|Women are trained to teach children to read and write in a project supported by UNICEF in Yemen.|
The path to the Convention on the Rights of the Child has been long and slow. In 1945, the United Nations Charter laid the groundwork for the Convention by urging nations to promote and encourage respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms 'for all'. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights followed three years later, further stressing that "motherhood and childhood are entitled to special care and protection" and referring to the family as "the natural and fundamental group unit of society." Several Declarations on the Rights of the Child were agreed during the twentieth century, the last in 1959 "recognizing that Mankind owes to the child the best that it has to give."
Declarations are statements of moral and ethical intent but they are not legally binding instruments. The international human rights framework was therefore built to contain covenants (or conventions) that carry the weight of international law. In 1976, the first two covenants—the International Covenants on Civil and Political Rights and on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights—became binding on States parties. These two Covenants used the foundation of the rights and principles in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and thus provided a legal as well as a moral obligation for countries to respect the human rights of each individual.
Children’s rights then followed the same path. In 1978, on the eve of the United Nations-sponsored International Year of the Child, a draft text was proposed for the Convention on the Rights of the Child. Drawing heavily from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights; the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights; and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, a working group within the United Nations then collaborated and revised the draft, finally agreeing what became the articles of the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
Final approval from United Nations Member States came when the UN General Assembly unanimously adopted the text of the Convention on the Rights of the Child on 20 November 1989. The Convention then became legally binding in September 1990, after 20 States had ratified it. Many countries ratified the Convention very soon after it was adopted and others continued to ratify or accede to it, making it the most widely ratified human rights treaty. Nearly all States are now parties. Somalia and the United States have not yet ratified the Convention but have signed it, indicating their support.
Human right instruments
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Definition of key terms [PDF]