United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC)

Quick Facts

  • The CRC is the most widely ratified and fastest ratified human rights treaty in the history of the United Nations.
  • The Convention, introduced to the UN by Poland, was written largely by the United States and the Soviet Union over a ten year period (1979-1989).
  • It has been ratified by all of the governments of the world (192 countries), with the exception of Somalia and the United States

The History of the CRC

The Convention on the Rights of the Child is an international treaty that recognizes the human rights or children, defined as persons up to the age of 18 years.

It obligates States to ensure the rights to survival, development, protection and participation of all children without discrimination. It establishes in international law that States Parties must ensure that all children – without discrimination in any form – benefit from special protection measures and assistance; have access to services such as education and health care; can develop their personalities, abilities and talents to the fullest potential; grow up in an environment of happiness, love, and understanding; and are informed about and participate in, achieving their rights in an accessible and active manner.

Unanimously adopted by the General Assembly on November 20, 1989 , it has since been ratified by all the world’s governments, except Somalia and the United States of America .

By signing the Convention, the United States has signaled its intention to ratify – but has yet to do so. As in many other nations, the United States undertakes an extensive examination and scrutiny of treaties before proceeding to ratify. This examination, which includes an evaluation of the degree of compliance with existing law and practice in the country at state and federal levels, can take several years – or even longer if the treaty is portrayed as being controversial or if the process is politicized. For example, the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide took more than 30 years to be ratified in the United States and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, which was signed by the United States more than 17 years ago, has still not been ratified. Moreover, the U.S. Government typically will consider only one human rights treaty at a time. Currently, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women is cited as the nation’s top priority among human rights treaties.

Ratification means that governments commit themselves to ensuring that they meet the standards of the Convention. Thereby the governments are obliged to bring their legislation, policy and practice into accordance with the standards in the Convention; to transform the standards into reality for all children; and to abstain from any action that may preclude the enjoyment of those rights or violate them. They are obligated to ensure through law, policy and programs that children grow up in safe and supportive conditions, with access to high quality education and health care, and a good standard of living. It means governments agree to protect children from discrimination, sexual and commercial exploitation and violence, and to take particular care of orphans and young refugees.

The Protection of Child Rights

The CRC defines a “child” as a person below the age of 18, unless the relevant laws recognize an earlier age of majority. In some cases, States are obliged to be consistent in defining benchmark ages – such as the age for admission into employment and completion of compulsory education; but in other cases the Convention is unequivocal in setting an upper limit – such as prohibiting life imprisonment or capital punishment for those under 18 years of age.

The Convention provides a universal set of standards to be adhered to by all countries. The Convention offers a vision of the child as an individual and a member of a family and a community, with rights and responsibilities appropriate to his or her age and stage of development. Children are neither the property of their parents nor are they helpless objects of charity. They are human beings and are the subject of their own rights. Recognizing children’s rights in this way firmly sets a focus on the whole child.

This international treaty provides a benchmark against which the efforts of each government to improve the lives of children can be measured. Two years after initial ratification, governments must report their compliance status to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child; and then, every five years thereafter. The Committee, an internationally elected body of independent experts in Geneva, monitors continuing implementation of the Convention and requires governments that have ratified the Convention to submit their reports on the status of children’s rights in their countries. The Committee reviews and comments on these reports and encourages States to take special measures and to develop special institutions for the promotion and protection of children’s rights. Where necessary, the Committee calls for international assistance from other governments and technical assistance from organizations like UNICEF.

The Committee reviews the progress of governments, meets with their representatives, and listens to the views of non-governmental organizations (NGOs), before making recommendations about how each government could do better through Concluding Observations.

The Preamble

The preamble recalls the basic principles of the United Nations and specific provisions of certain relevant human rights treaties and proclamations. It reaffirms the fact that children, because of their vulnerability, need special care and protection, and it places special emphasis on the primary caring and protective responsibility of the family. It also reaffirms the need for legal and other protection of the child before and after birth, the importance of respect for the cultural values of the child’s community, and the vital role of international cooperation in securing children’s rights.

Article 1 – Definition of a Child: A child is anyone under the age of 18, unless a country’s law sets a younger age limit.

Article 2 – Non-Discrimination: The Convention applies to all children, no matter what their cultural, religious, or ethnic background. The Government is responsible for protecting children from any discrimination.

Article 3 – Best Interests of the Child : Anyone taking care of a child should have his or her best interests in mind. If parents or other guardians cannot care for a child, the government should provide care for him or her.

Article 4 – Implementing these Rights: It is the responsibility of the Government to make sure that all children have all of the rights in this Convention.

Article 5 – Parents and Children: The government should respect the rights of families to raise their children as they grow up.

Article 6 – Survival and Development: Every child has the right to live. Governments should make sure that children survive and grow up healthily.

Article 7 – Name and Nationality : All children have the right to have a name when they are born. They also have the right to a nationality. When possible, children have the right to know and be raised by their parents.

Article 8 – Identity: The Government should respect a child’s right to a name, nationality, and family.

Article 9 – Separation from Parents: Children have a right to live with their parents, unless it is not safe for them. Children whose parents have separated have the right to stay in contact with both parents, unless this might hurt the child.

Article 10 – Family Contact: If families live in different countries, they should be allowed to move between these countries so that parents and children can stay in contact or reunite as a family.

Article 11 – Illegal Transfer: The government should prevent children being illegally taken from their own country. When they are, the government should do whatever it can to bring them back home.

Article 12 – A Child’s Opinion: Children have the right to say what they think should happen, when adults are making decisions that affect them, and to have their opinions taken into account.

Article 13 – Freedom to Express: Children have the right to get and to share information, as long as the information is not damaging to them or to others.

Article 14 – Freedom to Think and Believe: Children have the right to think and believe what they want and to practice their religion, as long as they are not stopping other people from enjoying their rights. Parents should guide their children on these matters.

Article 15 – Freedom to Join and Assemble: Children have the right to meet together and to join groups and organizations, as long as this does not stop other people from enjoying their rights.

Article 16 – Privacy: Children have a right to privacy. The law should protect them from attacks against their way of life, their good name, their families and their homes.

Article 17 – Access to Information: Children have the right to reliable information from the mass media. Television, radio, and newspapers should provide information that children can understand, and should not promote materials that could harm children.

Article 18 – Parent’s Responsibility: Both parents share responsibility for bringing up their children, and should always consider what is best for each child. Governments should help parents by providing services to support them, especially if both parents work.

Article 19 – Protection from Abuse, Neglect, and Violence: Governments should ensure that children are properly cared for, and protect them from violence, abuse, and neglect by their parents, or anyone else who looks after them.

Article 20 – Protection for Children without Families: Children who cannot be looked after by their own family must be looked after properly, by people who respect their religion, culture, and language.

Article 21 – Adoption: When children are adopted the first concern must be what is best for them. The same rules should apply whether the children are adopted in the country where they were born, or if they are taken to live in another country.

Article 22 – Refugee Children: Children who come into a country as refugees should have the same rights as children born in that country.

Article 23 – Disabled Children: Children who have any kind of disability should have special care and support, so that they can lead full and independent lives.

Article 24 – Health and Health Services: Children have the right to good quality health care and to clean water, nutritious food, and a clean environment, so that they will stay healthy. Richer countries should help poorer countries achieve this.

Article 25 – Regular Evaluation and Placement: Children who are looked after by their local authority, rather than their parents, should have their situation reviewed regularly.

Article 26 – Social Security and Assistance: The Government should provide extra money for the children of families in need.

Article 27 – Standard of Living: Children have a right to a standard of living that is good enough to meet their physical and mental needs. The Government should help families who cannot afford to provide this.

Article 28 – Education: Children have a right to an education. Discipline in schools should respect children’s human dignity. Primary education should be free. Wealthy countries should help poorer countries achieve this.

Article 29 – Goals of Education: Education should develop each child’s personality and talents to the full. It should encourage children to respect their parents, and their own and other cultures.

Article 30 – Children of Minorities of Indigenous People: Children have a right to learn and use the language and customs of their families, whether these are shared by the majority of people in the country or not.

Article 31 – Leisure, Recreation, and Cultural Activities: All children have a right to relax and play, and to join in a wide range of activities.

Article 32 – Child Labor: The Government should protect children from work that is dangerous, or might harm their health or their education.

Article 33 – Drug Abuse: The Government should provide ways of protecting children from dangerous drugs.

Article 34 – Sexual Exploitation: The Government should protect children from sexual abuse.

Article 35 – Sale , Trafficking and Abduction: The Government should make sure that children are not abducted or sold.

Article 36 – Other forms of Exploitation: Children should be protected from any activities that could harm their development.

Article 37 – Torture and Deprivation of Liberty : Children who break the law should not be treated cruelly. They should not be put in prison with adults and should be able to keep in contact with their families.

Article 38 – Armed Conflicts: Governments should not allow children under 15 to join the army. Children in war zones should receive special protection.

Article 39 – Rehabilitative Care: Children who have been neglected or abused should receive special help to restore their self-respect.

Article 40 – Administration of Juvenile Justice: Children who are accused of breaking the law should receive legal help. Prison sentences for children should only be used for the most serious offences.

Article 41 – Respect for the Highest Standards: If the laws of a particular country protect children better than the articles of the Convention, then those laws should stay.

Articles 42-54 – Publicizing and Implementing the CRC:

The government should make the Convention known to all parents and children. Governments must elect a Committee on the Rights of the Child composed of 10 experts, which considers reports submitted by parties to the Convention two years after ratification and every five years thereafter. These reports are to be made available to the general public. The Committee may propose that special studies be undertaken on specific issues relating to the rights of the child, and makes its evaluations know to the government concerned as well as to the United Nations General Assembly. To foster implementation of the Convention and encourage international cooperation, bodies such as the International Labour Organization (ILO), the World Health Organization (WHO), the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) are encouraged to advise the Committee and permitted to attend its meetings. They can submit pertinent information to the Committee and be asked to advise on the optimal implementation of the Convention, together with other bodies recognized as competent – including other United Nations bodies and NGOs which have consultative status with the United Nations.

How You Can Help

First, look at the CRC for yourself; it is one of the easier treaties to read. Either promote the document as a whole (although it is the fastest ratified human rights Convention in history, many people do not know it exits) or talk with people you know about the elements of the CRC that are the most important to you. In either case, have people read it for themselves, since different people will be drawn to different issues.

You can also support organizations like YAP International and our partners who are helping to promote the Convention, and are encouraging its ratification in the last two countries of the world that have yet to ratify it: Somalia and the United States.

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Countries that have Ratified the CRC

All but two United Nations Member States (Somalia and the United States) have ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC). It is the mostly widely ratified and has the fastest ratification rate of any human rights treaty in the history of the United Nations.

192 countries have consented to protect and promote basic human rights for children through the Convention on the Rights of the Child; these countries include:

Afghanistan, Albania, Algeria, Andorra, Angola, Antigua & Barbuda, Argentina, Armenia, Australia, Austria, Azerbaijan, Bahamas, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Barbados, Belarus Republic, Belgium, Belize, Benin, Bhutan, Bolivia, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Botswana, Brazil, Brunei Darussalam, Bulgaria, Burkina Faso, Burundi

Cambodia, Cameroon, Canada, Cape Verde, Central African Republic, Chad, Chile, China, Colombia, Comoros, Congo, Cook Islands, Costa Rica, Côte d’Ivoire, Croatia, Cuba, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Denmark, Djibouti, Dominica, Dominican Republic, East Timor, Ecuador, Egypt, El Salvador, Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea, Estonia, Ethiopia, Fiji, Finland, France

Gabon, Gambia, Georgia, Germany, Ghana, Greece, Grenada, Guatemala, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Guyana, Haiti, Holy See (Vatican City), Honduras, Hungary, Iceland, India, Indonesia, Iran, Iraq, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Jamaica, Japan, Jordan, Kazakhstan, Kenya, Kiribati, Kuwait, Kyrgyzstan, Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Latvia, Lebanon, Lesotho, Liberia, Libyan Arab Jamahiriya, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg

Madagascar, Malawi, Malaysia, Maldives, Mali, Malta, Maritius, Marshall Islands, Mauritania, Mexico, Micronesia, Monaco, Mongolia, Morocco, Mozambique, Myanmar, Nauru, Namibia, Nepal, Netherlands, New Zealand, Nicaragua, Niger, Nigeria, Norway, Oman, Pakistan, Palau, Panama, Papua New Guinea, Paraguay, Peru, Philippines, Poland, Portugal, Qatar, Republic of Korea, Republic of Macedonia, Republic of Moldava, Romania, Russian Federation, Rwanda

Saint Kitts & Nevis, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent & the Grenadines, Samoa, San Marino, Sao Tome & Principe, Saudi Arabia, Senegal, Serbia & Montenegro, Seychelles, Sierra Leone, Singapore, Slovakia, Slovenia, Solomon Islands, South Africa, Spain, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Suriname, Swaziland, Sweden, Switzerland, Syrian Arab Republic, Tajikistan, Tanzania, Thailand, Timor Leste, Togo, Trinidad & Tobago, Tunisia, Turkey, Turkmenistan, Tuvalu

Uganda, Ukraine, United Arab Emirates, United Kingdom of Great Britain & Northern Ireland, United Republic of Tanzania, Uruguay, Uzbekistan, Vanuatu, Venezuela, Vietnam, Yemen, Yugoslavia, Zambia, Zimbabwe

Edited by

The U.S. Campaign for the Ratification of the CRC
Enakshi Ganguly Thukral, Director, HAQ (India)
Tom Kennedy, Director, Covenant House
Joanne Selinske, International Social Services