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Posted October 29, 2015

The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in November 1989, and it entered into force less than a year later in September 1990. It defines children as “every human being under 18 years of age” and outlines children’s political, civil, social, cultural and economic rights. The CRC is a legally binding international treaty, ratified by every country in the world, with the exception of the United States, making it the most widely supported human rights treaty in history.

The CRC consists of a preamble and 41 substantive articles outlining the human rights of children along with 13 procedural and implementation articles, which indicate the responsibilities of “State Parties” to ensure those rights. Four of these articles are guiding principles and provide the foundation for any and all human rights. The guiding principles include non-discrimination; the best interests of the child; the right to life, survival and development; the right to participate and respect for the views of the child.

The specific rights in the CRC represent three broad categories, which include: provision of resources for survival and development; protection from neglect, exploitation, and abuse; and the participation of children in society.  Available research about the CRC suggests that participation rights are more controversial than survival and development rights and protection rights, in part because participation rights express the independence and agency of children by empowering young people to play an active role in their own lives and communities.

Accompanying the CRC are three “Optional Protocols”, including: a) limitations on the involvement of children in armed conflict; b) criminalization of the sale of children, child prostitution and pornography; and c) communication procedures for children to submit complaints about rights violations to the U.N. Committee on the Rights of the Child. These protocols provide additional legal mechanisms that serve to promote and protect young people’s well-being.

It is well documented that the CRC has spurred policies and actions that have improved how millions of children are viewed and treated.  For instance, substantial gains have been made globally in a number of areas, such as child survival, education, and access to clean water.  However, many children around the world remain without knowledge of their rights or sufficient opportunities to exercise their human rights and freedoms to reach their full potential. Discrimination based on age, gender, ethnicity, disability, religion, immigrant status, indigenous background, sexual orientation, social class or other statuses remain common.  Such inequity and disadvantage compromises outcomes not only in childhood but also beyond. Despite these obstacles in advancing children’s rights and freedoms, the CRC offers the promise of a world where “all children survive and develop, and are protected, respected and encouraged to participate in the decisions that affect them” (UNICEF, 2009).

Discussion Questions:

What are the implications of the tenets of the CRC for researchers and how we interact with young people?  What role should child developmentalists, and other social scientists working with children and adolescents, play in promoting the realization of the core principles of the CRC?

Martin D. Ruck
Associate Professor
Ph.D. Program in Human Development
The Graduate Center
City University of New York

Bijan Kimiagar
Research Associate
Children’s Environments Research Group
The Graduate Center
City University of New York