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convention on the rights of the child

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introduction to the convention

The Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) was adopted by the General Assembly of the United Nations by resolution 44/25 on the 20th of November, 1989.  Ten years earlier, during the 1979 United Nations-sponsored International Year of the Child, the government of Poland initiated discussions on a convention for the rights of children.  Although provisions for children had been included in earlier international human rights treaties, many states argued that there was a pressing need for a more comprehensive statement on children’s rights.

Many countries have existing laws to protect children, but the reality is that many nations do not enforce their own standards.  Moreover, many children who are immigrants and refugees do not enjoy the fruits of domestic citizenship in many countries.  Children suffer from poverty, abuse, neglect, exploitation, homelessness, and preventable diseases.  Violations against the rights of children include a high infant mortality rate, deficient health care, child labor and dangerous working conditions, the trafficking of children, child prostitution and child pornography, limited opportunities for education, and juvenile detention centers and justice systems that do not recognize the special needs of children.  Children are also forced into wars as child soldiers and often become the victims of armed conflict.   

Given the need for a comprehensive set of rights for children, the original draft of the convention was welcomed, amended, and expanded through discussions among working groups that lasted several years.  Finally, ten years after the first proposal, the Convention was unanimously adopted by the General Assembly on 20 November 1989.  Within months, 20 States had legally signed the Convention and it went into effect.  By the end of 1990, 57 States had signed on.  Never before had so many countries ratified a human rights convention so quickly.  Today the CRC has been signed and ratified by nearly every country in the world.

The 54 articles and two Optional Protocols spell out the basic rights of all children under 18 years old everywhere.  There is no intended hierarchy of rights with the CRC.  They are indivisible, interrelated, and of equal importance.   These rights include the right to life, the right to survival, the right to develop to the fullest capacity, protection against discrimination of all kinds, the right to live in a safe and healthy environment, the right to expression, and the right to participate fully in family, cultural, and social life.  The CRC is the first legally binding instrument to incorporate both civil and political rights with economic, social, and cultural rights. 

Although nearly every country has signed the CRC, no single country can claim that they honor and protect all of the articles.  Thus the standards are used as benchmarks in which progress can be assessed.  The standards can also be used for legal redress when violations are filed in regional human rights courts such as the Inter-American Court of Human Rights in Costa Rica or the European Commission for Human Rights.  States must also periodically report to the United Nations on the status of children’s rights.

photo credit: Bruno Barbey / MAGNUM PHOTOS