The Convention on the Rights of the Child: A Platform for Improving Children’s Lives


Every child in the world ‘should grow up in a family environment, in an atmosphere of happiness, love and understanding’ and be raised ‘in the spirit of peace, dignity, tolerance, freedom, equality and solidarity’.  This bold vision, announced by the United Nations almost 30 years ago, was not merely aspirational – it was part of the foundation of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. Adopted in 1989, the Convention, or CRC, was the first comprehensive human rights treaty on children.

The CRC establishes a framework for ensuring the rights and well-being of all children. It covers both civil and political rights (such as freedom from cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment) and economic, social, and cultural rights (such as the right to education). It also includes rights unique to children (such as the right to know and be cared for by one’s parents).

A transformative human rights treaty

While the scope of the treaty is impressive, what makes the CRC potentially transformative is that it establishes a legal mandate. This means governments must respect and ensure the rights of every child,  and conversely, children—and their parents or other caregivers acting on their behalf—can use the CRC to insist that governments do not violate their rights.

Since the advent of the CRC we have witnessed dramatic progress on many issues affecting children. Globally, under-five child mortality has declined by more than half, from approximately 12.7 million children annually to fewer than six million. School enrolment has increased, and child labour has dropped.

Although these are reasons to celebrate, a lot of work remains. Far too many young children die each year from malnutrition and other preventable causes. Universal primary education, while closer to reality, has yet to be realised. And progress on child labour has slowed.  What’s more, the global numbers mask disparities across and within countries. In some areas – especially armed conflicts – children continue to suffer multiple rights violations. Governments must do more to fulfil the CRC’s mandate.

Children flourish when their rights are respected

Successful implementation of the CRC requires greater emphasis on the treaty’s core provisions: The best interests of the child must inform all actions concerning children (Article 3), and the rights in the treaty must be assured to all children without discrimination of any kind (Article 2). Every provision of the CRC is relevant to ensuring each child can develop to his or her full potential. That said, two CRC ideas are particularly noteworthy:

  • Article 12 establishes that children have the right to express their views “in all matters affecting the child” and to have their views be given “due weight” in accordance with their age and maturity. This means that youth have the right to participate in decisions that affect their lives. Equally important, youth participation improves outcomes. Children and adolescents can offer insights that are critical to the success of policies and programmes for children. Policy makers and other adults must include children more to ensure their input.
  • The CRC says that the family is ‘the fundamental group of society and the natural environment for the growth and well-being of all its members and particularly children’. Nineteen provisions of the CRC recognise the vital role of parents and the family in the lives of children. Supporting children’s rights means advancing policies and programmes that support families and address systemic issues that make it difficult for children and their families to realise their rights.

Honouring children’s rights

Recognising children’s agency and inherent dignity while supporting families honours children’s rights in a way that is responsive to children’s development

Given the CRC places the primary legal obligation on the state, it’s fair to ask how each of us can support children’s rights. Eleanor Roosevelt once stated that universal human rights begin ‘in small places, close to home - so close and so small that they cannot be seen on any maps of the world... Unless these rights have meaning there, they have little meaning anywhere.’

Each of us can support and strengthen children’s rights by beginning close to home. We can engage children in a dialogue about rights (their own and the rights of others). We can advocate for children’s rights.  And, most important of all, we can listen to and ensure that all children are heard on matters that affect their lives.


This essay was first published on the Amnesty International UK website.

Map of Human Rights Litigation against Corporations

The Business & Human Rights Resource Centre have partnered with Liberty Asia  to develop a legal case map of all human rights litigation against corporations. This valuable resource is available here and enables readers to search by topic, company, and legislation relied upon.  The project covers a broad range of cases including labor rights violations, human trafficking, climate change and environmental degradation, crimes against humanity, child labor and more.  It’s worth a look for anything interested in these issues or human rights litigation generally.


First posted on the Human Rights at Home blog.




Addressing new frontiers in international law

From OUPblog:

International criminal tribunals are in trouble. Lines are blurring between international legal systems. It’s increasingly difficult to balance the benefits of open trade with the negative impact of its volatility. Rhetoric around border and migration control is vociferous. At the American Society of International Law’s annual meeting (30 March – 2 April 2016), academics and practitioners will address the theme ‘Charting New Frontiers in International Law’. In preparation for the meeting, we asked some of our authors to share their thoughts.

“In many respects, children’s rights itself is still a new frontier. Although the first international instrument on children’s rights – the Geneva Declaration of the Rights of the Child – was adopted in 1924, adults are still learning to think of children as rights holders. The liberal idea that rights reflect and protect individual autonomy fits awkwardly with how many of us understand and experience children, especially young ones. The evolving nature of children’s capacities – reflected in emerging research on both early childhood and brain development – demands that we think of children’s rights differently than we do of adults’. But how we balance children’s emerging autonomy with their need for protection remains a challenge. Children themselves frequently have thoughtful insights into the human rights challenges they confront (and potential solutions). Yet the traditional view of children, typified by adage that they should be ‘seen and not heard,’ discounts the value of children’s perspectives. Children should be understood as partners in the human rights movement. Ultimately, children’s rights – and educating children about their rights and their responsibilities to respect the rights of others – are essential to building just societies. We cannot expect young adults with no exposure to human rights concepts to assert their rights. Human rights education must start early in life.” - Jonathan Todres

See OUPblog for the full story.



Children's Books: The Key to Building a Human Rights Culture

Risa Kaufman, Columbia Human Rights Institute reviews Human Rights in Children's Literature: Imagination and the Narrative of Law by Jonathan Todres & Sarah Higinbotham (Oxford University Press 2016).

"For those working to bring human rights home, the book offers important and unique insights on the role that children’s literature can play in shaping a culture of human rights, near and far."

The full review is available on Human Rights at Home blog.

Building a Culture of Human Rights


How can we build a rights-respecting culture? .... Law is necessary; its mandate can influence and shape behaviors and attitudes. But it isn’t sufficient, in part because law often operates at a distance from the lives of most people, including the most vulnerable and marginalized.....Until human rights education becomes universal, a source much closer to home offers a vibrant set of materials that explore human rights and can help build a rights-respecting environment: children’s literature. Many of the stories children read and have read to them explore and confront important themes about children’s rights and their responsibilities to respect the rights of others. And they do this in a safe, imaginative world that is accessible to children

See more at: OUPblog.

Human Rights and the Social Determinants of Health

Guest Blog on HealthLawProf Blog:

Poor people live shorter lives, substantially shorter in certain impoverished communities. A recent New York Times article highlighted the significant gaps in life expectancy among different counties in Virginia: “Residents of Fairfax County are among the longest-lived in the country: Men have an average life expectancy of 82 years and women, 85, about the same as in Sweden. In McDowell, the averages are 64 and 73, about the same as in Iraq.”

The poor are less likely to have access to needed health care and more likely to smoke, be overweight, and to live with constant stress, which we now know is harmful to the human body.  It is at this critical juncture (as well as others) that public health and human rights meet. As public health professionals focus on the social determinants of health, relatively few approach these issues through a human rights framework or in partnership with human rights advocates. Likewise, human rights activists miss opportunities to partner with, and build upon the work of, public health. 

The social determinants of health implicate human rights, and visa versa....

Click here for the full article.