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 carry out 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 about 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 a UN body of 18 independent experts on child rights from around the world. Members are elected for a term of four years by States parties in line with article 43 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child. Members serve in their personal capacity and may be re-elected if nominated. Only States parties to the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC or Convention) can nominate and elect Committee members.

The Committee on the Rights of the Child monitors implementation of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child by its States parties. All countries are required to report every five years to the Committee on their work in the area of children’s rights. During the reporting cycle the Committee will hold constructive dialogue with each State so that it can make an accurate assessment of the child rights situation in that country.

The reporting cycle ends with the Committee issuing a set of Concluding Observations. The Concluding Observations point out progress achieved, main areas of concern and recommendations to the State on how to fulfill its obligations and advance child rights. 

The UN Committee considered the fifth periodic report of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland in May 2016. The Committee published its final set of Concluding Observation in July 2016. 

The UK as State party has been invited by the Committee to send in its joint sixth and seventh periodic reports by 14 January 2022 and to include within it information on the follow-up to the present concluding observations.

Northern Ireland 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 people and other rights guaranteed by the convention. The Commissioner reports to the Assembly and Parliament.

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