Monday, April 13, 2015

UNICEF Interviews Dr Anne Lindboe, Norwegian Ombudsman for Children

Photo: UNICEF Viet Nam/2015/Truong Viet Hung

Dr Anne Lindboe is currently serving as the Norwegian Ombudsman for Children. A pediatric specialist in Norway, she was appointed by the Government of Norway as Ombudsman for Children for a six year term in 2012. Norway was the first country in the world to appoint in 1981 the first Ombudsman for Children - an office with statutory powers that seeks to incorporate the Convention on the Rights of the Child into all areas of society.  Dr. Lindboe visited Viet Nam last week to attend the 132nd International Parliamentarian Union Assembly during which she participated in two panel discussions organized by UNICEF and Alive & Thrive on the Convention of the Rights of the Child and the Role of Parliamentarians in the Fulfilment of Children’s Rights to Nutrition and Development. 

Q1: How did you become the Norway’s Ombudsman for Children?
I am a pediatrician and I use to work a lot with children exposed to sexual violence and sexual abuse. I saw in Norway that we did not have a good enough health system, nor did we have a good enough justice system or child protection system for this children so I thought that becoming an Ombudsperson would give me a stronger voice and that it would be easier to change the system to help these children

Photo: UNICEF Viet Nam/2015/Truong Viet Hung

Q2: What is the role of the Ombudsman for Children?
My role is to first of all to be a spokesperson, to speak solely on behalf of children and to be a strong voice.  The Government of Norway decided that it wanted this kind of institution. So the Ombudsman is given the power and mandate by the Norwegian parliament which is different from how NGOs are mandated. The Ombudsman’s office is also an independent institution with the obligation to monitor the Convention on the Rights of the Child and any violations related to the CRC. The Ombudsman, therefore is both a spokesperson and a watchdog for children.

Q3: How can children bring grievances to the ombudsman, and how does the Ombudsman help address them.
The Ombudsman is always in close contact with children and it is extremely important for the Ombudsperson to speak to children and learn from their experiences. For example, a big concern right now in Norway is bullying in schools. So we have talked a lot with children who have been exposed to bullying but who have not received appropriate support.  We asked for their experiences, and their advice on how they should be better supported. We then shared these children’s first hand experiences and their advice to the Minister of Education who is now developing a new policy against bullying in schools based on the children’s inputs.
Q4: This is your third visit to Viet Nam, what are some of your reflections on the progress you have witnessed in this country with regards to the advancement of child rights?
I think it is fabulous to be here and everyone whom I meet has a big interest in children’s rights and seems really dedicated to the issue. I think it is very exciting to see the process in which Viet Nam is rewriting the children’s law. I am excited to see that Viet Nam is discussing the establishment of an independent child’s rights monitoring mechanism, which is like an Ombudman for Children. It will be exciting to see how it all ends.

Q5: What is your advice to a country like Viet Nam on how to engage children’s participation in shaping their own future and voicing their needs and concerns?
I think there are many ways of doing this. But in Norway it certainly has been useful to have the Ombudsman for Children. Politicians are busy and sometimes they feel it is complicated to speak directly to children. The Ombudsman actually helps politicians gain access to children. We hold expert groups, talking with children who have a range of experiences. In some cases, we bring children to meet the politicians directly to share their needs and experiences. Or we help children write letters to Members of Government. It is a good way of securing children’s rights to participation and giving them a space in which they are able to take part in policy making that can improve their lives.

Q6: The IPU has stressed the importance of the role of parliamentarians to advocate for child rights. What is your advice to Viet Nam’s Members of Parliaments to address the key issues of malnutrition and violence against children?
The use of corporal punishment or violence against children and malnutrition are two very big issues of concern. Both are very harmful for the potential of the child and both destroy the ability of a child to learn, for example. I hope that members of parliament will take this seriously because they are the ones who can make changes. They have to make sure that laws protect children and that when it comes to cases of violence and abuse, the perpetrators are taken to court and face consequences for violating a child’s rights. When it comes to nutrition, it is a lot about education and investing in the education of women, building health clinics, providing appropriate maternity leave.  Viet Nam has done very well on the maternity leave front and this is a very promising start to address the issue of malnutrition.

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