The Convention on the Rights of the Child

UNESCO Courier, October 1991 | Go to article overview

The Convention on the Rights of the Child


The Convention on the Rights of the Child has been described as a Magna Carta for children. it has fifty-four articles detailing the individual rights of any person under eighteen years of age to develop his or her full potential, free from hunger and want, neglect, exploitation or other abuses.

The outcome of ten years of negotiations, the Convention was adopted by the United Nations on 20 November 1989 and entered into force on 2 September 1990 after being ratified by twenty States. So far 139 countries have either signed the Convention or have become States Parties to it by ratification or accession*. When ratified by a State, the Convention becomes binding law in it. A Committee of ten experts will monitor compliance in the States Parties to the Convention.

The Convention goes beyond previously existing instruments by seeking to balance the rights of the child with the rights and duties of parents or others who have responsibilities for child survival, development and protection, and by giving the child the right to participate in decisions affecting both the present and the future.

Among the pressing issues addressed, some of which appear for the first time in an international convention, are obligations to children in particularly difficult circumstances, such as the needs of refugee children (article 22), protection from sexual and other forms of child exploitation articles 34 and 36), drug abuse (article 33), children in trouble with the law article 40), inter-country adoptions (article 35), children in armed conflicts (articles 38 and 39), the needs of disabled children (article 23), and the children of minority and indigenous groups (article 30).

Education is the subject of two major articles (27 and 28), which were reinforced by the World Conference on Education for All, held at Jomtien (Thailand) from 5 to 9 March 1990. Primary education is to be compulsory, free to all, and should be directed to the development of a child's personality, talents and natural abilities, with due respect for cultural identity, language and values. Stress is placed on equality of educational opportunity for girls and boys.

The inherent strength of the new Convention lies in its flexibility, its capacity to accommodate the many different approaches of nations in pursuit of a common goal. it has not evaded sensitive issues, but has found means to adjust to the different cultural, religious and other values which address universal child needs in their own ways.

Below is a summary of the main provisions of the Convention. *As of 25 July 1991.

Preamble

The preamble recalls the basic principles of the United Nations and specific provisions of certain relevant treaties and proclamations. it reaffirms the fact that children, because of their vulnerability, need special care and protection, and places special emphasis on the primary caring and protective responsibility of the family.

It also reaffirms the need for legal and other protection of the child before and after birth, the importance of respect for the cultural values of the child's community, and the vital role of international cooperation in securing children's rights.

Definition of a child (art. 1)

A child is recognized as a person under 18, unless national laws recognize the age of majority earlier.

Non-discrimination (art. 2)

All rights apply to all children without exception. It is the State's obligation to protect children from any form of discrimination and to take positive action to promote their rights.

Best interests of the child (art. 3)

All actions concerning the child shall take full account of his or her best interests. The State shall provide the child with adequate care when parents, or others charged with that responsibility, fall to do so.

Implementation of rights (art. 4)

The State must do all it can to implement the rights contained in the Convention.

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