The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child is a human rights treaty which sets out the civil, political, economic, social, health and cultural rights of children. The convention defines a child as any human being under the age of eighteen, unless the age of majority is attained earlier under national legislation.
Nations that endorse this convention are bound to it by international law. Compliance is monitored by the UN 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.
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.
The UN General Assembly adopted the Convention and opened it for signature on the 20th November 1989. It came into force on the 2nd September 1990, after it was ratified by the required number of nations. Currently, 196 countries are party to it, including every member of the United Nations except for the United States.
The Convention deals with the child-specific needs and rights. It requires that the “nations that ratify this convention are bound to it by international law”. Ratifying states must act must act in the best interest of the child. In all jurisdictions implementing the convention requires compliance with child custody and guardianship laws as that every child has basic rights, including the right to life, to their own name and identity, to be raised by their 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 subjected 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 state parties to move quickly to prohibit and eliminate all corporal punishment and all other cruel or degrading forms of punishment of children”. 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”, but it makes no reference to corporal punishment. The Committee’s interpretation of this section to encompass a prohibition on corporal punishment has been rejected by several state parties to the Convention, including Australia, Canada and the United Kingdom. The European Court of Human Rights has referred to the Convention when interpreting the European Convention on Human Rights.
Two optional protocols were adopted on 25th 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 160 states.
A third optional protocol relating to communication of complaints was adopted in December 2011 and opened fro signature on 28th February 2012. It came into effect on 14th April 2014.
Global Standards and Cultural Relativism
Global human rights standards were challenged at the World Conference on Human Rights in Vienna (1993) when a number of governments (prominently China, Indonesia, Malaysia and Iran) raised serious objections to the idea of universal human rights. There are unresolved tensions between “universalistic” and “relativistic” approaches in the establishment of standards and strategies designed to prevent or overcome the abuse of children’s capacity to work.
Child Marriage and Slavery
Some scholars link slavery and slavery-like practices for many child marriages. Child marriage as slavery is not direct addressed by the Convention on the Rights of the Child.