The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) is an international agreement that protects the human rights of children up to the age of 18. It recognises not only their basic human rights but gives them additional rights to protect them from harm as one of the most vulnerable groups in society. It was approved by the UN General Assembly on November 20, 1989 and came into force on September 2nd 1990.

196 states except for the United States have ratified the Convention.

The Convention has 54 articles that cover all aspects of a child’s life and thre optional protocols (on children in armed conflict, sexual exploitation and on communications procedures). The CRC is guided by four general principles:

a) Non-discrimination (article 2): the Convention applies to all children whatever their ethnicity, gender, religion, language, abilities, whatever they think or say, no matter what type of family they come from, whatever their circumstances. For example a child in care has the same right to an education as a child who lives with his/her parents.

b) Best interest of the child (article 3): a child’s best interests must be a top priority in all decisions and actions that affect children. All adults should do what is best for children and should think about how their decisions will affect children. Determining what is in children’s best interests should take into account children’s own views and feelings.

c) Right to life, survival and development (article 6): children have the right to life and governments must do all they can to ensure children survive and develop to their fullest potential. The right to life and survival guarantees the most basic needs such as nutrition, shelter or access to health care. Development – physical, emotional, educational, social and spiritual – is the goal of many of the rights in the Convention, for example the right to education, access to information, freedom of thought or right to play.

d) Right to be heard (article 12): every child has the right to express their views, feelings and wishes in all matters affecting them, and to have their views considered and taken seriously. This principle recognises children as actors in their own lives and applies at all times, throughout a child’s life. This means that when adults make decisions about a child’s life, the child should be asked what they think and feel and adult’s decision needs to take these into account. The Convention recognises that the level of a child’s participation in decisions must be appropriate to the child’s age and maturity.

The Convention defines children as all girls and boys under the age of 18, characterised as a period of evolving capabilities and of vulnerabilities relative to adults.

The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child is in charge of making sure that the Convention is properly observed by the countries who have signed it