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Children's human rights

The United Nation's Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) applies to all children and young people aged 17 and under. The convention is separated into 54 articles: most give children social, economic, cultural or civil and political rights, while others set out how governments must publicise or implement the convention.

What is the UNCRC?

All children and young people up to the age of 18 years have all the rights under the convention. Some groups of children and young people - for example those living away from home and young people with a disability - have additional rights to make sure they are treated fairly.

The UK ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) on 16 December 1991. That means the State Party (England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland) now has to make sure that every child has all the rights in the treaty except in those where the government entered a specific reservation.

A convention is an agreement between countries to obey the same law. When the government of a country ratifies a convention, that means it agrees to obey the rules set out in that convention.

What the treaty means

From 15 January 1992, when the treaty came into force, every child in the UK has been entitled to over 40 specific rights.

These include:

  • the right to life, survival and development
  • the right to have their views respected and to have their best interests considered at all times
  • the right to a name and nationality, freedom of expression and access to information concerning them
  • the right to live in a family environment or alternative care and to have contact with both parents if possible
  • health and welfare rights - including rights for disabled children - the right to health and health care and social security
  • the right to education, leisure, culture and the arts
  • special protection for refugee children, children in the juvenile justice system, children deprived of their liberty and children suffering economic, sexual or other forms of exploitation

The rights in the convention apply to all children and young people, with no exceptions.

Safeguarding the Convention

The Committee for the Rights of the Child is responsible for making sure each country follows the agreement. This is an international body made up of experts on children's rights. It examines each signatory to the convention every five years and issues a set of recommendations. The Committee last examined the UK State Party in 2008.

Northern Ireland now also has a Commissioner for Children and Young People, whose principal aim is to safeguard and promote the rights and best interests of children and young persons and other rights guaranteed by the convention. The Commissioner reports to the Assembly and Parliament.

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