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