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Children's rights advocate Gerison Lansdown calls on graduates to continue the campaign

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Pioneering rights advocate Gerison Lansdown awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Education

Pioneering rights advocate Gerison Lansdown has been awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Education by the University of East London for her work campaigning to improve the lives of children across the globe.

Shabir Randeree, chancellor of the University, conferred the title upon Gerison at a graduation ceremony, at ExCeL London, on 29 November. Gerison, 70, said she was “humbled and deeply appreciative” of what the honour represented.

She said, “My greatest pleasure in receiving this honorary doctorate is its recognition of my driving agenda – the human rights of children, embodied in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC).”  

She told graduates: “It is the goal of fighting for a world where values of justice, dignity, equity and accountability prevail that has motivated my work for the past 40 years.  

“And I hope that for many of you here today, a commitment to the realisation of human rights for children will provide a motivation for your future lives and careers.”  

In 1991, after establishing her career in social work and policy advocacy, Gerison took up the role as the first director of the Children’s Rights Development Unit (CRDU), a UK-wide NGO dedicated to promoting implementation of the CRC.

She said: “The Convention was a critical landmark, establishing unequivocally that children, like adults, have rights, with corresponding duties on governments to respect, protect and fulfil those rights. 

“Most radically and uniquely, it recognises the right of children to be listened to and taken seriously in all decisions that affect them.”

The CRDU produced the first alternative report to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child in Geneva analysing the UK government’s compliance with the rights in the CRC. The unit lobbied parliament to get children’s rights written into legislation, campaigned on a range of issues affecting children and supported the creation of an organisation, run by and for children, called Article 12.  

This year marks the 30th anniversary of the adoption of CRC by the UN General Assembly. She said, “The Convention has been ratified by every country in the world, except the USA. And it has made significant difference to the lives of millions of children. 

“We now have a significant reduction in the number of child marriages, girls subject to female genital mutilation, children engaged in the worst forms of child labour, locked up in adult prisons, or beaten at school and home with impunity.

“Child mortality and stunting from chronic malnutrition has fallen dramatically and the numbers of children now in school has risen.”  

Demand for Gerison’s insights prompted her to leave the CRDU in 2000 and since then she has travelled the globe as a consultant and advocate. She has worked with the Council of Europe, the United Nations Children’s Fund (Unicef), the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child and international organisations such as Save the Children.

She said, “It is very much an unfinished journey. We face huge and growing inequalities, extreme poverty and profound discrimination against many children on multiple grounds. Too many children are still exposed to violence, exploitation, and abuse.”

Picture credit: Tempest Photography