Unicef Logo and the text: Children Under Threat. The State of The World's Children 2005.

Giacomo Pirozzi

Childhood Defined

Childhood is the time for children to be in school and at play, to grow strong and confident with the love and encouragement of their family and an extended community of caring adults. It is a precious time in which children should live free from fear, safe from violence and protected from abuse and exploitation. As such, childhood means much more than just the space between birth and the attainment of adulthood. It refers to the state and condition of a child’s life, to the quality of those years.

Despite intellectual debates about the definition of childhood and cultural differences about what to expect of children, there has always been a substantial degree of shared understanding that childhood implies a separated and safe space (click here to see a timeline of progress in the recognition of children's rights). In 1989, the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

The Convention is the first international human rights treaty to bring together the universal set of standards concerning children in a unique instrument, and the first to present child rights as a legally binding imperative.

The Convention:
  • Defined childhood as a separate space from adulthood and recognized that what is appropriate for an adult may not be suitable for a child.
  • Called on governments to provide material assistance and support to families and to prevent children from being separated from their parents.
  • Recognized that children are the holders of their own rights and are therefore not passive recipients of charity but empowered actors in their own development.
In the years since the Convention was adopted, the world has seen concrete results for children. Between the early 1990s and 2000, the average under-five mortality rate declined by 11 per cent, underweight prevalence among children under five fell from 32 per cent to 28 per cent in developing countries, and global access to safe drinking water rose from 77 per cent to 82 per cent. Child deaths from diarrhoea, the foremost killer of children at the beginning of the 1990s, declined by half, saving an estimated 1 million lives, while the Global Polio Eradication Initiative, launched in 1988, helped to cut the number of cases from 350,000 that year to some 700 by the end of 2003.

Still recognizing that much more needed to be done for the world’s children, 190 world leaders convened at the UN General Assembly Special Session on Children in May 2002 and pledged to accelerate progress on child development by promoting the best start and healthy lives; providing quality education; protecting against abuse, exploitation and violence; and combating HIV/AIDS. These commitments were reflected in a new international compact – A World Fit for Children.

Also in this section

Picture of a child


A child carrying water

The Convention on the Rights of the Child [Web]

A World Fit for Children [PDF]

Human rights for children and women: How UNICEF helps make them a reality [PDF]

Implementation Handbook for the Convention on the Rights of the Child -
Fully Revised Edition

Building a World Fit for Children [PDF]

We the children [PDF]

"Aids Is Danger / Aids Is Stranger / Know Your Worth / Recreate Your Thought / Guard Your Life / Change Your Style / Mould Your Ways / Amend Your Perception / Receive Orientation / Emotions Are Real / Watch The Feel / Close The Seal / Make A Deal / Test Your Blood Aids Is Real"
by Chiyere, 21, Nigeria

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© UNICEF 2004