Q: What is the
Convention on the Rights of the Child?
Q: How was it decided what
should go into the Convention on the Rights of the Child?
Q: How does the Convention
protect these rights?
Q: How does the international
community monitor and support progress on the implementation of the
Q: What is the new vision of
the child in the Convention?
Q: How is the Convention
How does the Convention define a child?
Q: How many countries have
ratified the Convention?
Q: Who has not ratified and
How does UNICEF use the Convention?
Q: What steps do the
Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Committee on the Rights of
the Child encourage governments to undertake?
Q: In addition to support of
country programmes, how does UNICEF assist governments in promoting
Q: What are some of the areas
in which the Convention on the Rights of the Child has been most
Q: What is the Convention on the Rights of the
A: The Convention on the Rights of the Child is
an international treaty that recognizes the human rights of children,
defined as persons up to the age of 18 years. In 41 substantive articles,
it establishes in international law that States Parties must ensure that
all children – without discrimination in any form – benefit from special
protection measures and assistance; have access to services such as
education and health care; can develop their personalities, abilities and
talents to the fullest potential; grow up in an environment of happiness,
love and understanding; and are informed about and participate in,
achieving their rights in an accessible and active manner.
Q: How was it decided what should go into the Convention
on the Rights of the Child?
A: The standards in the
Convention on the Rights of the Child were negotiated by governments,
non-governmental organizations, human rights advocates, lawyers, health
specialists, social workers, educators, child development experts and
religious leaders from all over the world, over a 10-year period. The
result is a consensus document that takes into account the importance of
tradition and cultural values for the protection and harmonious
development of the child. It reflects the principal legal systems of the
world and acknowledges the specific needs of developing countries.
Q: How does the Convention protect these
A: It constitutes a common reference against
which progress in meeting human rights standards for children can be
assessed and results compared. Having agreed to meet the standards in the
Convention, governments are obliged to bring their legislation, policy and
practice into accordance with the standards in the Convention; to
transform the standards into reality for all children; and to abstain from
any action that may preclude the enjoyment of those rights or violate
them. Governments are required to report periodically to a committee of
independent experts on their progress to achieve all the rights.
Q: How does the international community monitor and
support progress on the implementation of the
A: The Committee on the Rights of the Child,
an internationally elected body of independent experts that sits in Geneva
to monitor the Convention's implementation, requires governments that have
ratified the Convention to submit regular reports on the status of
children's rights in their countries. The Committee reviews and comments
on these reports and encourages States to take special measures and to
develop special institutions for the promotion and protection of
children's rights. Where necessary, the Committee calls for international
assistance from other governments and technical assistance from
organizations like UNICEF.
Q: What is the new vision of the child in the
A: The Convention provides a universal set
of standards to be adhered to by all countries. 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 a member of a family and a community, with
rights and responsibilities appropriate to his or her age and stage of
development. Recognizing children's rights in this way firmly sets a focus
on the whole child. Previously seen as negotiable, the child's needs have
become legally binding rights. No longer the passive recipient of
benefits, the child has become the subject or holder of rights.
Q: How is the Convention special?
Q: How does the Convention define a
- Is in force in virtually the entire community of nations, thus
providing a common ethical and legal framework to develop an agenda for
children. At the same time, it constitutes a common reference against
which progress may be assessed.
- Was the first time a formal commitment was made to ensure the
realization of human rights and monitor progress on the situation of
- Indicates that children's rights are human rights. Children's rights
are not special rights, but rather the fundamental rights inherent to
the human dignity of all people, including children. Children's rights
can no longer be perceived as an option, as a question of favour or
kindness to children or as an expression of charity. They generate
obligations and responsibilities that we all must honour and respect.
- Was even accepted by non-state entities. The Sudan People's
Liberation Army (SPLA), a rebel movement in Southern Sudan, is one such
- Is a reference for many organizations working with and for children
– including NGOs and organizations within the UN system.
- Reaffirms that all rights are important and essential for the full
development of the child and that addressing each and every child is
- Reaffirms the notion of State accountability for the realization of
human rights and the values of transparency and public scrutiny that are
associated with it.
- Promotes an international system of solidarity designed to achieve
the realization of children's rights. Using the Convention's reporting
process as a reference, donor countries are required to provide
assistance in areas where particular needs have been identified;
recipient countries are required to direct overseas development
assistance (ODA) to that end too.
- Highlights and defends the family's role in children's lives.
A: The Convention defines a "child" as a person
below the age of 18, unless the relevant laws recognize an earlier age of
majority. In some cases, States are obliged to be consistent in defining
benchmark ages – such as the age for admission into employment and
completion of compulsory education; but in other cases the Convention is
unequivocal in setting an upper limit – such as prohibiting life
imprisonment or capital punishment for those under 18 years of age.
Q: How many countries have ratified the
A: More countries have ratified the
Convention than any other human rights treaty in history – 191 countries
had become State Parties to the Convention as of October 1999.
Q: Who has not ratified and why
A: The Convention on the Rights of the Child is the
most widely and rapidly ratified human rights treaty in history. Only two
countries, Somalia and the United States, have not ratified this
celebrated agreement. Somalia is currently unable to proceed to
ratification as it has no recognized government. By signing the
Convention, the United States has signalled its intention to ratify – but
has yet to do so.
As in many other nations, the United States undertakes an extensive
examination and scrutiny of treaties before proceeding to ratify. This
examination, which includes an evaluation of the degree of compliance with
existing law and practice in the country at state and federal levels, can
take several years – or even longer if the treaty is portrayed as being
controversial or if the process is politicized. For example, the
Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide took
more than 30 years to be ratified in the United States and the Convention
on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, which was
signed by the United States 17 years ago, still has not been ratified.
Moreover, the US Government typically will consider only one human rights
treaty at a time. Currently, the Convention on the Elimination of All
Forms of Discrimination against Women is cited as the nation's top
priority among human rights treaties.
Q: How does UNICEF use the
A: The Secretary-General of the United
Nations has called for the mainstreaming of human rights in all areas of
UN operations – for example, the Office of the United Nations High
Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in its mandate for refugee children, or
the International Labour Organization (ILO) in its commitment to eliminate
child labour. In the case of UNICEF, the Convention has become more than
just a reference, but a systematic guide to the work of the organization.
As expressed in its Mission Statement, UNICEF is mandated to "advocate for
the protection of children's rights" and it "strives to establish
children's rights as enduring ethical principles and international
standards of behaviour towards children." UNICEF promotes the principles
and provisions of the Convention and the mainstreaming of children's
rights in a systematic manner, in its advocacy, programming, monitoring
and evaluation activities.
The Convention on the Rights of the Child provides UNICEF with guidance
as to the areas to be assessed and addressed, and it is a tool against
which UNICEF measures the progress achieved in those areas. Integrating a
human rights approach in all UNICEF's work is an ongoing learning process
that includes broadening the framework for UNICEF's development agenda. In
addition to maintaining a focus on child survival and development, UNICEF
must consider the situation of all children, better analyse the economic
and social environment, develop partnerships to strengthen the response
(including the participation of children themselves), support
interventions on the basis of non-discrimination and act in the best
interests of the child.
Q: What steps do the Convention on the Rights of the
Child and the Committee on the Rights of the Child encourage governments
A: Through its reviews of country reports,
the Committee urges all levels of government to use the Convention as a
guide in policy-making and implementation to:
Q: In addition to support of country programmes, how does UNICEF
assist governments in promoting children's rights?
- Develop a comprehensive national agenda for children.
- Develop permanent bodies or mechanisms to promote coordination,
monitoring and evaluation of activities throughout all sectors of
- Ensure that all legislation is fully compatible with the Convention.
- Make children visible in policy development processes throughout
government by introducing child impact assessments.
- Carry out adequate budget analysis to determine the portion of
public funds spent on children and to ensure that these resources are
being used effectively.
- Ensure that sufficient data are collected and used to improve the
plight of all children in each jurisdiction.
- Raise awareness and disseminate information on the Convention by
providing training to all those involved in government policy-making and
working with or for children.
- Involve civil society – including children themselves – in the
process of implementing and raising awareness of child rights.
- Set up independent statutory offices – ombudspersons, commissions
and other institutions – to promote children's rights.
UNICEF's work involves advocacy, cooperation and technical assistance.
are some of the areas in which the Convention on the Rights of the Child
has been most effective?
- UNICEF undertakes advocacy – through publications, awareness
campaigns and participation in major international conferences and in
public statements – and works with those responsible for the development
and implementation of legislation and public policy.
- UNICEF cooperates with both donor governments and governments in the
developing world. UNICEF-assisted programmes seek to ensure the social
and economic rights of children by delivering essential services such as
health and education and improving access to good nutrition and to care.
UNICEF also focuses attention on national budget spending, encouraging
governments to allocate 20 per cent of budgets to basic services.
Further, UNICEF supports efforts to redress inequitable practices and
discrimination, which are direct and underlying causes of children's and
- UNICEF cooperates with other international organizations –
particularly those within the UN system, as the United Nations
Development Assistance Framework (UNDAF) process illustrates – and
international financial institutions.
- UNICEF works to build partnerships with civil society organizations,
involving children, families and other members of communities.
- UNICEF provides technical support and assistance to the Committee on
the Rights of the Child.
- UNICEF focuses on sustainable results and encourages ongoing
monitoring and evaluation of programmes.
A: The Convention has inspired
a process of national implementation and social change in all regions of
the world. Achievements towards the realization of child rights can be
seen in the areas below. The Examples cited are merely a sampling and are
- Incorporating human rights principles into
legislation. The almost universal ratification of the Convention
on the Rights of the Child has stimulated the ratification of other
fundamental human rights instruments and the reflection in local
legislation of the principles embodied in these instruments.
Among the key developments are changes in the legal procedures on
the international adoption of Burundian children; ratification
by Sao Tome and Principe and Mozambique of the
landmine-ban convention (its full name is the Convention on the
Prohibition of the Use, Stockpiling, Production and Transfer of
Anti-Personnel Mines and on their Destruction); a review of the Child
Care Act in South Africa; and the passage of the Sexual
Offences Special Provisions Act of 1998 in the United Republic of
Tanzania. Child rights as well as human rights principles are
reflected in the Democratic Republic of the Congo's new draft
constitution, which grants free education and prohibits conscription
into the army before age 18. In Ethiopia, provisions for
children's and women's rights have been written into the new
constitution and legislation. In Mauritius, 23 pieces of
national legislation were amended and adopted under the National
Assembly for the Protection of Children (Miscellaneous) Act and other
legislation in accordance with provisions of the Convention. In
Azerbaijan, a law on the rights of the child was approved in
1998, while in Romania, a national policy reform is related to
children in public care. Malaysia enacted a new law, the
Malaysian Child Act, which is within the framework of the Convention.
In 16 countries in the Americas and Caribbean region, national
laws have been adapted to the Convention on the Rights of the Child;
among them, Venezuela has passed significant child rights
legislation and Chile, Panama and Uruguay have
drafted children's codes; Panama and Uruguay have also
enacted legal reforms in the field of juvenile justice. Constitutional
amendments in Brazil reflect child rights. Recently, the
Mexican Congress agreed to support the National Law for
Children's Rights Protection.
- Establishing interdepartmental and multidisciplinary
bodies. Several countries have set up interdepartmental and
multidisciplinary bodies to promote policy initiatives, to ensure policy
coordination and to monitor progress towards implementing the
Convention. These bodies often include local authorities – for example,
mayors 'as defenders of children's rights' – as well as representatives
of civil society.
In Sri Lanka, a presidential committee mobilized national
and international media, religious groups and NGOs to draw government
attention to the issue of child abuse. In Sweden, a committee
has been specifically established to follow and promote actions
relevant to child rights. A high-level, intersectoral working
committee in Malaysia drafted the new Malaysian Child Act. In
Gabon, an ad hoc committee on childhood has been established,
while in Mauritania, UNICEF supported the creation of a
parliamentary commission for child rights. In India, a
children's parliament and children's courts have been established.
Sri Lanka established a Child Protection Authority to plan,
budget and coordinate programmes as well as a parliamentary lobby for
child rights. In Bangladesh, an interministerial committee has
been established to regularly monitor the process of fulfilling
- Developing national agendas for children.
In South Africa, the National Programme of Action, launched
in 1996, is designed to achieve coordination of governmental and
non-governmental plans in favour of children and to ensure the
convergence of such plans within the frameworks of the Convention on
the Rights of the Child, the World Summit for Children and the
national Reconstruction and Development Programme. Mozambique
has initiated a similar process in an Agenda for Action, identifying
priorities and goals to be achieved in specific time frames; the
process has been developed in parallel with the process of reporting
to the Committee on the Rights of the Child and in the context
provided by the Convention.
- Widening partnerships for children.
In Africa, the Sara Communication Initiative, an animated
film series that covers child rights themes, has generated a wide
range of partnerships – including with local and international NGOs,
other UN agencies, the World Bank, bilateral donors, prominent media
outlets, community groups and other local institutions. In the
Middle East and North Africa region, a revived dialogue
with the League of Arab States, the Arab Council for Childhood and
Development, the Economic and Social Commission for West Asia, the
Arab Institute for Human Rights, Rotary International, the United
Nations Development Programme and UNICEF is providing new
opportunities for partnerships and is strengthening the regional
movement for children. In Botswana, the 'Molaletsa' project
seeks to mobilize private-sector business interests around children's
issues and to attract cash and in-kind contributions. Apple Computer,
Inc. supported the establishment of an educational facility for
pregnant teenagers and architects designed primary school hostels for
children living in remote areas; the architects' contribution
leveraged an additional $4.8 million in government support. The
Sialkot Initiative in Pakistan brings together the public and
private sectors in an effort to combat child labour; partners include
the International Labour Organization, the Sialkot Chamber of Commerce
and Industry, the International Save the Children Alliance and several
other NGOs and UNICEF. The media and other communicators play a
strategic role in national programmes awarding prizes for
communication on child rights issues – in Brazil,
Colombia, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Panama,
Peru and countries in the English-speaking Caribbean. In
countries in the East Asia and the Pacific region, business
communities have provided free media placements for campaigns against
child domestic labour. In areas experiencing conflict in the
Philippines, activities involve the private sector and
religious organizations, most notably the Southern Philippines Council
for Peace and Development and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front.
- Promoting ombudspersons for children or commissioners for
children's rights. Independent institutions such as
ombudspersons are guided by the best interests of the child and offer an
opportunity to monitor and evaluate – in an impartial manner – policies
undertaken in favour of children and to challenge decisions that may
disregard their rights.
Georgia, for example, has established an Ombudsman's Office
for Human Rights, with one person designated to cover children's
rights. National commissions on human rights have been created in more
than 10 countries in Western and Central Africa – including
Benin, Cameroon, Cape Verde, Central African
Republic, Chad, Ghana, Liberia,
Nigeria, Senegal, Togo and Zambia.
Zambia's Human Rights Commission (established in 1997) formed a
subcommittee on child rights in 1998; the subcommittee has identified
child abuse and education as key issues of concern. Rwanda
recently created the National Assembly for Child Rights and Sao Tome
and Principe established the National Commission on Youth and
Children. Madagascar newly established the Independent
Commission on Human Rights and South Africa has established the
Child Rights Committee, a statutory body of the South African Human
Rights Commission; UNICEF is an official member of both bodies. In
Mauritius, a task force co-chaired by UNICEF is charged with
reviewing the role and status of the National Children's Council,
which was established in 1991.
- Assessing the impact of measures on children. In a few
countries, the need for a serious monitoring process has led to the
establishment of systems to assess child impact. Through these systems,
countries assess the extent to which any measure, even when it is not
directly targeted at children, promotes or impedes implementation of the
Convention and the impact such measures have on children.
In Belgium, the Flemish Parliament instituted an impact
report with regard to children and monitors government policy in terms
of its respect for the rights of the child.
- Restructuring of budgetary allocations. The way
budgets are structured and allocations made can promote the realization
of children's rights – or impede it. 'State of Our Children' reports and
'children's budgets' are becoming the rule rather than the exception.
Brazil now reports on its budget expenditure on children and
Norway published a 'children's annex' with its annual budget.
- Targeting child survival and development. The
systematic and progressive reporting required by the Committee on the
Rights of the Child has spurred activity towards child survival and
development targets set by the World Summit for Children and by
successive global conferences. Capacity-building through involvement of
the community in water and sanitation projects is key to UNICEF's human
In the Middle East and North Africa region, a rights-based
approach to basic education has been promoted within the Global
Education Reform Initiative, currently being implemented in six
countries. The Initiative seeks to make learning more interactive and
the classroom more 'child-friendly' while also promoting tolerance,
respect and cooperation among teachers, pupils and parents. In
Bangladesh, the mass media has given priority to 'Facts for
Life' and messages on children's and women's rights. Zambia's
200 community schools, supported by communities, churches, NGOs and
UNICEF, give an opportunity to thousands of children who might
otherwise be deprived of a basic education. Five countries in
sub-Saharan Africa – Burkina Faso, Côte d'Ivoire,
Ghana, Senegal and Togo – have elaborated laws
prohibiting female genital mutilation. Cape Verde has increased
the penalties for the crime of paedophilia. In spite of war, birth
registration campaigns continue in Angola and other countries.
Uganda has developed subnational plans to guide actions at the
municipal level to improve the situation of children.
- Implementing the principle of non-discrimination. The
Convention on the Rights of the Child requires States to acknowledge,
care for and reintegrate forgotten and marginalized children: children
languishing in institutions, children living or working on the streets,
unaccompanied refugee children, children in hidden forms of exploitative
child labour, children bought and sold across frontiers.
In Romania, a Roma (Gypsy) community development project is
upgrading the knowledge and life skills of Roma children and their
parents in order to integrate Roma children into society and improve
their access to education, health and protection services. In
Iran, over 150 children with disabilities participated in a
planning and programming workshop to help the national government set
priority policy issues. A number of countries are working to establish
child protection networks that reach the village level; models include
the Philippine Barangay Council for the Protection of Children;
the Indonesian National Child Protection Body; Local Protection
Teams in Malaysia; and Community Volunteers for Child Rights in
Thailand. In Pakistan, the media coverage – in editorial
comments, columns and weekend magazines – of child labour, violence
against women and discrimination against girls has helped put these
issues higher on the national political agenda.
- Listening to children's voices. For the first time,
children are being seen and heard in government, through children's
elections and children's parliaments, youth councils and child mayors'
meetings, summits and seminars of children.
In Colombia, the Children's Social Movement for Peace is a
marvellous example of children's participation, spurring a popular
mass movement of over 400 civil society organizations that have
rallied the nation with activities and messages supporting peace.
referendums provide an important experience in learning about
- Developing justice systems for children. Together with
the detailed United Nations standards on juvenile justice, the
Convention's principles are leading States to develop distinct systems
of youth justice. Such systems seek to avoid, wherever possible,
treating children as criminals and depriving them of liberty. They focus
instead on rehabilitation and reintegration and seek to check the
populist punitive policies that actually lead to greater criminality and
In Chad, Ghana, Guinea and Mauritania,
a reform of penal codes and penal procedural codes was undertaken. In
1998, police in Cambodia, Malaysia and the
Philippines and 'juvenile delinquency officers' in
Mongolia were given child rights sensitization and training.
The partnership among the 'five pillars of justice' (law enforcement,
prosecution, court, correction and community) continued in the
Philippines and took a new step towards sustaining efforts by
integrating the Convention on the Rights of the Child into the law
curriculum at Manila University. In Bangladesh, judges and
police officers were trained in protecting juveniles in conflict with
the law and improving the conditions of juveniles under detention.