Introduction

Were you ever allowed to order off the kids menu at a restaurant because you were within the age limits? Believe it or not, that is not the only special right children are granted just for being young. Actually, all but one country has ratified the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, which was adopted to protect the well-being of any person under the age of eighteen years. 

Here’s Why

Each living person has human rights, but public policies rarely reflect this. In fact, some policies even intentionally neglect certain population’s rights. That’s where international human rights treaties come into play. 

These treaties aim to enfranchise and protect neglected populations. They often mandate special attention and representation because different communities have dramatically different needs. Although children’s needs sometimes overlap with adult’s, some needs are specific to minors. Thus, it is essential that children are guaranteed certain rights. 

Convention on the Rights of the Child

Adopted in 1989, the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) is the most widely ratified human rights treaty in history. The CRC emphasizes that children are awarded special legal protections that acknowledge and enfranchise their civil and social rights. Also, the Convention encourages healthy and safe living conditions for children by addressing infant and child mortality, disease, malnutrition, while also promoting access to healthcare and education. 

History 

Historically, children’s unique needs were rarely considered. For instance, the industrial revolution created an exploitative norm for children. They worked long hours in unsafe conditions while earning meager wages. The Convention on the Rights of the Child has since defined the need for education and work protections because children are still developing cognitively and physically. Unfortunately, child labor and a lack of access to education, particularly for girls, remain issues today, in addition to infant mortality and child marriage. The creation of the CRC attempts to address these injustices.

The CRC was introduced to the United Nations Commission on Human Rights by Poland in 1978. The CRC was a collaborative effort between nearly 50 UN member states, the Commission on Human Rights, and non-governmental organizations. After years of drafting and revisions, the CRC was signed in 1989.

How it Works 

The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) is the UN agency that coordinates international humanitarian aid for children and monitors the implementation of the CRC. UNICEF works alongside governments, local organizations, and children themselves to develop policies and programs that promote the goals of the CRC.

The CRC has 54 articles and three “optional” protocols.  These protocols address specific issues facing children, including child soldiering, exploitation, and self-advocacy. The first and second optional protocols emerged in 2002, while the third came about in 2014. The first is known as the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict. This protocol protects children from compulsory enlistment or recruitment into the military and from participating in armed conflict. The second protocol is based on the Sale of Children, Child Prostitution and Child Pornography. This protocol addresses increasing international child sex or labor trafficking and exploitation. The third protocol is titled the Optional Protocol to the CRC on a Communications Procedure. This grants children the ability to file complaints directly to the CRC, where they may open investigations to address human rights violations.

Why Care?

The CRC is a notable example of why we must consider the needs of different communities. While we all share the same human rights, the defense of one group’s dignity and autonomy may look nothing like another group’s protection. Children are still developing; thus, they have not yet obtained certain privileges and responsibilities that adults may have. Consequently, legislation specific to children is necessary for their growth and protection.

Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush’s administrations participated in the drafting process of the CRC, yet the US is the only nation that has not ratified the Convention. Therefore, it’s especially important to advocate for these rights in the United States. 

The United States may have avoided ratifying the Convention to continue violating children’s rights on American soil. For instance, the United States is the only country that still sentences minors to life-without-parole due to economic incentives. This violates article 40 of the CRC, which grants children that have broken the law the right to special routes for reintegration into their community. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) is one organization fighting for a fair criminal justice system for both children and adults by organizing national advocacy efforts and bringing lawsuits that challenge the government’s actions. Supporting the ACLU is a great way to promote the values of the CRC. You can also do some research by comparing your state’s legislation to the CRC or looking up your representative’s stance on children’s rights. You may be surprised by what you find.

    Learn More

    1. “Frequently asked questions on the Convention on the Rights of the Child.” UNICEF. https://www.unicef.org/child-rights-convention/frequently-asked-questions
    2. Convention on the Rights of the Child.” United States Ratification of International Human Rights Treaties. Human Rights Watch. 2009. https://www.hrw.org/news/2009/07/24/united-states-ratification-international-human-rights-treaties#_Convention_on_the_1
    3. Mehta, Sarah. “There’s Only One Country That Hasn’t Ratified the Convention on Children’s Rights: US.” American Civil Liberties Union, American Civil Liberties Union, 20 Nov. 2015. https://www.aclu.org/blog/human-rights/treaty-ratification/theres-only-one-country-hasnt-ratified-convention-childrens
    4. “Optional Protocols to the Convention on the Rights of the Child.” UNICEF. https://www.unicef.org/protection/57929_58013.html 
    5. ACLU. https://www.aclu.org/
    6. UNICEF, 2012, Mali – Child Marriage is a Death Sentence for Many Young Girls, https://www.unicef.org/sowc09/docs/SOWC09-CountryExample-Mali.pdf

    Think Further

    1. Why were some protocols adopted into the CRC as optional? 
    2. What are some specific groups of children that may need additional protection?
    3. How can you take actions to promote the protection of childrens’ rights today? 

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