United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child - History

Convention on the Rights of the Child
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Convention on the Rights of the Child Signed Location Effective Condition Signatories Parties Depository Languages
20 November 1989[1]
New York[1]
2 September 1990[1]
20 ratifications[2]
193[1](all United Nations member states, as well as Niue and the Cook Islands, except Somalia, South Sudan and the United States)
UN Secretary-General[3]
Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Russian and Spanish[1]
UN Convention on the Rights of the Child at Wikisource

The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (commonly abbreviated as the CRC, CROC, or UNCRC) is a human rights treaty setting out the civil, political, economic, social, health and cultural rights of children. The Convention generally defines a child as any human being under the age of eighteen.[4]

Nations that ratify this convention are bound to it by international law. Compliance is monitored by the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child, which is composed of members from countries around the world. Once a year, the Committee submits a report to the Third Committee of the United Nations General Assembly, which also hears a statement from the CRC Chair, and the Assembly adopts a Resolution on the Rights of the Child.[5]

Governments of countries that have ratified the Convention are required to report to, and appear before, the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child periodically to be examined on their progress with regards to the advancement of the implementation of the Convention and the status of child rights in their country. Their reports and the committee's written views and concerns are available on the committee's website.

The United Nations General Assembly adopted the Convention and opened it for signature on 20 November 1989 (the 30th anniversary of its Declaration of the Rights of the Child).[6] It came into force on 2 September 1990, after it was ratified by the required number of nations. Currently, 193 countries are party to it,[1] including every member of the United Nations except Somalia, South Sudan and the United States of America.[5][7] Somalia's cabinet ministers had announced plans to ratify the treaty.[8]

Two optional protocols were adopted on 25 May 2000. The First Optional Protocol restricts the involvement of children in military conflicts, and the Second Optional Protocol prohibits the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography. Both protocols have been ratified by more than 140 states.[9][10]


The Convention deals with the child-specific needs and rights. It requires that states act in the best interests of the child. This approach is different from the common law approach found in many countries that had previously treated children as possessions or chattels, ownership of which was sometimes argued over in family disputes.

In many jurisdictions, properly implementing the Convention requires an overhaul of child custody and guardianship laws, or, at the very least, a creative approach within the existing laws. The Convention acknowledges that every child has certain basic rights, including the right to life, his or her own name and identity, to be raised by his or her parents within a family or cultural grouping, and to have a relationship with both parents, even if they are separated.

The Convention obliges states to allow parents to exercise their parental responsibilities. The Convention also acknowledges that children have the right to express their opinions and to have those opinions heard and acted upon when appropriate, to be protected from abuse or exploitation, and to have their privacy protected, and it requires that their lives not be subject to excessive interference.

The Convention also obliges signatory states to provide separate legal representation for a child in any judicial dispute concerning their care and asks that the child's viewpoint be heard in such cases. The Convention forbids capital punishment for children.

In its General Comment 8 (2006) the Committee on the Rights of the Child stated that there was an "obligation of all States parties to move quickly to prohibit and eliminate all corporal punishment and all other cruel or degrading forms of punishment of children".[11] Article 19 of the Convention states that State Parties must "take all appropriate legislative, administrative, social and educational measures to protect the child from all forms of physical or mental violence",[12] but it makes no reference to corporal punishment, and the Committee's interpretation on this point has been explicitly rejected by several States Party to the Convention, including Australia,[13] Canada and the United Kingdom.

The European Court of Human Rights has made reference to the Convention when interpreting the European Convention on Human Rights.[14]

States party and signatories

As of November 2009, 193 countries have ratified, accepted, or acceded to it (some with stated reservations or interpretations) including every member of the United Nations except Somalia and the United States, as well as the new nation of South Sudan.[5][7] Somalia had announced that it would eventually do so.[15]


Australia is member of the convention since 1990.


Canada has ratified the Convention. Prior to ratifying the treaty, Canada's laws were either largely or entirely in conformity with the treaty. Youth criminal laws in Canada underwent major changes resulting in the Youth Criminal Justice Act (YCJA) which went into effect on 1 April 2003. The Act specifically references Canada's different commitments under the Convention.

The convention was influential in the following administrative Law decision of Baker v. Canada (Minister of Citizenship and Immigration).


In India, there is no outright ban on child labor, and the practice is generally permitted in most industries except those deemed "hazardous". Although a law in October 2006 banned child labor in hotels, restaurants, and as domestic servants, there continues to be high demand for children as hired help in the home. Current estimates as to the number of child laborers in the country range from the government's conservative estimate of 12 million children under 13 years of age to the much higher estimates of children's rights activists, which hover around 60 million. Little is being done to address the problem since the economy is booming and the nuclear family is spreading, thereby increasing demand for child laborers. Under the auspices of the Unicef financed Udisha initiative the Government of India is specifying the outline of a means of change and improvement in child care.[16]

There are severe restrictions on children in India on their rights to have a relationship with both parents, when they are separated/divorced, especially when laws to protect women & children (such as Domestic Violence Act, 2006 or Sec.498A of Indian Penal Code) are abused or misused by women.[citation needed] The mother is provided custody by default with the child's access to the father not available or enforced in practice, even when there is a Court order to the effect. As a result, children's rights are often under-represented.[citation needed]


Islamic Republic of Iran has adhered to the convention on 1991 and ratified it in the Parliament in 1994. Iran, however, has made the following reservation “If the text of the Convention is or becomes incompatible with the domestic laws and Islamic standards at any time or in any case, the Government of the Islamic Republic shall not abide by it.”[17] Iran has also signed the both optional protocols which relate to the special protection of children against involvement in armed conflict and the sale of children and sexual exploitation.[18]

Although the Islamic Republic of Iran is a state party to the Convention on the Rights of the Child, international human rights organisations[19] and foreign governments[20] routinely denounced executions of Iranian child offenders as a violation of the treaty. But on the Feb. 10, 2012 Iran's parliament changed the controversial law of executing juveniles. In the new law, the age of 18 (solar year) would be for both genders considered and juvenile offenders will be sentenced on a separate law than of adults.” [21][22] Based on the Islamic law which now seems to have been revised, girls at the age of 9 and boys at 15 of lunar year (11 days shorter than a solar year) were fully responsible for their crimes.[21]


The Republic of Ireland signed the Convention on the Rights of the Child on 21 October 1992 and ratified it, without reservation, on 21 September 1992.[23] In response to criticisms expressed in the 1998 review by the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child in Geneva, the Irish government established the office of Ombudsman for Children and drew up a national children's strategy. In 2006, following concerns expressed by the committee that the wording of the Irish Constitution does not allow the State to intervene in cases of abuse other than in very exceptional cases, the Irish government undertook to amend the constitution to make a more explicit commitment to children's rights.[24]

New Zealand

New Zealand ratified the Convention 6 April 1993 with reservations concerning the right to distinguish between persons according to the nature of their authority to be in New Zealand, the need for legislative action on economic exploitation - which it argued was adequately protected by existing law, and the provisions for the separation of juvenile offenders from adult offenders.[25]

In 1994, the Court of Appeal dismissed the suggestion that the Minister for Immigration and his department were at liberty to ignore the convention, arguing that this would imply that the country's adherence was 'at least partly window-dressing'.[26]

The Children's Commissioner Act 2003 enhanced the office of Children's Commissioner, giving them significantly stronger investigative powers.[27]

In May 2007, New Zealand passed the Crimes (Substituted Section 59) Amendment Act 2007, which removed the defence of "reasonable force" for the purpose of correction. In its third and final vote parliament votes 113 to eight in favour of the legislation.[28]

Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia ratified the Convention in 1996, with a reservation 'with respect to all such articles as are in conflict with the provisions of Islamic law'[25] and considers it to be a valid source of domestic law. The Committee on the Rights of the Child, which reviewed Saudi Arabia's treatment of children under the Convention in January 2005, strongly condemned the government for its practice of imposing the death penalty on juveniles, calling it "a serious violation of the fundamental rights". The committee said it was "deeply alarmed" over the discretionary power judges hold to treat juveniles as adults: In its 2004 report the Saudi Arabia government had stated that it "never imposes capital punishment on persons... below the age of 18". The government delegation later acknowledged that a judge could impose the death penalty whenever he decided that the convicted person had reached his or her majority, regardless of the person's actual age at the time of the crime or at the time of the scheduled execution.[29]

United Kingdom

The United Kingdom ratified the Convention on 16 December 1991, with several declarations and reservations,[30] and made its first report to the Committee on the Rights of the Child in January 1995. Concerns raised by the Committee included the growth in child poverty and inequality, the extent of violence towards children, the use of custody for young offenders, the low age of criminal responsibility, and the lack of opportunities for children and young people to express views.[31] The 2002 report of the Committee expressed similar concerns, including the welfare of children in custody, unequal treatment of asylum seekers, and the negative impact of poverty on children's rights. In September 2008 the UK government decided to give up its reservations and agree to the Convention in these respects.[32][33]

The 2002 report's criticism of the legal defence of 'reasonable chastisement' of children by parents, which the Committee described as 'a serious violation of the dignity of the child',[34] was rejected by the UK Government. The Minister for Children, Young People and Families commented that while fewer parents are using smacking as a form of discipline, the majority said they would not support a ban.[35]

In evidence to the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights, the Committee was criticised by the Family Education Trust for "adopting radical interpretations of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child in its pursuit of an agenda".[36] The Joint Committee's report recommended that "the time has come for the Government to act upon the recommendations of the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child concerning the corporal punishment of children and the incompatibility of the defence of reasonable chastisement with its obligations under the Convention."[37] The UK Government responded that "the use of physical punishment is a matter for individual parents to decide".[38]

United States

The United States government played an active role in the drafting of the Convention and signed it on 16 February 1995, but has not ratified it.[1] Along with Somalia and South Sudan, the United States is one of only three countries in the world which have not ratified the Convention.[39] It has been claimed that opposition to the Convention stems primarily from political and religious conservatives.[40] For example, the Heritage Foundation sees it as threatening national control over domestic policy[41] and the Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA) argues that the CRC threatens homeschooling.[42] President Barack Obama has described the failure to ratify the Convention as 'embarrassing' and had promised to review this.[43][44]

The US has signed and ratified both the optional protocols to the Convention.[9][10]

Optional protocols

Two optional protocols were adopted by the UN General Assembly on 25 May 2000. The first, the Optional Protocol on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict, requires governments to ensure that children under the age of eighteen are not recruited compulsorily into their armed forces, and calls on governments to do everything feasible to ensure that members of their armed forces who are under eighteen years of age do not take part in hostilities. This protocol entered into force on 12 July 2002;[9] currently, 147 states are party to the protocol and another 22 states have signed but not ratified it.[9]

The second, the Optional Protocol on the Sale of Children, Child Prostitution and Child Pornography, requires states to prohibit the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography. It entered into force on 18 January 2002;[10] currently, 158 states are party to the protocol and another 16 states have signed but not ratified it.[10]

A third, the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on a Communications Procedure, which would allow children or their representatives to file individual complaints for violation of the rights of children, was adopted in December 2011[45] and opened for signature on 28 February 2012. The protocol currently has 22 signatures and will enter into force on the tenth ratification.[46]

See also References
  1. ^ a b c d e f g h United Nations Treaty Collection. Convention on the Rights of the Child. Retrieved 21 May 2009.
  2. ^ Article 49.
  3. ^ Article 47.
  4. ^ "Convention on the Rights of the Child". Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.
  5. ^ a b c Child Rights Information Network (2008). Convention on the Rights of the Child. Retrieved 26 November 2008.
  6. ^ United Nations General Assembly Resolution 25 session 44 Convention on the Rights of the Child on 20 November 1989
  7. ^ a b Amnesty International USA (2007). Convention on the Rights of the Child: Frequently Asked Questions. Retrieved 26 November 2008.
  8. ^ "Somalia to Join Child Rights Pact", Reuters, 20 November 2009.
  9. ^ a b c d United Nations Treaty Collection: Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the involvement of children in armed conflict. Retrieved on 20 October 2010.
  10. ^ a b c d United Nations Treaty Collection: Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography. Retrieved on 20 October 2010.
  11. ^ General Comment 8, Committee on the Rights of the Child.
  12. ^ Article 19, Convention on the Rights of the Child.
  13. ^ Simalis, Linda (21 March 2010). "Aussie parents to defy UN smacking ban". The Sunday Telegraph (Sydney).
  14. ^ Sutherland, Elaine E. (2003). "Can International Conventions Drive Domestic Law Reform? The Case of Physical Punishment of Children" in Dewar J., Parker S. (eds.) Family law: processes, practices, pressures: proceedings of the Tenth World Conference of the International Society of Family Law, July 2000, Brisbane, Australia. Oxford: Hart, p. 488. ISBN 978-1-84113-308-9
  15. ^ "Somalia to Join Child Rights Pact", Reuters, 20 November 2009.
  16. ^ Gentleman, Amelia,"Children's domestic labor resists India's legal efforts", New York Times, 18 February 2007.
  17. ^ "Children’s Rights: Iran". Library of Congress. 4 April 2011. Retrieved 28 May 2012.
  18. ^ "Children’s Rights is Everyone’s Responsibility, says UNICEF Iran Representative on CRC Anniversary". UNICEF.org. 20 November 2010. Retrieved 28 May 2012.
  19. ^ International Federation of Human Rights' report on the death penalty in Iran, April 2009; Human Rights Watch's reaction to the execution of Delera Darabi, May 2009
  20. ^ French reaction to the execution of Delera Darabi, May 2009 (French); European Union's reaction to the execution of Delera Darabi, May 2009.
  21. ^ a b [1]
  22. ^ ghanoononline.ir
  23. ^ Children's Rights Alliance website.
  24. ^ O'Brien, Carl, "UN to seek changes in Constitution in support of children", Irish Times, Dublin, 28 September 2006.
  25. ^ a b Office of the United Nations Commissioner for Human Rights, Convention on the Rights of the Child, Status of Ratification.
  26. ^ Tavita vs Minister of Immigration, 17 December 1993 [1994] 2 NZLR 257 at 265, cited in Ferdinandusse, Ward N., Direct Application of International Criminal Law in National Courts, Cambridge University Press, 2006, p. 161. ISBN 978-90-6704-207-9
  27. ^ "Children's Commissioner Act 2003 No 121 (as at 29 November 2007), Public Act – New Zealand Legislation". legislation.govt.nz. 2011 [last update]. Retrieved 12 October 2011. "Children's Commissioner Act 2003"
  28. ^ "Timeline: Anti-smacking legislation". TVNZ. Retrieved 2010-03-11.
  29. ^ Saudi Arabia: Follow U.N. Call to End Juvenile Death Penalty, Human Rights Watch, 28 January 2006.
  30. ^ Frost, Nick, Child Welfare: Major Themes in Health and Social Welfare, Taylor and Francis, 2004, p. 175; Routledge, 2005, ISBN 978-0-415-31257-8
  31. ^ Davies, Martin, The Blackwell Encyclopaedia of Social Work, Blackwell, 2000, p. 354. ISBN 978-0-631-21451-9
  32. ^ "UK to sign UN children convention". BBC News Online (London). 19 September 2008.
  33. ^ Easton, Mark, "UK to give up child rights opt-outs", BBC reporters blog, 19 September 2008.
  34. ^ Harvey, Colin J., Human Rights In The Community: Rights As Agents For Change, Oxford: Hart, 2005, p. 234. ISBN 978-1-84113-446-8
  35. ^ Hughes, Beverley, Minister for Children, Young People and Families, "Article defending the Government's position on smacking", press release, 8 October 2008.
  36. ^ Evidence to the Joint Committee on Human Rights, UK Parliament, 12 May 2003.
  37. ^ House of Lords and House of Commons Joint Committee on Human Rights, The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, Tenth Report of Session 2002–03, page 55.
  38. ^ "Government Responses to Reports from the Committee", Session 2005-06, paras. 82, 85, 86: HL 104, HC 850.
  39. ^ "Convention on the Rights of the Child: Frequently asked questions". Unicef. Retrieved 2010-02-22.
  40. ^ Smolin, David M. "Overcoming Religious Objections to the Convention on the Rights of the Child", Emory International Law Review, vol.20, p. 83.
  41. ^ "Human Rights and Social Issues at the U.N.: A Guide for U.S. Policymakers", Heritage Foundation
  42. ^ HSLDA.org
  43. ^ Walden University Presidential Youth Debate, October 2008.
  44. ^ Child Rights Information Network
  45. ^ UN rights chief welcomes new measure to stop violence against children
  46. ^ UNTC
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