The world’s children are a vital asset to our future societies and economies, but they are being threatened by a deadly mix of crises – from conflict to natural disaster, displacement and disease, poor living conditions, and even climate change. Children need a quality education, nutritious food, health care and shelter to grow into productive, contributing members of society. But too many children are missing out on these opportunities and their rights are being violated.
The most powerful and effective tool for advancing children’s rights is the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC). Nearly every country in the world has ratified the CRC, and it is an integral part of international law. The CRC establishes a common set of rights for all children, and it is the basis for enforceable legal standards to protect and promote them.
One of the main principles enshrined in the CRC is that “the best interests of the child” must be the primary consideration in all actions concerning children. This principle applies in both civil and criminal cases, and it ensures that the rights of children are respected in all situations, even when the child is not a party to the case or proceedings.
Another important principle is that parents have the prime responsibility for bringing up their children, and that the State should support them in this task. The State must also take measures to ensure that children who are in care or have been separated from their parents are not exposed to violence, abuse and neglect. It is the duty of the State to provide them with good living conditions, a suitable standard of nutrition and housing, adequate health care and education, and access to services such as water and sanitation.
Moreover, Article 12 of the CRC guarantees children the right to express their views freely on all matters that affect them and that these will be given due weight. This is an essential safeguard against mistreatment and it gives children a sense of entitlement to participate in decisions that affect their lives. The right to be heard is not limited by age, and the Committee discourages the introduction of minimum ages for participation.
Furthermore, the CRC outlines rights to respect for children’s privacy, their home, family and correspondence; freedom of association and peaceful assembly; and a free and safe environment. The Convention also lays down rules to protect children from sexual harassment, cyber bullying, and the dissemination of harmful information, as well as a ban on child labour.
Despite these important provisions, millions of children are still being denied their rights, and their lives are being cut short as a result. Over a billion children have experienced physical and emotional abuse or neglect; 152 million are working in hazardous jobs; 31% of girls in least-developed countries have undergone female genital mutilation; and more than 20 million are involved in armed conflict. Fortunately, there are signs of progress: with UNICEF’s help and inspired by the CRC, governments are changing laws and investing in better policies to make sure children have what they need to thrive.