Op-Ed by Paul Hulshoff, UNICEF Iran Representative
Convention on the Rights of the Child Turned 20
Close to twenty years ago, the world came together to say YES to children; recognizing that children, meaning every human being below the age of 18 years, have the same general human rights as adults AND have particular rights that recognize their special need for protection.
Since its adoption on 20 November 1989, the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) has set in motion a process of social change, building the foundation for a world where children’s rights are to be guaranteed and protected.
The Convention has heightened recognition of the fundamental human dignity of all children and the urgency of ensuring their well-being and development. The Convention makes clear the idea that a basic quality of life should be the right of all children, rather than a privilege enjoyed by a few.
It articulates a set of universal children’s rights, such as the right to an identity, a name and a nationality, the right to an education, and rights to the highest possible standards of health and protection from abuse and exploitation.
These rights are based on four core principles – non-discrimination; the best interest of the child as primary consideration in matters that affect them; rights to life, survival and development, and respect for the views of children.
As such, the CRC reflects a new vision of the child. Children are neither the property of their parents nor are they helpless objects of charity. They are human beings and are the subject of their own rights. The Convention offers a vision of the child as an individual and as a member of a family and community, with rights and responsibilities appropriate to his or her age and stage of development.
The near-universal ratification of the Convention by 193 countries, including Iran, reflects a global commitment to the principles of children's rights. By ratifying the Convention, governments state their intention to put this commitment into practice. State parties are obligated to amend and create laws and policies to fully implement the Convention; they must consider all actions taken in light of the best interests of the child. The task, however, must engage not just governments but all members of society. The standards and principles articulated in the Convention can only become a reality when they are respected by everyone— non-governmental institutions, communities, schools, families and parents.
In Iran, the CRC has played a vital role in shaping and developing the lives of children, including children from vulnerable and marginalised communities. The proposed new Juvenile Justice and Child & Adolescents Protection Bills, the development of a new integrated Early Childhood Development policy, the ongoing assistance programs for Afghan children in Iran or the pilot implementation of adolescent-friendly services are but a few examples.
Additionally, the CRC has been at the core of helping to reduce the number of children dying before the age of five, accelerated girls’ education as well as promoted “free” primary and guidance level education, placing Iran's achievements for children in these areas on par with many higher income countries.
Many challenges however remain, at times compounded by new ones. We cannot claim that the Convention has achieved what needs to be achieved: rather, it has provided all of us with an essential foundation to play our part in changing what the Convention reminds us needs to be changed.
Effecting that change requires us to use the Convention in its fullest sense, and to take advantage of its three fundamental strengths; as a binding legal instrument, as a framework for the duties borne by different actors at different levels of society to respond to the rights of children, and thirdly, as an ethical statement, both reflecting and building upon core human values about our commitment to collectively provide the world’s and Iran’s children with the best we have to give.
Parents and teachers, nurses and doctors, government leaders and civil society activists, religious leaders and community elders, corporate managers and media professionals as well as young people and children themselves must continue to unite to protect the childhood for ALL children.
The 20th Anniversary of the CRC, to be observed worldwide on 20 November on a day known as Universal Children's Day, offers an inspirational entry-point to advocate, promote and celebrate children’s rights, translating into dialogues and actions that will build “A World Fit for Children” and a prosperous future development in Iran.