Children’s Rights and How Governments Can Protect Them

Children have specific rights that adults cannot take away from them. These include the right to survive and thrive, the right to a childhood and the right to protection from violence, abuse and neglect. They also include the right to education, healthcare and a safe environment. These rights are enshrined in international law in the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which 196 countries have signed up to.

Governments must make sure that children can enjoy their rights in practice. This includes making laws that protect children from physical and emotional violence, including sexual abuse; laws to stop people taking advantage of children, such as trafficking; and policies that give families and communities support to help them look after their children. Governments should not interfere in family life, but they must make sure that children are protected and supported when their parents are not able to.

They must ensure that all children have access to food, water and basic sanitation; healthcare; and education. They must respect the right to privacy of children and make it easier for children to communicate with their parents, friends or other people, especially in their own language. Governments must also encourage the media to share information from many different sources and in languages that children can understand.

Children have the right to be listened to and taken seriously when they express their opinions, feelings and concerns. They should be allowed to join groups and organisations, meet with other children and advocate for change. Children should be free to practise their religion and beliefs, unless this harms other people. They should be allowed to have their own ideas and be different from other children, as long as they do not hurt others.

While some progress has been made in the past decade, millions of children still live with violations of their rights. They continue to suffer from poverty and lack of quality healthcare, education and employment opportunities; they are abused and trafficked, and their lives are cut short because of war, natural disasters and harmful work. They often do not know their rights or feel that they can speak up for themselves.

In most countries, the level of public goods that a society provides its citizens is negotiated through the political process, and elected governments can decide whether or not to provide people with socially provided goods such as health care, housing and education. Even where there is a legal right to these goods, deciding what the appropriate level of well-being should be is complex and involves considerations of cultural and religious values. This means that there may be tradeoffs between the level of welfare and the quality of the goods provided (Evans et al, 1996). Moreover, a key assumption in most debates about the scope of a right to public good is that it does not extend to non-governmental sources, such as families or private companies.