In the field of international human rights law the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) has been one of the most influential treaties. It was adopted by the UN General Assembly on November 20, 1989 after ten years of drafting and today this instrument has been ratified by 193 States. The CRC was the first legally binding international instrument to incorporate the full range of human rights—civil, cultural, economic, political and social rights. Three Optional Protocols were added later dealing with specific issues (respectively child soldiers, child prostitution and a complaint procedure).
The CRC spells out the basic human rights that children everywhere have and sets out core principles that underpin all of these rights (non-discrimination, the best interests of the child as a primary consideration, the right to life, survival and development and respect for the views of the child). That the CRC formalises that children can express their opinions, and that these will be taken into account, was new in 1989. In the course of the 20th Century children became not only objects of rights to be protected but also subjects of rights to be exercised.
The Convention is intended to protect children’s rights by setting standards in education and for legal-, civil and social services, including health care. By agreeing to undertake the obligations of the Convention (by signing and then ratifying or acceding to it), States parties have committed themselves to respect, protect and fulfill the rights it contains. Since the CRC came into force, the implementation of children’s rights in different countries can now be monitored in a systematic way, via the periodic reporting process, whereby States parties must report on progress to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child every five years.
From the moment of the adoption of the CRC and its widespread ratification, the CRC has led to the amendments of constitutional provisions, the introduction and revision of national laws in many countries; the development of policies across a range of issues reflecting child rights provisions; the strengthening children’s protection rights and introducing participation rights; the proliferation of national ombudsmen for children; and increased disaggregated data collection and gave a push to attempts to measure progress or decline with the help of child well-being indicators.
Download the rest of this article “Applying CRC to the Work with Young People and Drugs” (.pdf, 201kb)