What’s It All About? The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child

Did you know that all children, everywhere, have legally enshrined and protected rights?

The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child
is an international agreement that was created to protect children around the world. The most widely accepted human rights treaty, it defines the rights that belong to each and every child, no matter where they live.


It was in 1989 that world leaders decided children (defined as human beings under the age of 18) needed special protection and care. Nations came together to develop the document, which speaks to a full range of human rights–social, political, economic, cultural and civil. The UN General Assembly unanimously adopted the Convention on November 20, 1989. Only the United States and Somalia have yet to ratify it.


The Convention details children’s rights in 54 articles, covering topics such as the right of every child from birth to a name and to acquire a nationality (article 7), parental responsibility (article 18), the right to free primary education (article 28), the right to play and recreation (article 31), armed conflicts (article 38) and juvenile justice (article 40).


There’s nothing children need do to earn these rights; they are theirs by virtue of their membership in the human family. By signing the treaty, nations agreed to set and uphold basic standards that would ensure children’s rights are protected.


The Convention has helped to transform laws and attitudes regarding the value and importance of children in many countries that previously gave little thought to protecting their youngest and most vulnerable citizens. But the world still has some distance to go. Far too many children continue to be exploited or denied their fundamental rights.


So what can we do? Spread the word. Too many people are still unaware that children have rights. As awareness grows, so too will the desire to hold governments accountable.


Need help? Check out these excellent resources for teachers, from Unicef.

“People think kids are the future, but really, they are the present.”
– Mayerly Sánchez, 1998 Nobel Peace Prize nominee; leader, Colombian Children’s Movement for Peace

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