Convention on the Rights of the Child

Optional Protocols to the Convention on the Rights of the Child

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Children sit on top of a pile of bricks they have made in Iraq. The Convention protects children from harmful work and the Optional Protocols offer additional protection from the worst forms of exploitation.

Providing legal protection for children against the worst forms of exploitation

The Convention on the Rights of the Child, a universally agreed set of non-negotiable standards and obligations, provides protection and support for the rights of children. In adopting the Convention, the international community recognized that people under 18 years of age often need special care and protection that adults do not. To help stem the growing abuse and exploitation of children worldwide, the United Nations General Assembly in 2000 adopted two Optional Protocols to the Convention to increase the protection of children from involvement in armed conflicts and from sexual exploitation.

The Optional Protocol on the involvement of children in armed conflict establishes 18 as the minimum age for compulsory recruitment and requires States to do everything they can to prevent individuals under the age of 18 from taking a direct part in hostilities. 

The Optional Protocol on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography draws special attention to the criminalization of these serious violations of children's rights and emphasizes the importance of fostering increased public awareness and international cooperation in efforts to combat them.

The Optional Protocols must always be interpreted in light of the original treaty as a whole, in this case guided by the principles of non-discrimination, best interests of the child and child participation.

Using Optional Protocols to augment human rights instruments

Human rights treaties are often followed by ‘optional protocols’, additional legal mechanisms that complement and add to the treaty. A protocol may be on any topic relevant to the original treaty and is used either to further address something in the original treaty, address a new or emerging concern or add a procedure for the operation and enforcement of the treatysuch as adding an individual complaints procedure. The Optional Protocols to the Convention on the Rights of the Child provide more detail and expand obligations beyond those under the original treaty.

A protocol is ‘optional’ because it is not automatically binding on States that have already ratified the original treaty. The obligations in the protocol are additional and may be more demanding than those in the original convention, and so States must independently choose whether or not to be bound by a protocol. Accordingly, an optional protocol has its own ratification mechanism independent of the treaty it complements. Generally, only States that have already agreed to be bound by an original treaty may ratify its optional protocols. The Optional Protocols to the Convention on the Rights of the Child do however permit non-States parties to ratify or accede to them. For example, the United States, which has not ratified the Convention, has ratified both of the Optional Protocols. States must ratify each of the Protocols following the same procedure required when ratifying the Convention. (See “Using the Convention to protect children” at left).



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