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Children’s rights treaty celebrates sixteenth birthday

© UNICEF/HQ04-1202/ Ami Vitale
Elango Ramachandar and his wife Asha Ramaiah play with their two-year-old son Yathin in their home in Bangalore, India.

By Chris Niles

NEW YORK, USA, 18 November 2005 – The first international agreement to recognize that all children have the same rights as adults has reached its sixteenth year – with few of the growing pains of adolescence.

The Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in 1989. It is the most extensively agreed-upon treaty in international history. Only two countries – the United States of America and Somalia – have failed to ratify it, although both countries have signalled their intention to do so by formally signing the Convention.

“What the Convention really means is that children are human beings, and as human beings they have human rights. The CRC explains that a child should be considered as a person with rights, but is also a person who needs protection,” said Nadine Perrault, UNICEF Child Rights Programme Officer.

At the very least, the Convention says that all children everywhere have the right to live and be protected from harm. But it also articulates their social, familial and cultural rights. It sets benchmark standards in health care, education and in legal, civil and social services, and says that the participating states are obliged to develop all policies in the best interests of the child. The Committee on the Rights of the Child monitors how each country is progressing towards these standards.

© UNICEF/HQ04-0498/ Louise Gubb
A small girl stands to speak in a Standard 1 class at Chadza Primary School, a rural district near Lilongwe, Malawi.

“In every country in the world there have been changes,” said Ms. Perrault, “whether it’s adopting social policy or looking at the way governments are establishing their budgets –they’re considering what the impact will be on children’s rights. A lot has changed in terms of legislation. A lot of countries have taken legislative measures to change the way people see children. They used to see children as an object of charity. Now they have to think in the best interests of every child.”

Indigenous children are specifically recognized by the Convention – and it is the only international treaty to do so. “The rights of indigenous children are at the front of the agenda,” said Ms. Perrault.

Since its adoption the Convention has adopted two Optional Protocols which give specific emphasis to protecting children from trafficking, prostitution and pornography, and during times of armed conflict.

More broadly, as the Convention moves through its teenage years it will continue to improve jurisprudence on children’s rights.

“Now we are truly thinking about the means to implement child rights at country level, at the level of the community and within the family,” said Ms. Perrault.




18 November 2005:
UNICEF Child Rights Programme Officer Nadine Perrault discusses how children’s rights have improved since the Convention on the Rights of the Child was adopted by the United Nations.

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