The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child is a treaty that explains who children are, all their rights and what governments must do to protect them. It has 54 articles, covering all aspects of children’s lives, and is the most widely ratified international human rights treaty in history.
Children have the right to be safe, happy and healthy. They also have the right to freedom, which is the ability to choose how they live their life and what they do. This includes the right to choose their religion and culture, to speak out for their interests and beliefs, and to travel. They have the right to education, and it should help them become the best people they can be. It should be free and encourage them to explore their creativity, talents and interests. It should teach them to respect other people and cultures and be peaceful and respectful of the environment.
They have the right to privacy, including the right to have their family, home, personal communications and reputation protected. They have the right to access information, especially from the internet and the media, in a language they can understand. Governments should provide them with this information, but only if it is not harmful.
Whenever possible, children should be raised by their parents. However, if this would harm them, or if their parents are not capable of looking after them, then they should be allowed to live with other people who will look after them properly. They should be able to keep in contact with their parents, but not be taken abroad without permission from both parents.
They must be able to get help if they are hurt or have any problems, such as being forced into work or into marriage. They have the right to a decent standard of living, and this should include money for food, water and housing that is clean and safe. Governments should help families who can’t afford to do this, and should support children’s education.
All adults should think about how their decisions will affect children, and they should make sure they do what’s best for them. They should not use cost-benefit analysis to decide whether to have lots of kids – there are far more human ways to determine that.
Children should be educated about their rights, and about how to claim them, so they can protect themselves against abuse and exploitation. This is why Amnesty, Angelina Jolie and Professor Geraldine Van Bueren QC have co-written a book for teenagers, Know Your Rights. It’s available here and at all good bookshops.