"War and politics have always been an adult game but children have always been the losers. I hope you will remember my words." -- Elisa, 17 years old
"Let us not make children pay for our failures anymore." -- Kofi Annan, UN Secretary-General http://www.un.org/ga/children/
The Convention on the Rights of the Child was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in November 1989, on the 30th anniversary of the Declaration of Child Rights and the 10th anniversary of the International Year of the Child. The Convention represented the first international, legally binding document in protection of the civil, cultural, economic, political and social rights of children.
The Convention was born when world leaders recognized that although people under the age of 18 possess the same rights as all human beings, they are also particularly vulnerable to having those rights abused and neglected because of their age and dependence on others. The Convention was thus a response to this vulnerability and a recognition that children deserve special protection.
The text of the Convention is founded on several different legal, political and cultural traditions, and is based on the four guiding principles of:
- Devotion to the best interests of the child
- The right to life, survival and development
- The right to participate
The Convention’s 54 articles outline the basic human rights of children everywhere, regardless of their race, colour, gender, language, religion, wealth or birth status. Human rights are the most fundamental freedoms and entitlements of all individuals, which governments and other individuals are obligated to respect. The Convention outlines the following categories of child rights, which are equally important and mutually interdependent:
- Survival and development rights, which include children’s right to access the resources and skills necessary for their survival and full development
- Protection rights, including protection from all forms of child abuse, neglect, exploitation and cruelty
- Participation rights, which recognize children’s right to freedom of expression and to participate in matters affecting any aspect of their lives
In order to ensure the protection and provision of these rights, the Convention outlines universal standards of health care, education, legal, civil and social services. The parites that have ratified the Convention therefore committed themselves to take all necessary action to develop legal, social and economic policies that protect the rights of children.
The Convention has been ratified by all members of the UN General Assembly except Somalia and the United States, although these two states have signed the convention in support of its principles.
The Convention offers an empowering vision of children as individual human beings, not only as a member of their family and their community. Most importantly, the Convention recognizes children as individuals with rights of their own, rather than the property of their parents or disempowered objects of charity.
In 2000, the General Assembly adopted two additional Optional Protocols to the Convention:
- The Optional Protocol on the involvement of children in armed conflict establishes 18 as the minimum age for mandatory recruitment into the armed forces
- The Optional Protocol on the sale of children, child prostitution and pornography highlights the criminalization of these abuses of child rights
Of course, the Convention does not guarantee that the rights it outlines will be respected, and children’s rights continue to be abused every day in both developed and developing states. Whether as a result of poverty, conflict, abuse, inadequate health care, lack of access to education or inequitable judicial systems, children remain vulnerable to the effects of state, family and community neglect of their rights.
The existence and nearly-universal ratification of the Convention represents the first step in global awareness of the importance of protecting children’s health, development, survival and happiness. In order for these conditions to be met for children worldwide, every level of society from national governments and international organizations, to schools, families, communities, and judicial systems, must be aware of, respect, and do everything in their power to protect the rights of the most vulnerable members of our global society.
Want to Learn More?
1. UN General Assembly: Convention on the Rights of the Child
2. UNICEF: Convention on the Rights of the Child
3. Human Rights Watch: Children’s Rights
4. UN Special Session on Children