The Convention on the Rights of the Child


The most widely ratified human rights treaty in history is the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which was adopted by the United Nations on 20th November 1989. As at the end of 2003, only two countries have failed to ratify it – Somalia; which until recently did not have an internationally recognised government, signed the Convention in May 2002 but has not yet ratified it, and The United States, which has also signed the Convention, but has also failed to ratify it. Singapore signed and ratified the Convention in October 1995. The Convention builds upon the 1959 General Assembly’s Declaration on the Rights of the Child.

Content of the Convention

Definition of a child

According to Article 1 of the Convention, a child is defined as “every human being below the age of eighteen years unless under the law applicable to the child, majority is attained earlier.”

Guiding Principles

There are four guiding principles enshrined in the Convention. These are meant to help with the interpretation of the Convention as a whole and act as a guide for implementation. The four principles are:-

  1. Non-Discrimination (article 2)
  2. Best Interests of the Child (article 3)
  3. The Right to Life, Survival and Development (article 6)
  4. Participation of the Child (article 12)

Highlights of the Convention

The Convention states that:

  • Every child has the inherent right to life, and States shall ensure to the maximum child survival and development.
  • Every child has the right to a name and nationality from birth.
  • Children shall not be separated from their parents, except by competent authorities for their well-being.
  • States shall facilitate reunification of families by permitting travel into, or out of, their territories.
  • Parents have the primary responsibility for a child’s upbringing, but States shall provide them with appropriate assistance and develop child-care institutions.
  • States shall protect children from physical or mental harm and neglect, including sexual abuse or exploitation.
  • States shall provide parentless children with suitable alternative care. The adoption process shall be carefully regulated and international agreements should be sought to provide safeguards and assure legal validity if and when adoptive parents intend to move a child from his or her country of birth.
  • Disabled children shall have the right to special treatment, education and care.
  • Children are entitled to the highest attainable standard of health. States shall ensure that health care is provided to all children, placing emphasis on preventive measures, health education and reduction of infant mortality.
  • Primary education shall be free and compulsory. Discipline in schools shall respect the child’s dignity. Education should prepare the child for life in a spirit of understanding, peace and tolerance.
  • Children shall have time to rest and play and equal opportunities for cultural and artistic activities.
  • States shall protect children from economic exploitation and from work that may interfere with their education or be harmful to their health or well-being.
  • States shall protect children from the illegal use of drugs and involvement in drug production or trafficking.
  • All efforts shall be made to eliminate the abduction and trafficking of children.
  • Capital punishment or life imprisonment shall not be imposed for crimes committed before the age of 18.
  • Children in detention shall be separated from adults; they must not be tortured or suffer cruel or degrading treatment.
  • No child under 15 shall take any part in hostilities; children exposed to armed conflict shall receive special protection.
  • Children of minority and indigenous populations shall freely enjoy their own culture, religion and language.
  • Children who have suffered mistreatment, neglect or exploitation shall receive appropriate treatment or training for recovery and rehabilitation.
  • Children involved in infringements of the penal law shall be treated in a way that promotes their sense of dignity and worth and aims at reintegrating them into society.
  • States shall make the rights set out in the Convention widely known to both adults and children.

The Committee on the Rights of the Child

Articles 43 to 45 concern the creation and function of the Committee on the Rights of the Child which is established to oversee the Convention. Within two years of its entry into force for the country concerned, a signatory is required to submit an initial report on the measures it has adopted and on the progress made on the enjoyment of those rights.

Subsequently, reports must be submitted by the signatory every five years. Governments are often late in reporting, and the Committee relies on the exercise of international diplomatic pressure to ensure compliance.

Process of Accession & Ratification

The final articles (articles 46 to 54) cover the processes of accession and ratification by States; the Convention’s entry into force; and the depositary function of the Secretary-General of the United Nations.

Special Rapporteur

By 1990, international awareness of the commercial sexual exploitation and the sale of children had grown to such a level that the United Nations Commission on Human Rights created the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography. The special rapporteur investigates the exploitation of children around the world and submits reports on the findings to the General Assembly and the Commission on Human Rights, making recommendations for the protection of the rights of the children concerned.

These recommendations are targeted primarily at governments, other United Nations bodies, and non-governmental organisations.

Optional Protocols

>Since the Convention on the Rights of the Child entered into force two optional protocols have been adopted with the purpose of strengthening the rights already outlined in the treaty and to bring attention to additional issues that are of concern.

The Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography entered into force in January 2002.

The Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the involvement of children in armed conflict was concluded in May 2000 and came into force in February 2002. Singapore signed this protocol in September 2000.