Convention on the Rights of the Child


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The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (commonly referred to as the CRC, CROC, or UNCRC) is the most widely ratified human rights treaty in the world.[1] It is a human rights treaty built on different legal systems and cultural traditions which sets out the civil, cultural, economic, political and social rights of children. In doing so it declares a universally agreed set of non-negotiable standards and obligations.[2]
The Convention was adopted and opened for signature, ratification and accession by the United Nations General Assembly through resolution 44/25 on November 20, 1989 and it came into force on September 2, 1990. As stated in Article 1, for the purposes of the Convention, a child is defined as any human being under the age of eighteen.[3]

Structure of the Convention

The Convention is made up of 54 articles and two Optional Protocols. The Optional Protocols are on the involvement of children in armed conflict and the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography. On 19 December 2011, a third optional protocol on a Communications Procedure was approved by the UN General Assembly. This protocol will allow for individual children to submit complaints regarding specific violations of their rights under the Convention and its first two optional protocols. The Protocol opens for signature in 2012 and will enter into force upon ratification by 10 UN Member States.[4]

Use of the Convention

The Convention provides a guideline for the international communities as well as individual governments to develop permanent bodies or mechanisms to promote the coordination, monitoring and evaluation of activities throughout all sectors. Its implementation helps governments assure the visibility of children and their needs in policy development processes in particular through strategies such as child impact assessments and through analysis of government spending and the proportion of public funds spent on children. The Convention created a framework which has come to provide the inspiration for an increasing child centred focus in relevant fields including child well-being and human and social development.[5] The Convention has been employed when interpreting the European Convention on Human Rights [6]

Legally binding instrument

The Convention on the Rights of the Child is the first legally binding international instrument to incorporate the full range of human rights—civil, cultural, economic, political and social rights. This selection of rights is founded on respect for the dignity and worth of each individual, regardless of race, colour, gender, language, religion, opinions, origins, wealth, birth status or ability and therefore applies to every human being in the world.[7]
The Convention specifies the basic human rights that are held by children everywhere: the right to survival; to develop to the fullest; to protection from harmful influences, abuse and exploitation; and to participate fully in family, cultural and social life.

Four main principles

Every right spelled out in the Convention is inherent to the human dignity and the holistic and harmonious development of every child. The four core principles of the Convention are:

  1. Non-discrimination (article 2): All children have rights, regardless of race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national, ethnic or social origin, property, disability, birth or other status.
  2. Devotion to the best interests of the child (article 3): The child’s best interests must be a primary consideration in all decisions affecting her or him.
  3. The right to life, survival and development (article 6): All children have a right to life, and to survive and develop – physically, mentally, spiritually, morally, psychologically and socially – to their full potential.
  4. Respect for the views of the child (article 12): Children have the right to express themselves freely on matters that affect them, and to have their views taken seriously.

Obligations of signatories

The Convention protects children's rights by setting standards in health care; education; and legal, civil and social services. By agreeing to undertake the obligations of the Convention (by ratifying or acceding to it), national governments have committed themselves to protecting and ensuring children's rights and they have agreed to hold themselves accountable for this commitment before the international community. States parties to the Convention are obliged to develop and undertake all actions and policies in the light of the best interests of the child.[8]
As of 2012, 193 countries are party – they have ratified, accepted or acceded (some with stated reservations and/or specific interpretations) - to the Convention including every member of the United Nations with the exception of Somalia, South Sudan and the United States of America. In 2009 the Somali government announced plans to ratify the treaty.[9] In the United States extensive examination and scrutiny of treaties is conducted before they are ratified. This process of examination, which includes an evaluation of the degree of compliance with existing law and practice in the country at state and federal levels, can take several years or longer if the treaty is portrayed as being controversial or if the process is politicized. Additionally, the US Government will typically consider only one human rights treaty at a time. The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women is currently cited as the nation's top priority among human rights treaties.[10]

Implementation, monitoring and evaluation

The Committee on the Rights of the Child (CRC) is made up of independent experts and it serves to monitor the implementation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child by State parties. The Committee also monitors implementation of the two optional protocols to the Convention on the involvement of children in armed conflict and the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography. It will also monitor the implementation of the third optional protocol on a Communications Procedure upon its ratification.[11]
All States parties are required to submit regular reports to the Committee on how the Convention and rights are being implemented. States must initially report two years after acceding to the Convention and then every five years. The Committee examines each report and addresses its concerns and recommendations to the State party in the form of “concluding observations”. The Committee also reviews reports submitted by States who have acceded to the two Optional Protocols to the Convention. Upon ratification and the entry into force of the third Protocol, the Committee will be able to consider individual complaints by children regarding the specific violation of their rights under the first two optional Protocols. Until that time, violations of child rights may be raised before other committees with the power to consider individual complaints. [12]

Measuring the outcomes of the implementation of the Convention

States are obliged to provide extensive child-specific data in their periodic reports including: • Data disaggregated by age, gender, ethnic and social origin, place of residence, family status and special groups; • Data on the state of children's civil rights, children's survival, welfare and development; • Qualitative and quantitative data, involving the consultation with children as to how information about their lives can best be collected and used; • Data that is accessible to all those concerned with the well-being of children. Data should be made available to the public and should be presented to governmental bodies on a regular basis to inform planning and policy-making.[13] Child well-being measures are also commonly employed tools for assessing the fulfilment of the rights set out in the Convention.

Summary of the rights included in the articles

As documented by UNICEF, the 54 articles included in the Convention address the following rights:

Article 1 (Definition of the child): The Convention defines a 'child' as a person below the age of 18, unless the laws of a particular country set the legal age for adulthood younger. The Committee on the Rights of the Child, has encouraged States to review the age of majority if it is set below 18 and to increase protection for all children under 18.

Article 2 (Non-discrimination): The Convention applies to all children, regardless of race, religion or abilities.

Article 3 (Best interests of the child): The best interests of children must be the primary concern in making decisions that may affect them. All adults should do what is best for children and when they make decisions, they should think of the potential impacts children in particular regarding budgets, policy and laws.

Article 4 (Protection of rights): Governments have a responsibility to take all available measures to make sure children’s rights are respected, protected and fulfilled. Ratification of the Convention obliges countries to review their laws relating to children and all applicable services, as well as levels of funding for these services. Governments are obliged to take all necessary steps to ensure that the minimum standards set by the Convention are being met. They are obliged to assist families to protect children’s rights and create an environment where they can grow and reach their potential. In some instances, this may involve amending existing laws or creating new ones.

Article 5 (Parental guidance): Governments should respect the rights and responsibilities of families to direct and guide their children so that, as they grow, they learn to use their rights properly. Article 5 encourages parents to deal with rights issues "in a manner consistent with the evolving capacities of the child". In line with Article 4, the Convention awards governments the responsibility of protecting and assisting families to ensure that they fulfil their role as nurturers of children.

Article 6 (Survival and development): Children have the right to live. Governments should ensure that children survive and develop healthily.

Article 7 (Registration, name, nationality, care): Children have the right to a legally registered name officially recognised by the government. Children have the right to a nationality (to belong to a country). Additionally, children have the right to know and, as far as possible, to be cared for by their parents.

Article 8 (Preservation of identity): Children have the right to an identity – an official record of who they are. Governments should respect children’s right to a name, a nationality and family ties.

Article 9 (Separation from parents): Children have the right to live with their parent(s), unless it has a negative impact on them. For children whose parents do not live together, they have the right to stay in contact with both parents, unless this may cause harm to the child.

Article 10 (Family reunification): Families members who live in different countries should be allowed to move between those countries so that parents and children may remain in contact, or be reunited as a family.

Article 11 (Kidnapping): Governments should take steps to stop children being taken out of their own country illegally. This article is particularly concerned with parental abductions. The Optional Protocol on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography has a provision that concerns abduction for financial gain.

Article 12 (Respect for the views of the child): When adults are making decisions that affect children, children have the right to say their opinion and have this taken into account. The Convention encourages adults to listen to the opinions of children and involve them in decision-making without giving children authority over adults. Article 12 does not interfere with parents' right and responsibility to express their views on matters affecting their children. Moreover, the Convention recognizes that the level of a child’s participation in decisions must be appropriate to the child's level of maturity.

Article 12 (Respect for the views of the child): When adults are making decisions that affect children, children have the right to say what they think should happen and have their opinions taken into consideration.

Article 13 (Freedom of expression): Children have the right to get and share information, as long as the information is not damaging to them or others. In exercising the right to freedom of expression, children have the responsibility to respect the rights, freedoms and reputations of others. The freedom of expression includes the right to share information in any way they choose, including by talking, drawing or writing.

Article 14 (Freedom of thought, conscience and religion): Children have the right to think and believe what they choose and to practise their religion, as long as they are not preventing other people from enjoying their rights. Parents have an obligation help guide their children in these matters. The Convention respects the rights and duties of parents in providing religious and moral guidance to their children. At the same time, the Convention recognizes that as children mature and are able to form their own views, some may question certain religious practices or cultural traditions. The Convention supports children's right to examine and express their beliefs, whilst respecting the rights and freedoms of others.

Article 15 (Freedom of association): Children have the right to meet together and to join groups and organisations, as long as it does not stop other people from enjoying their rights. In exercising their rights, children have the responsibility to respect the rights, freedoms and reputations of others.

Article 16 (Right to privacy): Children have a right to privacy. The law should protect them from attacks against their way of life, their good name, their families and their homes.

Article 17 (Access to information; mass media): Children have the right to get information that is important to their health and well-being. Governments have an obligation to encourage mass media – radio, television, newspapers and Internet content sources – to provide information that children can understand, and to not promote materials that could harm children.

Article 18 (Parental responsibilities; state assistance): Both parents share responsibility for bringing up their children, and should always consider what is best for each child. Governments must respect the responsibility of parents for providing appropriate guidance to their children – the Convention does not take responsibility for children away from their parents and give more authority to governments. It obliges governments to provide support services to parents, especially if both parents work outside the home.

Article 19 (Protection from all forms of violence): Children have the right to be protected from being hurt and mistreated, physically or mentally. Governments should ensure that children are properly cared for and protected from violence, abuse and neglect by their parents, or anyone else. In terms of discipline, the Convention does not specify what forms of punishment parents should use, however any form of discipline involving violence is unacceptable. In most countries, laws already define what sorts of punishments are considered excessive or abusive. It is the duty of each government to review these laws in line with the Convention.

Article 20 (Children deprived of family environment): Children who cannot be looked after by their own family have a right to special care and must be looked after in a correct manner by people who respect their ethnic group, religion, culture and language.

Article 21 (Adoption): Children have the right to care and protection if they are adopted or in foster care. The first concern must be for their well-being. The same rules should apply whether they are adopted in the country where they were born, or if they are taken to live in another country.

Article 22 (Refugee children): Children have the right to special protection and help if they are refugees (if they have been forced to leave their home and live in another country), as well as all the rights in this Convention.

Article 23 (Children with disabilities): Children who have any kind of disability have the right to special care and support, as well as all the rights in the Convention, so that they may live full and independent lives.

Article 24 (Health and health services): Children have the right to good quality health care – to safe drinking water, nutritious food, a clean and safe environment, and information to help them stay healthy. Rich countries should help poorer countries achieve this.

Article 25 (Review of treatment in care): Children who are looked after by their local authorities, rather than their parents, have the right to have these living arrangements monitored and evaluated regularly to see if they are the most appropriate. Their care and treatment should always be based on “the best interests of the child”. (see Guiding Principles, Article 3)

Article 26 (Social security): Children – either through their guardians or directly – have the right to help from the government if they are poor or in need.

Article 27 (Adequate standard of living): Children have the right to a standard of living that is good enough to meet their physical and mental needs. Governments should help families and guardians who cannot afford to provide this, particularly with regard to food, clothing and housing.

Article 28: (Right to education): All children have the right to a primary education, which should be free. Wealthy countries should help poorer countries achieve this right. Discipline in schools should respect children’s dignity and schools must be run in an orderly way. In line with Article 19, this should occur without the use of violence. Any form of school discipline should take into account the child's human dignity. Governments must ensure that school administrators review their discipline policies and eliminate any discipline practices involving physical or mental violence, abuse or neglect. Young people should be encouraged to reach the highest level of education of which they are capable.

Article 29 (Goals of education): Children’s education should develop each child’s personality, talents and abilities to the fullest. It should encourage children to respect others, human rights and their own and other cultures. It should also help them learn to live peacefully, protect the environment and respect other people. Children have a particular responsibility to respect the rights their parents, and education should aim to develop respect for the values and culture of their parents. The Convention does not address such issues as school uniforms, dress codes, the singing of the national anthem or prayer in schools. It is up to governments and school officials in each country to determine whether, in the context of their society and existing laws, such matters infringe upon other rights protected by the Convention.

Article 30 (Children of minorities/indigenous groups): Minority or indigenous children have the right to learn about and practice their own culture, language and religion. The right to practice one’s own culture, language and religion applies to everyone; the Convention here highlights this right in instances where the practices are not shared by the majority of people in the country.

Article 31 (Leisure, play and culture): Children have the right to relax and play, and to join in a wide range of cultural, artistic and other recreational activities.

Article 32 (Child labour): Governments should protect children from work that is dangerous or might harm their health or their education. Although the Convention protects children from harmful and exploitative work, there is nothing in it that prohibits parents from expecting their children to help out at home in ways that are safe and appropriate to their age. If children help out in a family farm or business, the tasks they do should be safe and suited to their level of development and comply with national labour laws. Children's work should not jeopardize any of their other rights, including the right to education, or the right to relaxation and play.

Article 33 (Drug abuse): Governments should use all means possible to protect children from the use of harmful drugs and from being used in the drug trade.

Article 34 (Sexual exploitation): Governments are obliged to protect children from all forms of sexual exploitation and abuse. This provision in the Convention is enhanced by the Optional Protocol on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography.

Article 35 (Abduction, sale and trafficking): The government should take all measures possible to make sure that children are not abducted, sold or trafficked. This provision in the Convention is enhanced by the Optional Protocol on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography.

Article 36 (Other forms of exploitation): Children should be protected from any activity that takes advantage of them or could harm their welfare and development.

Article 37 (Detention and punishment): No person is allowed to punish children in a cruel or harmful way. Children who break the law should not be treated cruelly. They should not be put in prison with adults, should be able to keep in contact with their families, and should not be sentenced to death or life imprisonment without possibility of release.

Article 38 (War and armed conflicts): Governments are obliged to do everything they can to protect and care for children affected by war. Children under 15 should not be forced or recruited to take part in a war or join the armed forces. The Convention’s Optional Protocol on the involvement of children in armed conflict further develops this right by raising the age for direct participation in armed conflict to 18 and establishing a ban on compulsory recruitment for children under 18.

Article 39 (Rehabilitation of child victims): Children who have been neglected, abused or exploited should receive special help to physically and psychologically recover and reintegrate into society. Particular attention should be paid to restoring the health, self-respect and dignity of the child.

Article 40 (Juvenile justice): Children who are accused of breaking the law have the right to legal help and fair treatment in a justice system that is respectful of their rights. Governments are required to set a minimum age below which children cannot be deemed criminally responsible and to provide minimum guarantees for the fairness and quick resolution of judicial or alternative proceedings.

Article 41 (Respect for superior national standards): In the case that the laws of a country provide better protection of children’s rights than the articles in the Convention, those laws should apply.

Article 42 (Knowledge of rights): Governments should make the Convention known to adults and children and adults should assist children to learn about their rights. (See also article 4)

Articles 43-54 (implementation measures): discusses how governments and international organizations should work to ensure children's rights are protected. [14]

See also

Child Soldier
Child-Friendliness Index
Why do we need child well-being measures?
Child Marriage
Early Childhood Care and Development
UNICEF Child-Wellbeing measure
Child Labour


  1. Reporting to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Committee Australia, 2011
  2. [ Committee on the Rights of the Child]
  3. Convention on the Rights of the Child Office of the United Nations Commissioner for Human Rights
  4. [ Committee on the Rights of the Child]
  5. A Review Essay on the Measurement of Child Well-Being Liliana Fernandes, Americo Mendes, Aurora A.C. Teixeira, 2012, Social Indicators Research, Vol 106, Number 2
  6. [Sutherland, Elaine E. 2003. "Can International Conventions Drive Domestic Law Reform? The Case of Physical Punishment of Children" in Dewar J., Parker S. eds. Family law: processes, practices, pressures: proceedings of the Tenth World Conference of the International Society of Family Law, July 2000, Brisbane, Australia. Oxford: Hart, p. 488. ISBN 978-1-84113-308-9]
  7. Convention on the Rights of the Child, UNICEF
  8. Convention on the Rights of the Child, UNICEF
  9. [ Somalia to join child rights pact: UN, REUTERS Africa, 20.11.2009]
  10. Convention on the Rights of the Child Frequently Asked Questions
  11. [ Committee on the Rights of the Child]
  12. Committee on the Rights of the Child
  13. [ FACT SHEET: Implementation guidelines for the Convention on the Rights of the Child]
  14. FACT SHEET: A summary of the rights under the Convention on the Rights of the Child UNICEF, N/A

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