November 7 2014

Turning 25: The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child

The UNCRC is now a quarter century old, but has it come of age? Are children’s rights being fulfilled?

7 November 2014 - Can you remember a time when a child was considered a piece of property and an adult had all the power to decide how that child should be treated? In fact, that time was not so long ago.

Just 25 years young this month, the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) was and is still the radical document that set new international standards, establishing that a child is his or her own person with unique and absolute rights, including the rights to citizenship, dignity, security, safety, self-determination and participation.

Before the UNCRC came into being on 20 November 1989, children were considered property or ‘chattel’ in the law books of many nations, and the adults who ‘owned’ them – their guardians – had the right to loan them out as labourers, remove them from school, or dole out harsh physical punishments.

A record 194 countries ratified the UNCRC. As such, they are subject to review by the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child and feedback on their progress in ensuring that their children’s rights are being met. International pressure produced by the Committee has led to advancements in children’s rights around the world, for example:

  • In Albania: to convince the Ministry of Social Welfare and Youth to raise the age of leaving alternative care from 15 to 18 and to provide extra support for young adults leaving care (2013)
  • In Ghana: to create laws and policies to protect children’s rights (ongoing since 1989)
  • In Canada: to establish legal precedents for a child’s right to citizenship and residency
  • In Iran: to change a law (2012) that allowed the execution of juvenile offenders
  • In the United Kingdom: to legally recognise the rights of refugee children, children living below the poverty line, and children in custody (2008)

Article 2 of the UNCRC is about equality; it states that ALL children have all the rights in the Convention. Image: Detail from SOS Children's Villages' youth-friendly poster about children's rights - free for sharing, printing and downloading.

Wherever children suffer, there is work to do

The acceptance of the UNCRC by so many nations was an enormous step forward for children’s rights and welfare worldwide, but much work still remains to be done. In the world today, some 67 million school-aged children are not in school (UNESCO); varying by region, between 20% and 60% of children worldwide suffer physical abuse in their own homes (UNICEF); and one in every five children in developing countries is undernourished (World Bank, UN).

Some of the same countries that signed the UNCRC still allow corporal or even capital punishment of children; and there are nations where leaders still look away when children are enlisted as soldiers or forced to work without fair wages, rest, or the opportunity to go to school. So there is still a big job to do to ensure that all children can grow with dignity, security and respect.

Children have rights! Do you know about them?

The first step is ensuring that children and adults know which rights children have under the UNCRC. In fact, the right to know your rights is Article 42 of the Convention! Here are some resources to help you learn about children’s rights.

  • In this youth-friendly UNCRC poster from SOS Children’s Villages and UNICEF, children’s rights are spelled out in plain language that everyone will understand. Please share, print and post it, to help spread awareness.
  • For over 65 years SOS Children’s Villages has worked to help children who have lost parental care, or who are at risk of losing it. The UNCRC recognises that these children have special rights to protection and quality care (see Articles 20, 21 and 25), and just five years ago the UN welcomed the Guidelines for the Alternative Care of Children, which we also helped develop. SOS Children’s Villages produced a youth-friendly version of the Guidelines to ensure that young people in care understand their rights too. Please share it!

Child and youth participation makes the difference

Article 12 of the UNCRC states that children have the right to express their views and to have them taken into account by adults. This powerful UNCRC article kick-started a new era in which children and young people are being consulted more and more by teachers, social workers, judges, leaders and other authorities in the decisions that affect their lives.
  • Children and young people: Speak up and get involved in the decisions that are shaping your world through the My World Survey and active participation in political processes on an international level.
  • Follow @SOS_Advocates on Twitter to stay up-to-date on the latest news from SOS Children’s Villages about advocacy for children’s rights.