United Nations Convention on Rights of Children
Children are entitled to all human rights. However there is a dedicated human rights instrument for children, called the UNCRC. The UK Government ratified the UNCRC in 1991. It has been signed and ratified by all UN member states, except the United States and Somalia, making it the most widely ratified international human rights treaty.
The convention includes 54 articles. The Children’s Rights Alliance for England (CRAE) have produced a summary of the UNCRC.
The UNCRC is necessary for four main reasons:
- Childhood is a period of unparalleled growth, development and potential.
- Children, especially infants and very young children, are easy to hurt and harm, intimidate and frighten – they are vulnerable and need protection.
- Children’s needs and interests are often ignored or downplayed in public debates and decision making.
- A dedicated treaty gives a focal point and legal framework for all those seeking to improve children’s lives and social status – in all parts of the world.
The concept of the ‘best interests of the child’ is paramount in the interpretation and implementation of the Convention. One of the most innovative and vital aspects of the UNCRC is its emphasis on children being heard and taken seriously. Article 12 of the Convention gives every child the right to express their views on any matter that affects them. The views of children must be given due weight according to their age and maturity – in other words, the more a child understands a particular decision, and the consequences of their views, the more influence their views will have. Article 12 specifically requires that in any decision-making forum – a court proceeding or school exclusion hearing for example – the child’s views must be heard directly or through a representative. One of the central aspects of children’s human rights is that children must be respected as people today, and not treated simply as ‘people-in-the-making’.
A child’s right to be heard and taken seriously is increasingly part of domestic law, particularly relating to children in contact with social care services. The Education and Inspections Act 2006 introduced a requirement for schools in England and Wales to consult students on the development of new behaviour policies, and since 2002 legislation has required schools to have regard to student participation guidance. Also the Children Act 1989 requires that when a court is determining issues relevant to a child’s upbringing or administration of a child’s property, their wishes and feelings are taken into account.
The United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child, a group of 18 children’s rights experts, meets in Geneva three times a year to monitor the implementation of the UNCRC in each country that has ratified the UNCRC, and examines how these countries are meeting their obligations under the UNCRC every five years.