Protecting children's rights
|© UNICEF/HQ93-1356/Roger LeMoyne|
|Children, such as this small boy in China, need the support of their families and every member of society.|
Human rights apply to all age groups; children have the same general human rights as adults. In 1989, however, world leaders decided that children needed a special convention just for them because people under 18 years old often need special care and protection that adults do not. The leaders also wanted to make sure that the world recognized that children have human rights too. The Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) is the first legally binding international instrument to incorporate the full range of human rights—including civil, cultural, economic, political and social rights.
Children’s rights in the human rights framework
The Convention on the Rights of the Child sets out the rights that must be realized for children to develop their full potential, free from hunger and want, neglect and abuse. It reflects a new vision of the child. Children are neither the property of their parents nor are they helpless objects of charity. They are human beings and are the subject of their own rights. The Convention offers a vision of the child as an individual and as a member of a family and community, with rights and responsibilities appropriate to his or her age and stage of development. By recognizing children's rights in this way, the Convention firmly sets the focus on the whole child.
The Convention and its acceptance by so many countries has heightened recognition of the fundamental human dignity of all children and the urgency of ensuring their well-being and development. The Convention makes clear the idea that a basic quality of life should be the right of all children, rather than a privilege enjoyed by a few.
From abstract rights to realities
Despite the existence of rights, children suffer from poverty, homelessness, abuse, neglect, preventable diseases, unequal access to education and justice systems that do not recognize their special needs. These are problems that occur in both industrialized and developing countries.
The near-universal ratification of the Convention reflects a global commitment to the principles of children's rights. By ratifying the Convention, governments state their intention to put this commitment into practice. State parties are obligated to amend and create laws and policies to fully implement the Convention; they must consider all actions taken in light of the best interests of the child.
The task, however, must engage not just governments but all members of society. The standards and principles articulated in the Convention can only become a reality when they are respected by everyone—within the family, in schools and other institutions that provide services for children, in communities and at all levels of administration.
Abdul (right), 13, works in an informal gold processing facility in the Brong Ahafo region of Ghana, where ore from illegal mines is processed. Child labour in the region is common due to poverty and the lure of quick money.
Relative poverty also impacts children. Even when not deprived in absolute terms, having poorer opportunities in education, health or nutrition than their peers limits a child’s life chances. (Left) Bushra, 16, with her sister in a camp for internally displaced people in Iraq’s Kurdistan region.
Female head porters stand in the shack they share near a market in Ghana. Some as young as 8 years old, head porters are usually migrants from the economically disenfranchised northern regions of the country, earning a meagre living carrying loads on their heads.
Failure to protect children is one of the most costly mistakes societies can make, resulting in low productivity and high unemployment. Boys from the Central African Republic play checkers in a camp for children formerly associated with the anti-Balaka rebel group.
Child poverty travels across generations. Alina, a head porter in a Ghanaian market, does laundry with her son on her back before going to work. Porters like Alina tend to live in slums close to the markets or sleep on the streets — where they are exposed to sexual assault and other crimes.
For children, the effects of poverty ripple through a lifetime. M Dj, 4, is from the village of Loziste in Serbia. His family lives in extreme poverty and cannot afford to take him for a medical check-up and vaccinations, or to enrol him in an early childhood centre so he can start learning.
Children in Nigeria eat a communal meal in a UNICEF-supported safe space in the Dalori camp for internally displaced people. In almost every country in the world, more children live in poverty than adults.
Violence forced Jamila and her family to flee their home, in Iraq. They used an emergency cash transfer, received via a UNICEF programme, to get psychosocial treatment for their son, extra food and clothes. Cash grants and social protection systems play a huge role in taking families out of poverty.
A teacher educates indigenous Wixarica children in Jalisco, Mexico. Too many of the world’s poorest children lack access to public services like health, water and sanitation and electricity, perpetuating discrimination and leaving them further behind in life.
Women in Pakistan attend a skills-training and income-generation project supported by UNICEF. The poorest children often live in marginalized families who are unable to find work. Having decent job opportunities empowers communities and is a key way of lifting children and families out of poverty.