Centre for Research on Discretion and Paternalism Bergen

Child’s Best Interest Principle

PUBLICATION: The implementation of children’s rights across states still has a long way to go, claims Marit Skivenes and Line Sørsdal.

The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) has almost universal, global support, and several countries have made it national law. The CRC gives children strong rights, and a major article is the best interest principle.

The Article 3 of the convention states: “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”.

In a new study, Marit Skivenes and Line Sørsdal examine how governments in 14 high-income countries interpret this vague and indeterminate principle in their legislation, and how they instruct professional decision-makers.

The results are publishes in a chapter of the book “Human Rights in Child Protection”, edited by Asgeir Falch-Eriksen and Elisabeth Backe-Hansen. The findings reveal significant differences between countries with regard to the interpretation of the principle of the child’s best interest, the strength of the principle compared with other principles, and the degree of discretionary power vested in decision-makers.

The authors argue that the findings indicates that what is deemed important for children’s interests across child protection systems differs hugely, and as such the right of the child in many jurisdictions has a long way to go. The child best interest principle appears oftentimes as a right that is open to wide discretionary interpretation.

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