Children’s Rights – The Tenets That Direct Their Life and Future

children rights

A child’s rights are the guiding principles that direct their life and future. These include the right to survival, development and protection – but they also include such things as the right to freedom of thought, opinion and religion, the right to play, the right to learn, the right to a healthy environment and the right not to be treated cruelly or be subjected to discrimination. These tenets should guide each country’s laws and social policies. They are enshrined in international agreements such as the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC).

Yet around the world children are being deprived of their rights. They are being killed in conflict, abused at home and in institutions, denied the education they need to thrive, sold into labour or marriage, and recruited into armed forces. Around 152 million children work in hazardous conditions, and more than three in five girls have been subjected to female genital mutilation. They are living in a web of crises that includes famine, disease and displacement.

One way of preventing children from being deprived of their rights is to ensure that all adults understand their rights and take them seriously. But that is not always possible. Many children do not know their rights, and even those who do are often not believed or listened to. That is why Amnesty International, Angelina Jolie and Professor Geraldine Van Bueren QC have co-written a book for teenagers: Know Your Rights and Claim Them.

In order to make sure that every child enjoys all their rights, governments must take steps to protect them – but this requires a strong commitment from everyone. Parents and other people who look after children have the main responsibility, but governments must also help with this by providing financial and material assistance, within their means, to families and individuals. Governments must also protect children from being kidnapped, sold or sent abroad for the purpose of exploiting them (taking advantage of them), and from all other forms of exploitation.

Children have the right to express their opinions on issues that affect them – and adults must listen and take them seriously. This includes the right to freedom of assembly and association. It also means that they have the right to be part of groups and organisations, as long as it does not harm other people.

When children are involved in court cases, they have the right to be heard and their views to be taken into account. This is a fundamental right that applies to all children, regardless of age. It was made a legal principle in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) in 1999, in article 12. However, it has sometimes been claimed that there is a tension between this right and article 3, which states that children should not be drawn into disputes affecting their parents or other caregivers. But this interpretation of the CRC’s legal framework is incorrect.