25 years of child rights

31 Oct, 2014

Children have a right to education, play, and a caring family, protection from violence and abuse, an identity and a name, and the opportunity to participate and be listened to.

Until 25 years ago, these basic rights were not officially recognised nor legally binding. It took governments, civil society organisations, activists and religious and community leaders more than ten years to negotiate and agree on the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC). Signed in November 1989, the document states that all children (any person under the age of 18) have rights – including the right to the permanent care of a safe family, or to quality alternative care when it is in their best interests.

When I first started working with children in care over 20 years ago, the UNCRC was still relatively new, but it was radical and revolutionary as a vision for children’s rights” – Jo Rogers, P4EC Russia

Ratified by a record of 194 countries, the UNCRC is the most comprehensive human rights document in history. It establishes a child’s social, economic, political, physical and cultural rights. The UNCRC is as important today as it was 25 years ago. At least 8 million children around the world live in institutions, about 14.2 million girls under 18 are married every year and about 168 million children aged 5 to 17 are still forced to work every day. These children are separated from their families and deprived of the stability and care that they need. The UNCRC can help change this.

The UNCRC has been a guiding factor for the rights of children in Ghana over the past 25 years. Ghana was the first country to ratify the UNCRC and used it as a guiding factor to create child right policies. The UNCRC clearly defines a set of rights that all children are entitled to.” – James Kofi Annan, Challenging Heights, Ghana

To provide further guidance on care for children outside of families, the United Nations welcomed the Guidelines for Alternative Care in 2009. The Guidelines encourage governments to invest in family strengthening as a preventative method so that the need for alternative care is diminished in the first place.

Through making child rights explicit, indivisible and equally applicable to all, the UNCRC provides clear principles and standards… The Guidelines brings “families” to the fore and places them at the heart and soul of children´s lives and therefore of society” – Alison Lane JUCONI, Mexico

For Family, the UNCRC and the Guidelines have been crucial in putting the care of children and their right to a safe and caring family in the public eye and on decision-makers’ agendas.

In Ghana, Challenging Heights has been using the UNCRC to promote children’s right to a family and a childhood and, in particular, to save children from a life of labour in the Lake Volta’s fishing industry. Read more here.

In Mexico, JUCONI is using the UNCRC and the Guidelines to put forward the need for adequate policies and improved social protection for children and families struggling with everyday violence and poverty. Read more here.

In Russia, the UNCRC and the Guidelines have played a critical role on shifting the views of decision-makers on a child’s actual need to be placed in alternative care or institutions. They also have encouraged action to stop children with disabilities from dying in institutional care. Read more here.

There is still a lot of work left for NGOs and governments as the adequate care of children underpins social and economic progress of societies. We hope that the UNCRC and the Guidelines will enable us to achieve even greater change, reflecting as they do, our aspirations for the kind of world we wish to live in.

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