Twenty years of the CRC

Students from nine different local schools perform to illustrate the UNCRC Articles at UNCRC 20th Anniversary celebrations. © UNICEF UK/Howard Davies/2009Students from nine different local schools perform to illustrate the UNCRC Articles at UNCRC 20th Anniversary celebrations. © UNICEF UK/Howard Davies/2009

This blog was written by Dan Seymour, Chief of the Gender and Rights Unit of UNICEF’s Policy and Practice Division.

UN Convention on the Rights of the Child brings progress on child rights, but challenges remain

The CRC represents a major milestone in the historic effort to achieve a world fit for children. As a binding treaty of international law, it codifies principles that Member States of the United Nations agreed to be universal – for all children, in all countries and cultures, at all times and without exception, simply through the fact of their being born into the human family.

The treaty has inspired changes in laws to better protect children, altered the way international organisations see their work for children, and supported an agenda to better protect children in situations of armed conflict.

Worldwide impact

In every region of the world, we find numerous examples of the CRC’s impact on law and practice. In 1990, Brazil followed ratification of the Convention with a new Statute of the Child and Adolescent based on its principles. Burkina Faso created a Children’s Parliament to review proposed legislation, in response to the principle of participation set forth by the Convention.

The CRC was the first international convention to be ratified by South Africa, leading to changes such as the prohibition of corporal punishment and development of a separate juvenile justice system. The Russian Federation also set up juvenile and family courts in response to the CRC, while Morocco established a National Institute to Monitor Children Rights.

Finland took a number of new measures for children inspired by the Convention, such as a plan for early childhood education and care, a curriculum for the comprehensive school, quality recommendations for school health care, and an action plan against poverty and social exclusion.

And Eritrea issued its Transitional Penal Code, with penalties for parents or guardians who neglect, abuse or abandon their children.

Challenges ahead

This wide acceptance of the CRC can give the misleading impression that it is neither challenging nor new. Yet the very idea that children are the holders of rights is far from universally recognised. Too many children are considered to be the property of adults, and are subjected to various forms of abuse and exploitation.

The recognition that children have a right to a say in decisions affecting them, articulated in Article 12, is not only disrespected on a regular basis; its very legitimacy is questioned by many.

Nor can we claim that we live in a world where children’s best interests are the primary consideration in all decisions affecting them – as demanded by Article 3 of the Convention. In fact, the contrary is evidenced by the way the humankind allocates its resources, the limited attention it gives to ensuring the best for its children, the way it conducts its wars.

Foundation for change

Like all powerful ideas, the CRC reflects a demand for deep and profound change in the way the world treats its children.

That the world fails to respect the rights of its children – even to deny that children have rights – is clear in the alarming numbers of children who die of preventable causes, who do not attend school or attend a school that cannot offer them a decent education, who are left abandoned when their parents succumb to AIDS, or who are subjected to violence, exploitation and abuse against which they are unable to protect themselves.

We cannot claim that the Convention has achieved what needs to be achieved. Rather, it has provided all of us with an essential foundation to play our part in changing what needs to be changed.

Power of the Convention

Effecting that change requires us to use the CRC in its fullest sense, and to take advantage of its three fundamental strengths.

  • First, it is a legal instrument, defining unequivocally the responsibilities of governments to children within their jurisdiction
  • Second, it is a framework for the duties borne by different actors at different levels of society to respond to the rights of children, and it helps us understand the knowledge, skills, resources or authority needed to fulfil those duties
  • Third, it is an ethical statement, both reflecting and building upon core human values about our commitment to collectively provide the world’s children with the best we have to give.

This 20th anniversary of the CRC reminds us, most of all, of what we have left to do. The Convention demands a revolution that places children at the heart of human development – not only because this offers a strong return on our investment (although it does) nor because the vulnerability of childhood calls upon our compassion (although it should), but rather for a more fundamental reason: because it is their right.

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