A child is a human being who has not reached the age of puberty. In the context of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the term also refers to any person below the age of 18 years unless that age of majority is attained earlier. The convention and international law consider 18 as the minimum upper age limit of childhood, but there is a general recognition that it is not possible to set uniform standards and that different approaches should be applied according to the specific circumstances of countries.
The Convention on the Rights of the Child says that all children have the right to live with their parents, or other people they choose, unless this is not in the best interests of the child. It also says that children have the right to be protected from being kidnapped and sold, taken abroad without their parents’ permission or held hostage for commercial or other illegal purposes. Governments must make sure that children are treated well, and that those looking after them are doing a good job. They must stop children being forced into marriage and arranged marriages. They must protect them from being abused, including sexual abuse, and from being tortured.
Children should be allowed to play freely, and be taught in ways that help them develop into healthy adults. They should not be punished or put in prison for crimes they have committed, and if they are arrested, the police must take special care not to hurt them. They should have legal help and the freedom to speak with their families. They should be allowed to keep in contact with their parents or other family members and friends, even if they are not living with them.
Several areas of study concern the physical and mental growth of a child to adulthood, including pediatrics (the branch of medicine concerned with children) and developmental psychology. It is also common to talk of a person’s childlike behaviour or character, which can mean that they act in a way that is immature for their age.
Some people worry that the word kid, when used to refer to a human child, is slang or too colloquial to be included in standard English. However, it has been in use for over three hundred years and is widely accepted as a part of everyday speech and writing, especially when talking about children. Those who want to write professionally might prefer to use the word boy or girl, or the formal names of their gender, if they are concerned that it sounds too casual. This article was created in collaboration with UNICEF UK. To find out more about how you can help to protect and support children’s rights, visit our website. We have a range of publications that you can download for free. You can also sign up to our e-newsletter, which is full of information and news about children’s rights around the world.