Frequently asked questions
What is the Convention on the Rights of the Child?
The Convention on the Rights of the Child is an international treaty that recognizes the human rights of children, defined as persons up to the age of 18 years. The Convention establishes in international law that States Parties must ensure that all children—without discrimination in any form—benefit from special protection measures and assistance; have access to services such as education and health care; can develop their personalities, abilities and talents to the fullest potential; grow up in an environment of happiness, love and understanding; and are informed about and participate in, achieving their rights in an accessible and active manner.
How was it decided what should go into the Convention on the Rights of the Child?
The standards in the Convention on the Rights of the Child were negotiated by governments, non-governmental organizations, human rights advocates, lawyers, health specialists, social workers, educators, child development experts and religious leaders from all over the world, over a 10-year period. The result is a consensus document that takes into account the importance of tradition and cultural values for the protection and harmonious development of the child. It reflects the principal legal systems of the world and acknowledges the specific needs of developing countries.
How does the Convention on the Rights of the Child protect children's rights?
It constitutes a common reference against which progress in meeting human rights standards for children can be assessed and results compared. Having agreed to meet the standards in the Convention, governments are obliged to bring their legislation, policy and practice into accordance with the standards in the Convention; to transform the standards into reality for all children; and to abstain from any action that may preclude the enjoyment of those rights or violate them. Governments are required to report periodically to a committee of independent experts on their progress to achieve all the rights.
How does the international community monitor and support progress on the implementation of the Convention?
The Committee on the Rights of the Child, an internationally elected body of independent experts that sits in Geneva to monitor the Convention's implementation, requires governments that have ratified the Convention to submit regular reports on the status of children's rights in their countries. The Committee reviews and comments on these reports and encourages States to take special measures and to develop special institutions for the promotion and protection of children's rights. Where necessary, the Committee calls for international assistance from other governments and technical assistance from organizations like UNICEF. For more information, see the ‘Implementation’ page under ‘Using the Convention for Children’.
What is the new vision of the child in the Convention?
The Convention provides a universal set of standards to be adhered to by all countries. It 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 a member of a family and a community, with rights and responsibilities appropriate to his or her age and stage of development. Recognizing children's rights in this way firmly sets a focus on the whole child. Previously seen as negotiable, the child's needs have become legally binding rights. No longer the passive recipient of benefits, the child has become the subject or holder of rights.
How is the Convention special?
- Is in force in virtually the entire community of nations, thus providing a common ethical and legal framework to develop an agenda for children. At the same time, it constitutes a common reference against which progress may be assessed.
- Was the first time a formal commitment was made to ensure the realization of human rights and monitor progress on the situation of children.
- Indicates that children's rights are human rights. Children's rights are not special rights, but rather the fundamental rights inherent to the human dignity of all people, including children. Children's rights can no longer be perceived as an option, as a question of favour or kindness to children or as an expression of charity. They generate obligations and responsibilities that we all must honour and respect.
- Was even accepted by non-state entities. The Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA), a rebel movement in Southern Sudan, is one such example.
- Is a reference for many organizations working with and for children—including NGOs and organizations within the UN system.
- Reaffirms that all rights are important and essential for the full development of the child and that addressing each and every child is important.
- Reaffirms the notion of State accountability for the realization of human rights and the values of transparency and public scrutiny that are associated with it.
- Promotes an international system of solidarity designed to achieve the realization of children's rights. Using the Convention's reporting process as a reference, donor countries are required to provide assistance in areas where particular needs have been identified; recipient countries are required to direct overseas development assistance (ODA) to that end too.
- Highlights and defends the family's role in children's lives.
How does the Convention on the Rights of the Child define a child?
The Convention defines a "child" as a person below the age of 18, unless the relevant laws recognize an earlier age of majority. In some cases, States are obliged to be consistent in defining benchmark ages—such as the age for admission into employment and completion of compulsory education; but in other cases the Convention is unequivocal in setting an upper limit—such as prohibiting life imprisonment or capital punishment for those under 18 years of age.
How many countries have ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child?
More countries have ratified the Convention than any other human rights treaty in history—192 countries had become State Parties to the Convention as of November 2005.
Who has not ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child and why?
The Convention on the Rights of the Child is the most widely and rapidly ratified human rights treaty in history. Only two countries, Somalia and the United States, have not ratified this celebrated agreement. Somalia is currently unable to proceed to ratification as it has no recognized government. By signing the Convention, the United States has signalled its intention to ratify—but has yet to do so.
As in many other nations, the United States undertakes an extensive examination and scrutiny of treaties before proceeding to ratify. This 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 even longer if the treaty is portrayed as being controversial or if the process is politicized. Moreover, the US Government typically will consider only one human rights treaty at a time. Currently, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women is cited as the nation's top priority among human rights treaties.
How does UNICEF use the Convention on the Rights of the Child?
The Secretary-General of the United Nations has called for the mainstreaming of human rights in all areas of UN operations—for example, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in its mandate for refugee children, or the International Labour Organization (ILO) in its commitment to eliminate child labour. In the case of UNICEF, the Convention has become more than just a reference, but a systematic guide to the work of the organization. As expressed in its Mission Statement, UNICEF is mandated to "advocate for the protection of children's rights" and it "strives to establish children's rights as enduring ethical principles and international standards of behaviour towards children." UNICEF promotes the principles and provisions of the Convention and the mainstreaming of children's rights in a systematic manner, in its advocacy, programming, monitoring and evaluation activities.
The Convention on the Rights of the Child provides UNICEF with guidance as to the areas to be assessed and addressed, and it is a tool against which UNICEF measures the progress achieved in those areas. Integrating a human rights approach in all UNICEF's work is an ongoing learning process that includes broadening the framework for UNICEF's development agenda. In addition to maintaining a focus on child survival and development, UNICEF must consider the situation of all children, better analyse the economic and social environment, develop partnerships to strengthen the response (including the participation of children themselves), support interventions on the basis of non-discrimination and act in the best interests of the child.
What steps do the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Committee on the Rights of the Child encourage governments to undertake?
Through its reviews of country reports, the Committee urges all levels of government to use the Convention as a guide in policy-making and implementation to:
- Develop a comprehensive national agenda for children.
- Develop permanent bodies or mechanisms to promote coordination, monitoring and evaluation of activities throughout all sectors of government.
- Ensure that all legislation is fully compatible with the Convention.
- Make children visible in policy development processes throughout government by introducing child impact assessments.
- Carry out adequate budget analysis to determine the portion of public funds spent on children and to ensure that these resources are being used effectively.
- Ensure that sufficient data are collected and used to improve the plight of all children in each jurisdiction.
- Raise awareness and disseminate information on the Convention by providing training to all those involved in government policy-making and working with or for children.
- Involve civil society—including children themselves—in the process of implementing and raising awareness of child rights.
- Set up independent statutory offices—ombudspersons, commissions and other institutions—to promote children's rights.
In addition to support of country programmes, how does UNICEF assist governments in promoting children's rights?
UNICEF's work involves advocacy, cooperation and technical assistance.
- UNICEF undertakes advocacy—through publications, awareness campaigns and participation in major international conferences and in public statements—and works with those responsible for the development and implementation of legislation and public policy.
- UNICEF cooperates with both donor governments and governments in the developing world. UNICEF-assisted programmes seek to ensure the social and economic rights of children by delivering essential services such as health and education and improving access to good nutrition and to care. UNICEF also focuses attention on national budget spending, encouraging governments to allocate 20 per cent of budgets to basic services. Further, UNICEF supports efforts to redress inequitable practices and discrimination, which are direct and underlying causes of children's and women's deprivation.
- UNICEF cooperates with other international organizations—particularly those within the UN system, as the United Nations Development Assistance Framework (UNDAF) process illustrates—and international financial institutions.
- UNICEF works to build partnerships with civil society organizations, involving children, families and other members of communities.
- UNICEF provides technical support and assistance to the Committee on the Rights of the Child.
- UNICEF focuses on sustainable results and encourages ongoing monitoring and evaluation of programmes.
What are some of the areas in which the Convention on the Rights of the Child has been most effective?
The Convention has inspired a process of national implementation and social change in all regions of the world, including:
- Incorporating human rights principles into legislation;
- Establishing interdepartmental and multidisciplinary bodies.
- Developing national agendas for children;
- Widening partnerships for children;
- Promoting ombudspersons for children or commissioners for children's rights.
- Assessing the impact of measures on children;
- Restructuring of budgetary allocations;
- Targeting child survival and development;
- Implementing the principle of non-discrimination;
- Listening to children's voices; and
- Developing justice systems for children.
These examples are merely a sampling and are not exhaustive. For more information and further country-specific examples, see the 'National Implementation' fact sheet within Resources.