The Progress of Nations: The Convention on the Rights of the Child

The Convention: From acceptance to observance

The Convention on the Rights of the Child has become the most rapidly accepted human rights treaty in history. As of end-February 1996, it had been ratified by 187 out of 193 governments. Switzerland and the United States have signed, indicating their intention to ratify. Only the Cook Is., Oman, Somalia and the United Arab Emirates have neither signed nor ratified.

The worldwide support from organizations of all kinds has given the Convention momentum. But the Convention does not bring change in the same way as a particular project in a particular country or neighbourhood. It works by bringing changes in laws, institutions, attitudes, and eventually in ethos, policies, and practices. The process may be slower, but the scale is greater.

At the centre of this process is the international Committee on the Rights of the Child. All ratifying governments are obliged to report to the Committee within two years - specifying the steps taken to bring national laws, policy and practice into line with the principles of the Convention. The Committee then examines the facts, taking evidence also from non-governmental organizations (NGOs), and meets with each government to discuss its child rights record. The 'concluding observations' of the Committee are then made public. Five years after making a first report, all ratifying governments must again report to the Committee.

Photo: The Convention is only six years old, but it is time to begin asking what practical effects it is having on the lives of children around the world.©

"This is an unspectacular, even bureaucratic process," says the former chair of the Committee, Hoda Badran, "but it is aimed at bringing change inside national establishments - in national institutions, national plans, national legal systems, national policies - and we have seen enough in five years to know that it works."

The Convention on the Rights of the Child came into force only at the beginning of the 1990s. Nonetheless, it is time to begin asking what practical effects the Convention is having on the lives of children around the world. Drawing on the reports of the 43 countries whose submissions had been reviewed by the Committee on the Rights of the Child as of end-1995, and on other sources, UNICEF has compiled this preliminary account of how the Convention is gaining traction in the real world.

The Progress of Nations will continue to monitor the long march of the Convention from universal acceptance to universal observance.

Reports by Jennifer Parmelee; data and research from Teresa Albanez, Maissa Hamed, Edita Nsubuga and Rebeca Rios-Kohn (UNICEF).

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