The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child establishes a system of rights for the world’s children. It provides a mechanism for gradual improvement in the governments’ observance of those rights through national reports to the United Nations and periodic reviews by the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child. The fifty-four Articles of the Convention and its two Optional Protocols constitute an integrated system of common international standards for government conduct regarding children (under age eighteen) and their families.
Here are some of the primary rights protected by the Convention. It protects parents’ roles in relation to their children and asks governments to help them in those roles. Children are protected against discrimination of any kind related to themselves or their parents. Children’s rights to life, identity, nationality, and name are protected. Governments must try to protect children from physical or mental violence, injury, or abuse. Governments may not separate children from their parents, except in the child’s best interests, and should try to facilitate the reunification of children separated from their parents. Children may hold and express their own views, and may participate in official matters affecting their status. To the extent that a government’s resources permit, it should protect children’s health and remedy their illnesses and injuries; provide for disability-related special needs; help parents provide children with a standard of living adequate for their development; honor children’s cultural, religious, or linguistic identities; offer play and recreational activities; and protect children from exploitative labor, drugs, sexual abuse, slavery, and so on. Children in public custody are protected from torture, capital punishment, life imprisonment, or other abuse, and may not be confined without due process. Children near armed conflict must be protected as much as possible, and may not be permitted to perform combat roles.
With regard to education, governments, to the extent that resources permit, must provide free and compulsory primary education to all children and encourage the development of secondary and higher education in various forms with access open to all. Governments should work to encourage regular school attendance and graduation. International cooperation is encouraged to eliminate ignorance and illiteracy, and to facilitate acquisition of scientific and technical knowledge and modern teaching methods.
Governments should direct children’s education toward the fullest possible development of their personalities, talents, and mental and physical abilities; respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms; respect for the child’s parents, cultural and national identity, language, and values; and preparation for a responsible life in a free society, in the spirit of understanding, peace, tolerance, equality of sexes, and friendship among all peoples.
The convention was signed initially in New York on November 20, 1989, and entered into force in 1990; 192 countries have agreed to be bound by its terms. Only the United States and Somalia have not yet accepted the convention. However, the United States has ratified the Optional Protocols to the Convention on The Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict and on the Rights of the Child on the Sale of Children, Child Prostitution, and Child Pornography. The convention is the most widely accepted statement of law on any issue, with almost universal participation.
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