After 10 years of negotiations, the General Assembly on 20 November adopted an international Convention on the Rights of the Child. It took the Assembly only two minutes to officially turn the 54-article instrument into a universal standard against which children's basic rights will be measured throughout the world from now on.
The Convention, an initiative of Poland, was adopted by consensus on the 30th anniversary of the 1959 Declaration on the Rights of the Child. It must be ratified by 20 countries before it enters into force.
The Convention defines a child as "every human being below the age of 18 years".
For children, this is the Magna Carta", James P. Grant, Executive Director of the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) said at a press conference shortly after the vote was taken. "To get one common doctrine is a near miracle in its own right ... It creates a new international norm."
He predicted that as a result of the Convention, within the next decade there would be a shift in attitudes regarding children's rights, comparable to earlier changes in norms relating to slavery, colonialism, race and the environment.
Assembly President Joseph N. Garba stated that "the rights of the child have now gone from a declaratory statement of purpose into what will become a binding piece of international legislation".
Secretary-General Javier Perez de Cuellar said the Convention was as visionary as it is timely",
Adoption, abortion and a minimum age for military combat were among issues debated as the draft wound its way through the Economic and Social Council and the Commission on Human Rights, both of which approved it during their 1989 sessions.
The issue of abortion had arisen during the 10 years of negotiations on the pact, Mr. Grant said. The Convention preamble quotes the Declaration, stating that a child needs special safeguards and care, including appropriate legal protection, before as well as after birth". Some countries have interpreted this as possibly restricting or banning abortion. That, Mr. Grant said, had been left to States Parties to implement in their own legal systems.
Any State Party not altogether happy with a specific point in the Convention may propose an amendment in the future. Its language had been left more broadly stated than some would have liked, Mr- Grant acknowledged.
A COmmittee on the Rights of the Child, made up of 10 experts, is to be established to monitor compliance with Convention provisions.
Children-almost half of the world's population, both girls and boys, perhaps the most vulnerable members of society-will benefit from the most recently adopted UN Convention. …