2 of the Convention.
Article 3, paragraph 1, applies to children as individuals and places an obligation on States parties to assess and take the child’s best interests as a primary consideration in individual decisions.
However, the term “children” implies that the right to have their best interests duly considered applies to children not only as individuals, but also in general or as a group. Accordingly, States have the obligation to assess and take as a primary consideration the best interests of children as a group or in general in all actions concerning them. This is particularly evident for all implementation measures. The Committee underlines that the child's best interests is conceived both as a collective and individual right, and that the application of this right to indigenous children as a group requires consideration of how the right relates to collective cultural rights.
That is not to say that in a decision concerning an individual child, his or her interests must be understood as being the same as those of children in general. Rather, article 3, paragraph 1, implies that the best interests of a child must be assessed individually. Procedures for establishing the best interests of children individually and as a group can be found in chapter V below.
2.“By public or private social welfare institutions, courts of law, administrative authorities or legislative bodies”
The obligation of the States to duly consider the child's best interests is a comprehensive obligation encompassing all public and private social welfare institutions, courts of law, administrative authorities and legislative bodies involving or concerning children. Although parents are not explicitly mentioned in article 3, paragraph 1, the best interests of the child “will be their basic concern” (art. 18, para. 1).
(a)“public or private social welfare institutions”
These terms should not be narrowly construed or limited to social institutions stricto sensu, but should be understood to mean all institutions whose work and decisions impact on children and the realization of their rights. Such institutions include not only those related to economic, social and cultural rights (e.g. care, health, environment, education, business, leisure and play, etc.), but also institutions dealing with civil rights and freedoms (e.g. birth registration, protection against violence in all settings, etc.). Private social welfare institutions include private sector organizations – either for-profit or non-profit – which play a role in the provision of services that are critical to children’s enjoyment of their rights, and which act on behalf of or alongside Government services as an alternative.
(b)“courts of law”
The Committee underlines that “courts” refer to all judicial proceedings, in all instances – whether staffed by professional judges or lay persons – and all relevant procedures concerning children, without restriction. This includes conciliation, mediation and arbitration processes.
In criminal cases, the best interests principle applies to children in conflict (i.e. alleged, accused or recognized as having infringed) or in contact (as victims or witnesses) with the law, as well as children affected by the situation of their parents in conflict with the law. The Committee underlines that protecting the child's best interests means that the traditional objectives of criminal justice, such as repression or retribution, must give way to rehabilitation and restorative justice objectives, when dealing with child offenders.
In civil cases, the child may be defending his or her interests directly or through a representative, in the case of paternity, child abuse or neglect, family reunification, accommodation, etc. The child may be affected by the trial, for example in procedures concerning adoption or divorce, decisions regarding custody, residence, contact or other issues which have an important impact on the life and development of the child, as well as child abuse or neglect proceedings. The courts must provide for the best interests of the child to be considered in all such situations and decisions, whether of a procedural or substantive nature, and must demonstrate that they have effectively done so.
The Committee emphasizes that the scope of decisions made by administrative authorities at all levels is very broad, covering decisions concerning education, care, health, the environment, living conditions, protection, asylum, immigration, access to nationality, among others. Individual decisions taken by administrative authorities in these areas must be assessed and guided by the best interests of the child, as for all implementation measures.
The extension of States parties’ obligation to their “legislative bodies” shows clearly that article 3, paragraph 1, relates to children in general, not only to children as individuals. The adoption of any law or regulation as well as collective agreements – such as bilateral or multilateral trade or peace treaties which affect children – should be governed by the best interests of the child. The right of the child to have his or her best interests assessed and taken as a primary consideration should be explicitly included in all relevant legislation, not only in laws that specifically concern children. This obligation extends also to the approval of budgets, the preparation and development of which require the adoption of a best-interests-of-the-child perspective for it to be child-rights sensitive.
3.“The best interests of the child”
The concept of the child's best interests is complex and its content must be determined on a case-by-case basis. It is through the interpretation and implementation of article 3, paragraph 1, in line with the other provisions of the Convention, that the legislator, judge, administrative, social or educational authority will be able to clarify the concept and make concrete use thereof. Accordingly, the concept of the child’s best interests is flexible and adaptable. It should be adjusted and defined on an individual basis, according to the specific situation of the child or children concerned, taking into consideration their personal context, situation and needs. For individual decisions, the child's best interests must be assessed and determined in light of the specific circumstances of the particular child. For collective decisions – such as by the legislator –, the best interests of children in general must be assessed and determined in light of the circumstances of the particular group and/or children in general. In both cases, assessment and determination should be carried out with full respect for the rights contained in the Convention and its Optional Protocols.
The child's best interests shall be applied to all matters concerning the child or children, and taken into account to resolve any possible conflicts among the rights enshrined in the Convention or other human rights treaties. Attention must be placed on identifying possible solutions which are in the child's best interests. This implies that States are under the obligation to clarify the best interests of all children, including those in vulnerable situations, when adopting implementation measures.
The flexibility of the concept of the child’s best interests allows it to be responsive to the situation of individual children and to evolve knowledge about child development. However, it may also leave room for manipulation; the concept of the child’s best interests has been abused by Governments and other State authorities to justify racist policies, for example; by parents to defend their own interests in custody disputes; by professionals who could not be bothered, and who dismiss the assessment of the child’s best interests as irrelevant or unimportant.
With regard to implementation measures, ensuring that the best interests of the child are a primary consideration in legislation and policy development and delivery at all levels of Government demands a continuous process of child rights impact assessment (CRIA) to predict the impact of any proposed law, policy or budgetary allocation on children and the enjoyment of their rights, and child rights impact evaluation to evaluate the actual impact of implementation.
4.“Shall be a primary consideration”
The best interests of a child shall be a primary consideration in the adoption of all measures of implementation. The words “shall be” place a strong legal obligation on States and mean that States may not exercise discretion as to whether children’s best interests are to be assessed and ascribed the proper weight as a primary consideration in any action undertaken.
The expression “primary consideration” means that the child’s best interests may not be considered on the same level as all other considerations. This strong position is justified by the special situation of the child: dependency, maturity, legal status and, often, voicelessness. Children have less possibility than adults to make a strong case for their own interests and those involved in decisions affecting them must be explicitly aware of their interests. If the interests of children are not highlighted, they tend to be overlooked.
In respect of adoption (art. 21), the right of best interests is further strengthened; it is not simply to be “a primary consideration” but “the paramount consideration”. Indeed, the best interests of the child are to be the determining factor when taking a decision on adoption, but also on other issues.
However, since article 3, paragraph 1, covers a wide range of situations, the Committee recognizes the need for a degree of flexibility in its application. The best interests of the child – once assessed and determined – might conflict with other interests or rights (e.g. of other children, the public, parents, etc.). Potential conflicts between the best interests of a child, considered individually, and those of a group of children or children in general have to be resolved on a case-by-case basis, carefully balancing the interests of all parties and finding a suitable compromise. The same must be done if the rights of other persons are in conflict with the child’s best interests. If harmonization is not possible, authorities and decision-makers will have to analyse and weigh the rights of all those concerned, bearing in mind that the right of the child to have his or her best interests taken as a primary consideration means that the child's interests have high priority and not just one of several considerations. Therefore, a larger weight must be attached to what serves the child best.
Viewing the best interests of the child as “primary” requires a consciousness about the place that children’s interests must occupy in all actions and a willingness to give priority to those interests in all circumstances, but especially when an action has an undeniable impact on the children concerned.
B.The best interests of the child and links with other general principles of the Convention
1.The child’s best interests and the right to non-discrimination (art. 2)
The right to non-discrimination is not a passive obligation, prohibiting all forms of discrimination in the enjoyment of rights under the Convention, but also requires appropriate proactive measures taken by the State to ensure effective equal opportunities for all children to enjoy the rights under the Convention. This may require positive measures aimed at redressing a situation of real inequality.
2.The child’s best interests and the right to life, survival and development (art. 6)
States must create an environment that respects human dignity and ensures the holistic development of every child. In the assessment and determination of the child’s best interests, the State must ensure full respect for his or her inherent right to life, survival and development.
3.The child’s best interests and the right to be heard (art. 12)
Assessment of a child’s best interests must include respect for the child’s right to express his or her views freely and due weight given to said views in all matters affecting the child. This is clearly set out in the Committee’s general comment No. 12 which also highlights the inextricable links between articles 3, paragraph 1, and 12. The two articles have complementary roles: the first aims to realize the child’s best interests, and the second provides the methodology for hearing the views of the child or children and their inclusion in all matters affecting the child, including the assessment of his or her best interests. Article 3, paragraph 1, cannot be correctly applied if the requirements of article 12 are not met. Similarly, article 3, paragraph 1, reinforces the functionality of article 12, by facilitating the essential role of children in all decisions affecting their lives.
The evolving capacities of the child (art. 5) must be taken into consideration when the child's best interests and right to be heard are at stake. The Committee has already established that the more the child knows, has experienced and understands, the more the parent, legal guardian or other persons legally responsible for him or her have to transform direction and guidance into reminders and advice, and later to an exchange on an equal footing.Similarly, as the child matures, his or her views shall have increasing weight in the assessment of his or her best interests. Babies and very young children have the same rights as all children to have their best interests assessed, even if they cannot express their views or represent themselves in the same way as older children. States must ensure appropriate arrangements, including representation, when appropriate, for the assessment of their best interests; the same applies for children who are not able or willing to express a view.
The Committee recalls that article 12, paragraph 2, of the Convention provides for the right of the child to be heard, either directly or through a representative, in any judicial or administrative proceeding affecting him or her (see further chapter V.B below).
V.Implementation: assessing and determining the child’s best interests
As stated earlier, the “best interests of the child” is a right, a principle and a rule of procedure based on an assessment of all elements of a child’s or children’s interests in a specific situation. When assessing and determining the best interests of the child in order to make a decision on a specific measure, the following steps should be followed:
(a)First, within the specific factual context of the case, find out what are the relevant elements in a best-interests assessment, give them concrete content, and assign a weight to each in relation to one another;
(b)Secondly, to do so, follow a procedure that ensures legal guarantees and proper application of the right.
Assessment and determination of the child’s best interests are two steps to be followed when required to make a decision. The “best-interests assessment” consists in evaluating and balancing all the elements necessary to make a decision in a specific situation for a specific individual child or group of children. It is carried out by the decision-maker and his or her staff – if possible a multidisciplinary team –, and requires the participation of the child. The “best-interests determination” describes the formal process with strict procedural safeguards designed to determine the child's best interests on the basis of the best-interests assessment.
A. Best interests a ssessment and determination
Assessing the child’s best interests is a unique activity that should be undertaken in each individual case, in the light of the specific circumstances of each child or group of children or children in general. These circumstances relate to the individual characteristics of the child or children concerned, such as, inter alia, age, sex, level of maturity, experience, belonging to a minority group, having a physical, sensory or intellectual disability, as well as the social and cultural context in which the child or children find themselves, such as the presence or absence of parents, whether the child lives with them, quality of the relationships between the child and his or her family or caregivers, the environment in relation to safety, the existence of quality alternative means available to the family, extended family or caregivers, etc.
Determining what is in the best interests of the child should start with an assessment of the specific circumstances that make the child unique. This implies that some elements will be used and others will not, and also influences how they will be weighted against each other. For children in general, assessing best interests involves the same elements.
The Committee considers it useful to draw up a non-exhaustive and non-hierarchical list of elements that could be included in a best-interests assessment by any decision-maker having to determine a child's best interests. The non-exhaustive nature of the elements in the list implies that it is possible to go beyond those and consider other factors relevant in the specific circumstances of the individual child or group of children. All the elements of the list must be taken into consideration and balanced in light of each situation. The list should provide concrete guidance, yet flexibility.
Drawing up such a list of elements would provide guidance for the State or decision-maker in regulating specific areas affecting children, such as family, adoption and juvenile justice laws, and if necessary, other elements deemed appropriate in accordance with its legal tradition may be added. The Committee would like to point out that, when adding elements to the list, the ultimate purpose of the child's best interests should be to ensure the full and effective enjoyment of the rights recognized in the Convention and the holistic development of the child. Consequently, elements that are contrary to the rights enshrined in the Convention or that would have an effect contrary to the rights under the Convention cannot be considered as valid in assessing what is best for a child or children.
1.Elements to be taken into account when assessing the child's best interests
Based on these preliminary considerations, the Committee considers that the elements to be taken into account when assessing and determining the child’s best interests, as relevant to the situation in question, are as follows:
(a)The child's views
Article 12 of the Convention provides for the right of children to express their views in every decision that affects them. Any decision that does not take into account the child’s views or does not give their views due weight according to their age and maturity, does not respect the possibility for the child or children to influence the determination of their best interests.
The fact that the child is very young or in a vulnerable situation (e.g. has a disability, belongs to a minority group, is a migrant, etc.) does not deprive him or her of the right to express his or her views, nor reduces the weight given to the child’s views in determining his or her best interests. The adoption of specific measures to guarantee the exercise of equal rights for children in such situations must be subject to an individual assessment which assures a role to the children themselves in the decision-making process, and the provision of reasonable accommodation and support, where necessary, to ensure their full participation in the assessment of their best interests.
(b)The child's identity
Children are not a homogeneous group and therefore diversity must be taken into account when assessing their best interests. The identity of the child includes characteristics such as sex, sexual orientation, national origin, religion and beliefs, cultural identity, personality. Although children and young people share basic universal needs, the expression of those needs depends on a wide range of personal, physical, social and cultural aspects, including their evolving capacities. The right of the child to preserve his or her identity is guaranteed by the Convention (art. 8) and must be respected and taken into consideration in the assessment of the child's best interests.
Regarding religious and cultural identity, for example, when considering a foster home or placement for a child, due regard shall be paid to the desirability of continuity in a child’s upbringing and to the child’s ethnic, religious, cultural and linguistic background (art. 20, para. 3), and the decision-maker must take into consideration this specific context when assessing and determining the child's best interests. The same applies in cases of adoption, separation from or divorce of parents. Due consideration of the child's best interests implies that children have access to the culture (and language, if possible) of their country and family of origin, and the opportunity to access information about their biological family, in accordance with the legal and professional regulations of the given country (see art. 9, para. 4).
Although preservation of religious and cultural values and traditions as part of the identity of the child must be taken into consideration, practices that are inconsistent or incompatible with the rights established in the Convention are not in the child's best interests. Cultural identity cannot excuse or justify the perpetuation by decision-makers and authorities of traditions and cultural values that deny the child or children the rights guaranteed by the Convention.
(c)Preservation of the family environment and maintaining relations
The Committee recalls that it is indispensable to carry out the assessment and determination of the child’s best interests in the context of potential separation of a child from his or her parents (arts. 9, 18 and 20). It also underscores that the elements mentioned above are concrete rights and not only elements in the determination of the best interests of the child.
The family is the fundamental unit of society and the natural environment for the growth and well-being of its members, particularly children (preamble of the Convention). The right of the child to family life is protected under the Convention (art. 16). The term “family” must be interpreted in a broad sense to include biological, adoptive or foster parents or, where applicable, the members of the extended family or community as provided for by local custom (art. 5).
Preventing family separation and preserving family unity are important components of the child protection system, and are based on the right provided for in article 9, paragraph 1, which requires “that a child shall not be separated from his or her parents against their will, except when […] such separation is necessary for the best interests of the child”. Furthermore, the child who is separated from one or both parents is entitled “to maintain personal relations and direct contact with both parents on a regular basis, except if it is contrary to the child’s best interests” (art. 9, para. 3). This also extends to any person holding custody rights, legal or customary primary caregivers, foster parents and persons with whom the child has a strong personal relationship.
Given the gravity of the impact on the child of separation from his or her parents, such separation should only occur as a last resort measure, as when the child is in danger of experiencing imminent harm or when otherwise necessary; separation should not take place if less intrusive measures could protect the child. Before resorting to separation, the State should provide support to the parents in assuming their parental responsibilities, and restore or enhance the family’s capacity to take care of the child, unless separation is necessary to protect the child. Economic reasons cannot be a justification for separating a child from his or her parents.
The Guidelines for the Alternative Care of Children aims to ensure that children are not placed in alternative care unnecessarily; and that where alternative care is provided, it is delivered under appropriate conditions responding to the rights and best interests of the child. In particular, “financial and material poverty, or conditions directly and uniquely imputable to such poverty, should never be the only justification for the removal of a child from parental care [...] but should be seen as a signal for the need to provide appropriate support to the family” (para. 15).
Likewise, a child may not be separated from his or her parents on the grounds of a disability of either the child or his or her parents. Separation may be considered only in cases where the necessary assistance to the family to preserve the family unit is not effective enough to avoid a risk of neglect or abandonment of the child or a risk to the child’s safety.
In case of separation, the State must guarantee that the situation of the child and his or her family has been assessed, where possible, by a multidisciplinary team of well-trained professionals with appropriate judicial involvement, in conformity with article 9 of the Convention, ensuring that no other option can fulfil the child’s best interests.
When separation becomes necessary, the decision-makers shall ensure that the child maintains the linkages and relations with his or her parents and family (siblings, relatives and persons with whom the child has had strong personal relationships) unless this is contrary to the child’s best interests. The quality of the relationships and the need to retain them must be taken into consideration in decisions on the frequency and length of visits and other contact when a child is placed outside the family.
When the child’s relations with his or her parents are interrupted by migration (of the parents without the child, or of the child without his or her parents), preservation of the family unit should be taken into account when assessing the best interests of the child in decisions on family reunification.
The Committee is of the view that shared parental responsibilities are generally in the child's best interests. However, in decisions regarding parental responsibilities, the only criterion shall be what is in the best interests of the particular child. It is contrary to those interests if the law automatically gives parental responsibilities to either or both parents. In assessing the child's best interests, the judge must take into consideration the right of the child to preserve his or her relationship with both parents, together with the other elements relevant to the case.
The Committee encourages the ratification and implementation of the conventions of the Hague Conference on Private International Law, which facilitate the application of the child's best interests and provide guarantees for its implementation in the event that the parents live in different countries.
In cases where the parents or other primary caregivers commit an offence, alternatives to detention should be made available and applied on a case-by-case basis, with full consideration of the likely impacts of different sentences on the best interests of the affected child or children.
Preservation of the family environment encompasses the preservation of the ties of the child in a wider sense. These ties apply to the extended family, such as grandparents, uncles/aunts as well friends, school and the wider environment and are particularly relevant in cases where parents are separated and live in different places.
(d)Care, protection and safety of the child
When assessing and determining the best interests of a child or children in general, the obligation of the State to ensure the child such protection and care as is necessary for his or her well-being (art. 3, para. 2) should be taken into consideration. The terms “protection and care” must also be read in a broad sense, since their objective is not stated in limited or negative terms (such as “to protect the child from harm”), but rather in relation to the comprehensive ideal of ensuring the child’s “well-being” and development. Children’s well-being, in a broad sense includes their basic material, physical, educational, and emotional needs, as well as needs for affection and safety.
Emotional care is a basic need of children; if parents or other primary caregivers do not fulfil the child’s emotional needs, action must be taken so that the child develops a secure attachment. Children need to form an attachment to a caregiver at a very early age, and such attachment, if adequate, must be sustained over time in order to provide the child with a stable environment.
Assessment of the child's best interests must also include consideration of the child’s safety, that is, the right of the child to protection against all forms of physical or mental violence, injury or abuse (art. 19), sexual harassment, peer pressure, bullying, degrading treatment, etc., as well as protection against sexual, economic and other exploitation, drugs, labour, armed conflict, etc.(arts. 32-39).
Applying a best-interests approach to decision-making means assessing the safety and integrity of the child at the current time; however, the precautionary principle also requires assessing the possibility of future risk and harm and other consequences of the decision for the child’s safety.
(e)Situation of vulnerability
An important element to consider is the child’s situation of vulnerability, such as disability, belonging to a minority group, being a refugee or asylum seeker, victim of abuse, living in a street situation, etc. The purpose of determining the best interests of a child or children in a vulnerable situation should not only be in relation to the full enjoyment of all the rights provided for in the Convention, but also with regard to other human rights norms related to these specific situations, such as those covered in the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, the Convention relating to the Status of Refugees, among others.
The best interests of a child in a specific situation of vulnerability will not be the same as those of all the children in the same vulnerable situation. Authorities and decision-makers need to take into account the different kinds and degrees of vulnerability of each child, as each child is unique and each situation must be assessed according to the child’s uniqueness. An individualized assessment of each child’s history from birth should be carried out, with regular reviews by a multidisciplinary team and recommended reasonable accommodation throughout the child’s development process.
(f)The child’s right to health
The child’s right to health (art. 24) and his or her health condition are central in assessing the child’s best interest. However, if there is more than one possible treatment for a health condition or if the outcome of a treatment is uncertain, the advantages of all possible treatments must be weighed against all possible risks and side effects, and the views of the child must also be given due weight based on his or her age and maturity. In this respect, children should be provided with adequate and appropriate information in order to understand the situation and all the relevant aspects in relation to their interests, and be allowed, when possible, to give their consent in an informed manner.
For example, as regards adolescent health, the Committeehas stated that States parties have the obligation to ensure that all adolescents, both in and out of school, have access to adequate information that is essential for their health and development in order to make appropriate health behaviour choices. This should include information on use and abuse of tobacco, alcohol and other substances, diet, appropriate sexual and reproductive information, dangers of early pregnancy, prevention of HIV/AIDS and of sexually transmitted diseases. Adolescents with a psycho-social disorder have the right to be treated and cared for in the community in which he or she lives, to the extent possible. Where hospitalization or placement in a residential institution is necessary, the best interests of the child must be assessed prior to taking a decision and with respect for the child’s views; the same considerations are valid for younger children. The health of the child and possibilities for treatment may also be part of a best-interests assessment and determination with regard to other types of significant decisions (e.g. granting a residence permit on humanitarian grounds).
(g)The child’s right to education
It is in the best interests of the child to have access to quality education, including early childhood education, non-formal or informal education and related activities, free of charge. All decisions on measures and actions concerning a specific child or a group of children must respect the best interests of the child or children, with regard to education. In order to promote education, or better quality education, for more children, States parties need to have well-trained teachers and other professionals working in different education-related settings, as well as a child-friendly environment and appropriate teaching and learning methods, taking into consideration that education is not only an investment in the future, but also an opportunity for joyful activities, respect, participation and fulfilment of ambitions. Responding to this requirement and enhancing children’s responsibilities to overcome the limitations of their vulnerability of any kind, will be in their best interests.
2.Balancing the elements in the best-interests assessment
It should be emphasized that the basic best-interests assessment is a general assessment of all relevant elements of the child’s best interests, the weight of each element depending on the others. Not all the elements will be relevant to every case, and different elements can be used in different ways in different cases. The content of each element will necessarily vary from child to child and from case to case, depending on the type of decision and the concrete circumstances, as will the importance of each element in the overall assessment.
The elements in the best-interests assessment may be in conflict when considering a specific case and its circumstances. For example, preservation of the family environment may conflict with the need to protect the child from the risk of violence or abuse by parents. In such situations, the elements will have to be weighted against each other in order to find the solution that is in the best interests of the child or children.
In weighing the various elements, one needs to bear in mind that the purpose of assessing and determining the best interests of the child is to ensure the full and effective enjoyment of the rights recognized in the Convention and its Optional Protocols, and the holistic development of the child.
There might be situations where "protection" factors affecting a child (e.g. which may imply limitation or restriction of rights) need to be assessed in relation to measures of "empowerment" (which implies full exercise of rights without restriction). In such situations, the age and maturity of the child should guide the balancing of the elements. The physical, emotional, cognitive and social development of the child should be taken into account to assess the level of maturity of the child.
In the best-interests assessment, one has to consider that the capacities of the child will evolve. Decision-makers should therefore consider measures that can be revised or adjusted accordingly, instead of making definitive and irreversible decisions. To do this, they should not only assess the physical, emotional, educational and other needs at the specific moment of the decision, but should also consider the possible scenarios of the child’s development, and analyse them in the short and long term. In this context, decisions should assess continuity and stability of the child’s present and future situation.
B.Procedural safeguards to guarantee the implementation of thechild’s best interests
To ensure the correct implementation of the child’s right to have his or her best interests taken as a primary consideration, some child-friendly procedural safeguards must be put in place and followed. As such, the concept of the child's best interests is a rule of procedure (see para. 6 (b) above).
While public authorities and organizations making decisions that concern children must act in conformity with the obligation to assess and determine the child's best interests, people who make decisions concerning children on a daily basis (e.g. parents, guardians, teachers, etc.) are not expected to follow strictly this two-step procedure, even though decisions made in everyday life must also respect and reflect the child’s best interests.
States must put in place formal processes, with strict procedural safeguards, designed to assess and determine the child’s best interests for decisions affecting the child, including mechanisms for evaluating the results. States must develop transparent and objective processes for all decisions made by legislators, judges or administrative authorities, especially in areas which directly affect the child or children.
The Committee invites States and all persons who are in a position to assess and determine the child’s best interests to pay special attention to the following safeguards and guarantees:
(a)Right of the child to express his or her own views
A vital element of the process is communicating with children to facilitate meaningful child participation and identify their best interests. Such communication should include informing children about the process and possible sustainable solutions and services, as well as collecting information from children and seeking their views.
Where the child wishes to express his or her views and where this right is fulfilled through a representative, the latter’s obligation is to communicate accurately the views of the child. In situations where the child’s views are in conflict with those of his or her representative, a procedure should be established to allow the child to approach an authority to establish a separate representation for the child (e.g. a guardian ad litem), if necessary.
The procedure for assessing and determining the best interests of children as a group is, to some extent, different from that regarding an individual child. When the interests of a large number of children are at stake, Government institutions must find ways to hear the views of a representative sample of children and give due consideration to their opinions when planning measures or making legislative decisions which directly or indirectly concern the group, in order to ensure that all categories of children are covered. There are many examples of how to do this, including children’s hearings, children’s parliaments, children-led organizations, children's unions or other representative bodies, discussions at school, social networking websites, etc.
(b)Establishment of facts
Facts and information relevant to a particular case must be obtained by well-trained professionals in order to draw up all the elements necessary for the best-interests assessment. This could involve interviewing persons close to the child, other people who are in contact with the child on a daily basis, witnesses to certain incidents, among others. Information and data gathered must be verified and analysed prior to being used in the child’s or children’s best-interests assessment.
The passing of time is not perceived in the same way by children and adults. Delays in or prolonged decision-making have particularly adverse effects on children as they evolve. It is therefore advisable that procedures or processes regarding or impacting children be prioritized and completed in the shortest time possible. The timing of the decision should, as far as possible, correspond to the child’s perception of how it can benefit him or her, and the decisions taken should be reviewed at reasonable intervals as the child develops and his or her capacity to express his or her views evolves. All decisions on care, treatment, placement and other measures concerning the child must be reviewed periodically in terms of his or her perception of time, and his or her evolving capacities and development (art. 25).
Children are a diverse group, with each having his or her own characteristics and needs that can only be adequately assessed by professionals who have expertise in matters related to child and adolescent development. This is why the formal assessment process should be carried out in a friendly and safe atmosphere by professionals trained in, inter alia, child psychology, child development and other relevant human and social development fields, who have experience working with children and who will consider the information received in an objective manner. As far as possible, a multidisciplinary team of professionals should be involved in assessing the child's best interests.
The assessment of the consequences of alternative solutions must be based on general knowledge (i.e. in the areas of law, sociology, education, social work, psychology, health, etc.) of the likely consequences of each possible solution for the child, given his or her individual characteristics and past experience.
The child will need appropriate legal representation when his or her best interests are to be formally assessed and determined by courts and equivalent bodies.. In particular, in cases where a child is referred to an administrative or judicial procedure involving the determination of his or her best interests, he or she should be provided with a legal representative, in addition to a guardian or representative of his or her views, when there is a potential conflict between the parties in the decision.
In order to demonstrate that the right of the child to have his or her best interests assessed and taken as a primary consideration has been respected, any decision concerning the child or children must be motivated, justified and explained. The motivation should state explicitly all the factual circumstances regarding the child, what elements have been found relevant in the best-interests assessment, the content of the elements in the individual case, and how they have been weighted to determine the child’s best interests. If the decision differs from the views of the child, the reason for that should be clearly stated. If, exceptionally, the solution chosen is not in the best interests of the child, the grounds for this must be set out in order to show that the child’s best interests were a primary consideration despite the result. It is not sufficient to state in general terms that other considerations override the best interests of the child; all considerations must be explicitly specified in relation to the case at hand, and the reason why they carry greater weight in the particular case must be explained. The reasoning must also demonstrate, in a credible way, why the best interests of the child were not strong enough to be outweigh the other considerations. Account must be taken of those circumstances in which the best interests of the child must be the paramount consideration (see paragraph 38 above).
(g)Mechanisms to review or revise decisions
States should establish mechanisms within their legal systems to appeal or revise decisions concerning children when a decision seems not to be in accordance with the appropriate procedure of assessing and determining the child's or children’s best interests. There should always be the possibility to request a review or to appeal such a decision at the national level. Mechanisms should be made known to the child and be accessible by him or her directly or by his or her legal representative, if it is considered that the procedural safeguards had not been respected, the facts are wrong, the best-interests assessment had not been adequately carried out or that competing considerations had been given too much weight. The reviewing body must look into all these aspects.
(h)Child-rights impact assessment (CRIA)
As mentioned above, the adoption of all measures of implementation should also follow a procedure that ensures that the child’s best interests are a primary consideration. The child-rights impact assessment (CRIA) can predict the impact of any proposed policy, legislation, regulation, budget or other administrative decision which affect children and the enjoyment of their rights and should complement ongoing monitoring and evaluation of the impact of measures on children’s rights. CRIA needs to be built into Government processes at all levels and as early as possible in the development of policy and other general measures in order to ensure good governance for children’s rights. Different methodologies and practices may be developed when undertaking CRIA. At a minimum, they must use the Convention and its Optional Protocols as a framework, in particular ensuring that the assessments are underpinned by the general principles and have special regard for the differentiated impact of the measure(s) under consideration on children. The impact assessment itself could be based on input from children, civil society and experts, as well as from relevant Government departments, academic research and experiences documented in the country or elsewhere. The analysis should result in recommendations for amendments, alternatives and improvements and be made publicly available.
The Committee recommends that States widely disseminate the present general comment to parliaments, governments and the judiciary, nationally and locally. It should also be made known to children – including those in situations of exclusion –, all professionals working for and with children (including judges, lawyers, teachers, guardians, social workers, staff of public or private welfare institutions, health staff, teachers, etc.) and civil society at large. To do this, the general comment should be translated into relevant languages, child-friendly/appropriate versions should be made available, conferences, seminars, workshops and other events should be held to share best practices on how best to implement it. It should also be incorporated into the formal pre- and in-service training of all concerned professionals and technical staff.
States should include information in their periodic reporting to the Committee on the challenges they face and the measures they have taken to apply and respect the child’s best interests in all judicial and administrative decisions and other actions concerning the child as an individual, as well as at all stages of the adoption of implementation measures concerning children in general or as a specific group.