Convention on the Rights of the Child

What is the CRC?

The Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) is the first legally binding international instrument to include civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights of children. It sets out in detail what every child needs in order to have a safe and fulfilled childhood.

Alarming reports of grave injustices suffered by children impelled Member States of the UN to draft the CRC. There was an urgent need to recognise that children have human rights too and that people under 18 needed special care and protection.

The Convention was adopted by the General Assembly of the United Nations (UN) on 20 November 1989. Today, it is the most widely ratified international human rights instrument. All UN Member States (194) have ratified it, except Somalia and the United States.


General Provisions

In its 54 articles, the Convention outlines four basic rights: the right to survival; the right to develop to full potential; the right to protection from harmful influences, abuse and exploitation; and the right to participate fully in family, cultural and social life.

The Committee of the Rights of the Child, which monitors implementation of the Convention, identified four general principles that should be taken into consideration when implementing the articles of the Convention: non-discrimination; devotion to the best interests of the child; the right to life, survival and development; and respect for the views of the child. Visit the following UNICEF page to find out more on the four general principles.


Optional Protocols

Two Optional Protocols were added to the Convention on the Rights of the Child:

1. On the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict (2005). This Optional Protocol reaffirms that children require special protection and, calls for continuous improvement of the situation of children, as well as for their development and education in conditions of peace and security. It condemns the targeting, recruitment, training and use of children in hostilities by armed groups and calls upon the physical and psychosocial rehabilitation and social reintegration of children who are victims of armed conflict. This Protocol also recognises the need to strengthen international cooperation and observance of applicable human rights instruments in its implementation.

2.On the Sale of Children, Child Prostitution and Child Pornography (2000). This Protocol calls on the prohibition of the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography and defines the acts that should consequently be criminalised. It also calls on State parties to take appropriate measures in order to guarantee the protection of children from exploitation and from work that is likely to be hazardous or to interfere with their education, or to be harmful to their health or physical, mental, spiritual, moral or social development. This Protocol binds States to protect the rights and interests of child victims and to develop prevention, rehabilitation and international cooperation to ensure the protection of children from sexual exploitation.

Both Optional Protocols recognise the responsibility of State Parties to ensure the protection of children.


CRC Articles

In its 54 articles, the Convention outlines four basic rights: the right to survival; the right to develop to full potential; the right to protection from harmful influences, abuse and exploitation; and the right to participate fully in family, cultural and social life.


The GWI Working Group on the Girl Child has identified two CRC articles that are most closely linked to GWI’s mission:

Article 28All children have the right to education. State parties should make primary education compulsory and free. Secondary education, including general and vocational education, should be made accessible to every child. Higher education should be available on the basis of capacity. Discipline in schools should respect the human dignity of children. International cooperation in matters related to education should be promoted and encouraged.

Article 29States parties should ensure that education develops the child’s personality, talents and mental and physical abilities. It should teach children the respect of human rights, freedom, environment, their own cultural identity and other civilizations. Education should prepare the child for a responsible life in a free society.


Overview of other CRC Articles

Article 1 – The Convention defines a child as a person below the age of 18, unless a country’s law set the legal age for adulthood younger.

Article 2 – The CRC applies to every child “irrespective of the child’s or his or her parent’s or legal guardian’s race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national, ethnic or social origin, property, disability, birth or other status”.

Article 3 – In all actions concerning children, the best interests of the child shall be a primary consideration.

Articles 4-10, 14, 18, 20, 22-31, 42 – The right to life, survival and development. These are rights include the rights to adequate food, shelter, clean water, formal education, primary health care, leisure and recreation, cultural activities and information about their rights.

Articles 4, 11, 19-22, 32-41 – The right to protection from harmful influences, abuse and exploitation. These rights include protection from all forms of child abuse, neglect, exploitation and cruelty, including the right to special protection in times of war and protection from abuse in the criminal justice system.

Articles 4, 12-17 – The right to participate fully in family, cultural and social life. These rights include the right to express opinions and be heard, the right to information and freedom of association.

Articles 5-27, 30-40 – These articles address the rights of the child to freedom, respect, and to social, spiritual and moral well-being. They also address physical and mental health and the responsibility of States parties to take measures to ensure the protection of the child.


How does it work?

Monitoring children’s rights

Implementation of the CRC is monitored by the Committee on the Rights of the Child. This committee is a body of 18 independent experts that meets in Geneva, Switzerland, three times a year. Its main responsibility is to examine State parties’ progress towards full implementation of the Convention and Optional Protocols.

State parties are required to submit periodic reports in advance of their examination every five years. The Committee examines each report and addresses its concerns and recommendations to the State party in the form of “concluding observations”.

National reports must provide information on:

  1. How they are following-up on the suggestions and recommendations made by the Committee on its previous report;
  2. Allocation of budgets and other resources devoted to children;
  3. Statistical data (by gender and age); and
  4. Obstacles encountered.

The list of reports, countries and dates for reporting can be viewed here.


How can NGOs participate?

NGOs can make important contributions to this process. As the Committee wishes to have a more complete picture of children’s rights in each country, it seeks written information from different sources in addition to the official government report. International, regional, national and local non-governmental organizations, preferably in coalitions or networks, are invited to submit NGO reports.

The Committee is especially interested in receiving information on areas which country reports either do not cover, cover insufficiently or, in the opinion of the NGOs, cover incorrectly or misleadingly. NGOs can also make concrete recommendations for improving the situation of children in their countries. Detailed information on how to prepare a report can be found here.

Prior to the official session where a country report is to be considered, a pre-sessional working group reviews any complementary information together with the official country report and prepares a list of issues to which the government is requested to respond. NGO representatives are welcome to participate in both the pre-sessional working group meeting and at the official session.


Why prepare an NGO report?

The NGO Group for the Convention on the Rights of the Child in “A Guide for Non-Governmental Organizations” lists the following important reasons for preparing an NGO report:

  1. Reporting to the Committee provides NGOs a unique opportunity to bring concerns about the status of children to the international legal body responsible for monitoring the implementation of the Convention. Reporting can also empower national NGOs by offering a legitimate external source to which children’s issues can be raised and addressed.
  2. At national level, the preparation of an NGO report encourages and facilitates public scrutiny of governmental policies and provides NGOs with a way in which to influence the agenda of the country. It opens a debate on the status of children in the country and creates an opportunity to have a serious dialogue with senior government officials about the State’s efforts to comply with the Convention.
  3. NGO reports prepared by coalitions rather than individual NGOs are much more difficult to disregard or discredit and therefore tend to lend greater legitimacy to information submitted on breaches of rights.”
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