History of the UNCRC

The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child:

Through Multiple Lenses - powerpoint resource


The Convention: Origins 

  • First legally binding international instrument to recognize and incorporate the full range of children’s human rights – consists of 54 articles and a Preamble
  • Confers upon children additional special rights due to their developmental vulnerabilities
  • All levels of government share a duty to implement Convention rights
  • Serves as a global standard for assessing the treatment of children and the fulfilment of their fundamental human rights
  • Applies to children under the age of 18 unless the child attains their majority earlier under applicable law (article 1)
  • Covers civil, cultural, economic, political and social rights
  • Doesn’t consider the child as an isolated individual – but as a member of a family and community
  • Minimum standards - don’t affect any laws of a State Party which are “more conducive to the realization” of children’s rights (article 41)
  • Aspirational document - described by Nelson Mandela as “that luminous living document that enshrines the rights of every child without exception to a life of dignity and self-fulfilment”
  • History of children being only marginally included in general human rights texts and instruments
  • Long-standing assumption that children lacked rationality, autonomy and capacity - “human becomings” instead of “human beings”
  • Convention seen as necessary to refute negative assumptions about children – new focus on the inclusion and recognition of children as rights-holders
  • Impetus for Convention was led by Poland and supported by the earlier work of Dr. Janusz Korczak (the ‘father of children’s rights’)

Earlier attempts to establish protections for children in human rights instruments before the Convention was adopted, included:

  • Geneva Declaration of the Rights of the Child – adopted by the League of Nations (1924) – influenced by the rise of fascism across Europe
  • Universal Declaration of Human Rights – adopted by the United Nations (1948) – influenced by the atrocities of the Second World War
  • Declaration of the Rights of the Child – adopted by the United Nations (1959) – influenced by demonstrated shortcomings in the Geneva Declaration of the Rights of the Child - some members failing in their efforts to have these rights set out in a Convention, which would be legally binding upon all ratifying nations

Why is it necessary? 

  • Children are a unique and vulnerable population with evolving capacity
  • Children have a limited voice in government decision-making – they can’t vote
  • Children don’t have the same ability as adults to know and assert their rights
  • Children’s rights can conflict with and be treated as subordinate to adult rights
  • Children have limited access to legal remedies and complaints mechanisms
  • Children are disproportionately affected by adverse conditions (e.g. poverty, homelessness, exposure to family violence)
  • Children are among the heaviest users of public services but suffer the most from their fragmentation
  • Virtually no such thing as a child neutral law or policy – every area of government policy affects children to some degree

Adoption and Ratification 

  • Adopted by UN General Assembly on November 20, 1989
  • Most quickly and widely ratified human rights instrument in history - close to universal ratification

Three Optional Protocols adopted by UN General Assembly:

  •        Optional Protocol on the involvement of children in armed conflict (2000)
  •        Optional Protocol on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography (2000)
  •        Optional Protocol on a communications (complaints) procedure (2011) – came into force on April 14, 2014

Clustering Rights 

The ‘3 P’s’:

  • Protection rights – include protection from all forms of child abuse, neglect, exploitation and abuses of children in the criminal justice system
  • Provision (survival and development) rights – include rights of children to adequate food, shelter, clean water, formal education, primary health care, leisure and recreation, and cultural activities
  • Participation rights – include rights of children to be heard and to have their views given due weight according to age and maturity, as well as rights to information and freedom of association

The Four Guiding or General Principles:

  • Right to non-discrimination in the provision and exercise of all Convention rights (article 2)
  • Right to adherence to the best interests of the child as a primary consideration in all actions concerning children (article 3)
  • Right to life, and maximum possible survival and development (article 6)
  • Right to express views freely and have those views respected in all matters affecting children (article 12)

Modes of Implementation 

The Convention can be implemented through various means:

  • Creating the legal basis for rights (legislation, regulations, government directives, court/tribunal jurisprudence and through complaint resolution mechanisms)
  • Establishing interdependent child-sensitive governance mechanisms (General Measures of Implementation)
  • Developing policies, programs and practices that implement child rights provisions (Child Rights-Based Approach)


  • Transformed the status of children and childhood – from “objects of charity” to recognized rights-holders
  • Supported advances in services for children (e.g. education, health and justice)
  • Provided greater protection from all forms of violence (e.g. more nations prohibiting use of corporal punishment)
  • Implemented the principle of non-discrimination to reduce disparities (e.g. in laws, policies, services and investments)
  • Listened to children’s voices in improving laws, policies and services
  • Influenced the development of child-sensitive legislation, policy and practice
  • Contributed to the creation of independent human rights institutions for children in over 70 countries globally
  • Influenced the development and use of Child Rights Impact Assessment tools in many countries (and two provinces) (e.g. Norway, Sweden, Belgium (Flanders), Northern Ireland, Ireland, England, Scotland, Wales, New Zealand, Western Australia, New Brunswick, Saskatchewan)
  • Stimulated child rights-based advocacy and partnerships

What are Human Rights? 

  • Human rights are a set of internationally agreed, legally binding norms and standards to which all individuals, including children, are entitled in order to survive and develop to their fullest capacity
  • Human rights provide the legal and ethical basis for legislative and policy development work and are codified in international Conventions, Declarations and Guidelines
  • Every single person, regardless of their age, has human rights and all levels of government have a duty to make sure that those rights can be accessed, are respected, and can be fully exercised
  • In claiming human rights, everyone also accepts the responsibility not to infringe the human rights of others

Turning the Page: From Needs to Rights

A human rights-based approach requires an understanding of the difference between a ‘need’ and a ‘right’.

A ‘need’ has specific characteristics:

  • An aspiration that may be valid or imperfectly and paternalistically perceived by others
  • Lacks an obligation on the part of government to provide or protect it
  • Satisfaction of a need can’t be enforced

A ‘right’ has specific other characteristics:

  • Entitlement arises solely from being a person
  • Enables every person to live with dignity and be treated with respect
  • Can be enforced and entails an obligation by government to honour it and provide for its implementation

Children's Rights as Human Rights

Children are individual rights holders and are entitled to recognition of their rights as human rights – they don’t have to earn their entitlement to human rights

A child rights-based approach in the context of caregiving and protection has been defined as one that “requires a paradigm shift towards respecting and promoting the human dignity and the physical and psychological integrity of children as rights-bearing individuals rather than perceiving them primarily as ‘victims’” (CRC Committee, General Comment 13 (2011) on The right of the child to freedom from all forms of violence)

Children are not property or passive recipients of charity but empowered actors in their own development.

Characteristics of Human Rights: Applicable to Children

 Children’s Human Rights within the Convention are:

  • Universal – They apply to all children regardless of age
  • Indivisible – They are all equally important and no one right is inferior to another
  • Inalienable –They are acquired at birth and can’t be taken or given away
  • Interdependent – They are all connected and can’t be realized in isolation

The Human Rights Framework: Types of Stakeholders


  • They have the claim or legal entitlement to a right (e.g. all children from birth to 18)


  • They have the primary duty to respect and provide for children’s human rights (e.g. governments at all levels and public institutions, such as hospitals and schools)

Non-State Responsibility Holders

  • They have a secondary responsibility for children’s rights because of their relationship to the rights-holder (e.g. parents, teachers, child-serving organizations, independent Child and Youth Advocates)

Capacity Supporters

  • They are actors who can assist the rights-holders, duty-bearers and responsibility holders by building their capacity to fulfill their roles (e.g. businesses, foundations, researchers, media)

The Human Rights Framework: Obligations of Government as Primary Duty-Bearer 

Duty to Respect

  • Make sure that actions are in compliance with the provisions of the Convention and refrain from interfering with the Convention rights of others (e.g. refrain from imposing fees for children to access medical services)

Duty to Protect

  • Put in place mechanisms to prevent infringements of Convention rights by other actors (e.g. enacting policies that aid in the prevention of child abuse/bullying)

Duty to Fulfil

  • Take legislative, judicial, policy, budgetary or other measures to promote the full realization of Convention rights (e.g. budget allocations to regions where higher rates of child poverty)