Children's human rights

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

What is the UNCRC?

The UNCRC is the most widely ratified international human rights instrument. All children and young people up to the age of 18 years have all the rights under the convention.

The UK (State Party) signed the UNCRC in 1990 and ratified it in 1991. That means the State Party (comprising of 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

When the treaty came into force, every child in the UK has been entitled to over 40 specific rights. The different rights are not ranked in order of importance; instead they interact with one another to form dynamic parts of an integrated unit.

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 18 experts on children's rights. It examines each signatory to the convention every five years and issues a set of recommendations (known as Concluding Observations).

The most recent report submitted to the UN Committee by the UK for examination was submitted in May 2014. Following the examination, a set of Concluding Observations will be issued by the Committee.

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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