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

A treaty goes to war

The influence of the Convention is proving especially important in situations where all normal protection for children has broken down.

Sierra Leone, for example, cited the Convention in demobilizing child soldiers involved in the country's civil war. UNICEF moved 1,500 young boys from Rwandan refugee camps in Zaire to civilian centres, to prevent their involvement in hostilities. In Sri Lanka, the age of army recruitment was recently raised from 15 to 18, and the Government used the Convention to resist army attempts to draft under-age youths.

Photo: The right to be educated not exploited, to be at school not at war.©

In an extraordinary new role for the Convention, two rebel groups - the Sudan People's Liberation Movement and the South Sudan Independence Movement - have agreed to abide by Convention principles to protect women and children. Treaties bind only ratifying countries, but in this case two internal contenders for political power have also accepted the Convention.

In another case of the Convention being applied in the midst of turmoil, UNICEF has suspended assistance to education programmes in parts of Afghanistan where fundamentalist Muslim groups have closed schools for girls.

Children in many nations continue to be victims of adults' wars - losing their parents and their homes, losing their childhood and their opportunity for education, losing their limbs and their lives to the machinery of violence. The Convention seeks to protect children from these worst manifestations of adult failure. A small beginning has been made.

...and to school

13 of 43 countries have built the Convention into curricula or courses.

Many countries are now including human rights in their school curricula, among them El Salvador, Portugal, and Sri Lanka. In 1991, Denmark also launched a campaign to convey the principles of the Convention to the public; materials on child rights were distributed to all young people from the first to the tenth grades.

Egypt is integrating principles of the Convention into the curricula of law and social work schools, as well as police academies, while Zambia's School of Law plans to start a postgraduate diploma on human rights, with course work devoted to child rights. Chile has adopted a different approach (1994), by setting up an institution called the 'Defender of Schoolchildren' to deal with children's complaints against school authorities.

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