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The Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC), passed in 1989, is the most widely accepted human rights treaty. This landmark piece is the first international treaty to ensure the civil, political, social, cultural and economic rights of all children under eighteen.

The treaty has 42 articles that are guided by four main principles. First, all children are equal and have the same rights. Second, every child has the right to have his or her basic needs fulfilled.

Third, every child has the right to protection from abuse and exploitation. Fourth, every child has the right to express his or her opinion and be respected.

All member states, except for the U.S. and South Sudan, have ratified the UNCRC. Here are ten ways in which the UNCRC supports children around the world:

1. It changed the way lawmakers and governments view children. Prior to the passing of the treaty, it was acceptable to view children as passive objects that were products of their parents. Through the UNCRC, children are viewed as distinct individuals with lives, needs and opinions separate from that of their parents.

2. It gives power to international bodies to intervene to support children’s rights. The passage of the UNCRC gives aid agencies and relief operations more power, particularly with regards to children’s health, safety and well-being. Since 1998, for example, UNICEF has been able to rescue more than 100,000 child soldiers.

3. It empowers international organizations into holding nations accountable. When nations are pressured or face sanctions for human rights violations, they are more likely to make efforts to fix things.

Furthermore, it enables international bodies to create regulatory framework to ensure children’s rights are protected outside of their country, such as with refugees, immigrants, trafficking victims and asylum-seekers.

4. It acknowledges that children exist and have the rights of citizens. Articles mandate that children have a right to documentation and their culture, even if it is not the culture supported by their country.

This is especially important for children of marginalized ethnic groups and populations, such as the Rohingya in Myanmar and the Yadizis living under ISIS territory.

5. It addresses children with disabilities. Children with disabilities worldwide are often excluded and marginalized, particularly when it comes to education. By saying that all children are entitled to the same rights, it empowers children whose voices are frequently silenced.

6. It improves the quality of life for children around the world. By bringing children into the spotlight, it raises awareness for children’s rights. Working to improve the lives of children in developing countries is an indication that progress is being made.

In the fight against global poverty, people are often fighting for the children. The UNCRC helped make impoverished children a more visible population for policymakers and governments to consider.

7. It explicitly states that children have the right to go to school. As education becomes increasingly powerful as a means for empowerment, especially in developing countries, it is critical that everyone has the opportunity to go to school. Education leads to knowledge, employment and potential income, which benefits all families.

By not excluding certain children from education (girls, special-needs children, children of marginalized ethnic groups), communities develop more power to fight global poverty at home and worldwide.

8. It prohibits forced labor. Many articles mandate that children working is only acceptable if they are not exposed to hazardous conditions or violence and if the work does not interfere with their education. Most importantly, the children working must choose to; their parents cannot force them.

9. It empowers children directly. Articles in the UNCRC state that children have the right to be heard. The old tenet that “children should be seen, not heard” is seen as an infringement against a child’s rights. A child knowing that they can stand up for themselves is a powerful thing.

10. With it now comes the World’s Children’s Prize! Established in 2000, the World’s Children’s Prize (WCP) holds annual elections in which children vote on a children’s rights hero.

More than 36.5 million children have cast their vote in the WCP; more than 60,000 schools in 113 different countries take part in the opportunity to educate children about their rights and let them choose a hero for their cause. Past winners of the WCP include Nelson Mandela and Malala Yousafzai.

The UNCRC was a landmark human rights treaty that empowers children and those who help them. A quarter of a century later, progress still needs to be made, but much is to be celebrated.

More children receive access to health care, birth registration, nutrition and schooling, and reductions have been made in infant mortality, children trapped in forced labor, and children recruited into the armed forces.

Let’s hope that further support from policymakers, governments and international organizations continue to promote children’s rights worldwide.

Priscilla McCelvey

Sources: Amnesty International, UNICEF, United Nations Human Rights, The World’s Children’s Prize
Photo: Flickr

orphans in developing countries
Losing a parent is undoubtedly a traumatic experience for any child. It is an experience that will follow that child, likely playing a large role in their development and the opportunities they will have later in life.

Globally, 153 million children are orphans; the number of orphans in developing countries is enormous: 132 million. Here are 5 facts about the 132 million orphaned children in developing nations.

1. The large amount of orphans in developing countries is a result of many negative circumstances. Among these are natural disasters, famine and war. However, AIDS is the most significant reason children in a developing country lose their parents. In 2007 alone, AIDS left 15 million children orphaned after one or more of their parents passed away from the disease.

More than 24 percent of orphaned children had parents taken from them by AIDS. In 2008, 430,000 children were infected with the disease as well.

2. Asia holds the largest number of orphaned children, at 71 million – India alone is home to 31 million orphans. This is followed by Africa, which harbors 59 million.

3. Each day, 39,000 children are forced from their homes alone because of the death of a parent, family illness or abuse and abandonment.

4. After losing parents, circumstances for children drastically decline. They typically lack basic needs, like food and shelter. Education, however, is the first to be sacrificed, especially for older children who stop attending school to care for their younger siblings. These children try to provide for themselves and their younger siblings, often endangering their health.

The International Labor Organization reports that orphans are often found working in commercial agriculture, as well as street vending and housekeeping. Seven percent of orphans are stolen and sold into the sex industry.

5. The number of orphans is growing. Predictions for the next five to 10 years show the trend moving upward. By 2020, more than 200 million children could find themselves orphaned. This is almost three percent of the world population.

Despite the harsh reality of being orphaned in a developing country, it’s important to note that the rate of children becoming orphans in developing nations is finally slowing. The U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child has become the most rapidly and widely ratified human rights treaty in world history. It lays down a set of rights for each child and, as nations struggle to bring much needed care and protection to their orphans, provides pathways and options for each nation to do so.

Rachel Davis

Sources: Humanium, Moju Project, UNICEF
Photo: The Guardian