Rights of the Child

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  • by Anup Shah
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As Amnesty International's report1 from their Children's Action 1999 campaign mentions, "To guarantee the human rights of children is to invest in the future". Many nations, it would seem, fail to realize this.

The United Nations Children's Fund, UNICEF, is the main international body dedicated to the rights of every child.

  • The Convention on the Rights of the Child2 is the major convention countries sign up to.
  • Somalia and USA are the only two countries in the world that have not ratified the convention3
    • However, as UNICEF point out, "Somalia is currently unable to proceed to ratification as it has no recognized government. By signing the Convention, the United States has signalled its intention to ratify - but has yet to do so."
    • On the one hand it would seem that the U.S. has no excuse not to sign, but as UNICEF further point out, in the U.S. ratifying treaties can sometimes take a very long time, even decades.

And despite the U.S.'s perceived short-comings here, according to a report by Human Rights Watch, many countries have also failed to enact the convention that they have signed to4. Their press release for this report summarizes some of the common problems children face5, such as:

  • Refugees (children make up over half of the world's refugees)
  • Hazardous labor exploitation
  • physical abuse
  • sexual violence and exploitation
  • recruitment as child soldiers
  • Police abuse and arbitrary detention of street children
  • Orphans and abandoned children without adequate care
  • Sexual abuse and trafficking
  • Lack of access to education, or substandard education

The U.N. Special Session on Children in 2002 shows that a lot of the above problems still exist6, as well as many others. Furthermore, the Session has highlighted many nations from the United States, to Syria, Iran and various others have in different ways opposed to certain aspects of children's rights. (The previous link has more details.)

The Convention also has some additional optional protocols, such as the the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the involvement of children in armed conflicts7.

  • The Protocol also clarifies that 18 years is the minimum age for direct participation in hostilities, for compulsory recruitment and for any recruitment by non-governmental armed groups.
  • However, many nations, including wealthy and powerful countries such as UK have contentious issues when it comes to such additional protocols, especially in terms of the use of child combatants.
  • For example as Amnesty International reported, the United Kingdom in June 2003, "formally ratified an important child rights treaty - pledging to try to avoid deploying its under-age soldiers into active combat - but then also undermined the treaty's purpose by reserving wide discretion to use young people in battle." In addition, Amnesty also noted that No other European country apart from the UK deploys under-18s8. The Convention defines a child to be anyone under the age of 18 unless national laws indicate otherwise. In the UK's case, the age of 18 is the age to vote, and as Amnesty International states in another article this implies children in the UK are old enough to kill but too young to vote9.
  • Many countries employ children as soldiers, making the 300,000 estimated the world over.

More Information

This is a huge topic and this page has hardly covered any detail. For more detailed information, you could try the following:

  • UNICEF10, United Nations Childres Fund
  • Amnesty International11 human rights organization
  • Human Rights Watch12
  • A World for Children13 from the BBC World Service
  • Child Rights Information Network14, provides information to support the implemention of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.
  • Children, Conflicts and the Military15 from this web site looks at issues such as child soldiers, and the impacts on children that conflict has.

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