Children’s Rights

Children’s rights are the principles that recognise the special needs and rights of young people. They cover everything from ensuring healthy childhoods, safe environments and equal opportunities to the right to make informed decisions about their own lives. The Convention on the Rights of the Child lays out these principles and provides a framework for states to follow.

Parents and guardians are responsible for the care and protection of their children. Governments must help them. Children have the right to freedom from violence, abuse and neglect by anyone who looks after them or their families. They also have the right to live with their family and to be looked after in ways that respect their religion, culture and language. Every child has the right to education. They should be taught in a way that is appropriate for their age and level of maturity. They have the right to an adequate standard of living, including food, water, housing and health care. They have the right to a good quality of life, and to play, learn and develop their personalities. Children have the right to express their thoughts and opinions, including on sociopolitical ideologies and beliefs, provided that they do not harm others.

All children have the right to be protected during war. They have the right to protection from being kidnapped or sold, and the right to be free from forced labour, sexual exploitation (including trafficking), harmful work in minefields, corporal punishment, emotional and psychological abuse, discrimination on the basis of race or national origin, colour, ethnicity, disability, gender or sex, and from being sent abroad to fight in wars. They have the right to legal help and to have their parents and guardians stay with them during wars or other emergencies. Children who break the law should not be killed, tortured or treated cruelly and they should only be put in prison for the shortest time possible.

They have the right to a fair trial with an attorney of their choice, and to a public hearing where they can present evidence to show why they are not guilty. They have the right to have their parents and guardians present when they are being tried. They have the right to appeal against a decision and to be accompanied by their parents or guardians when they go to court.

Children have the right to be educated in a way that helps them to reach their full potential. They should be taught in a way which enables them to enjoy their childhoods and develop their personalities, skills, talents and interests. They should be encouraged to learn about their culture, history and traditions, but they should also be encouraged to question what is happening in the world and take part in civil society.

It is important to teach children about their rights so that they can defend them when they are in danger. Angelina Jolie and Amnesty International have co-written a book for teenagers, Know Your Rights and Claim Them, and are running an online course with Professor Geraldine Van Bueren QC.