The Convention on the Rights of the Child was the first international instrument to incorporate the complete range of international human rights including civil, cultural, economic, political and social rights as well as aspects of humanitarian law.
The articles of the Convention may be grouped into four categories of rights. Articles 43 to 54 contain additional provisions of the Convention which discuss implementation measures for the Convention, explaining how governments and international organizations like UNICEF will work to ensure that children are protected.
The guiding principles of the Convention include non-discrimination; adherence to the best interests of the child; the right to life, survival and development; and the right to participate. They correspond to the underlying requirements for any and all rights to be realized under the convention.
Survival and development rights are rights to the resources, skills and contributions necessary for the survival and full development of the child. They include rights to adequate food, shelter, clean water, formal education, primary health care, leisure and recreation; cultural activities and information about their rights. These rights require not only the existence of the means to fulfill the rights but also access to them. Specific articles address the needs of child refugees, children with disabilities and children of minority or indigenous groups.
Protection rights include protection from all forms of child abuse, neglect, exploitation and cruelty, including the right to special protection in times of war and protection from abuse in the criminal justice system.
Children are entitled to the freedom to express opinions and to have a say in matters affecting their social, economic, religious, cultural and political life. Participation rights include the right to express opinions and be heard, the right to information and freedom of association.
The equality and interconnection of rights are stressed in the Convention. In addition to governments’ obligations, children and parents are responsible for respecting the rights of others.
The Convention also requires that states act in the best interests of the child. In many jurisdictions, properly implementing the Convention requires an overhaul of child custody and guardianship laws, or at least a creative approach within the existing laws.
The Convention acknowledges the basic rights of every child, including the right to life, his or her own name and identity, to be raised by his or her parents within a family or cultural grouping and to have a relationship with both parents, even if they are separated.
The Convention requires states to allow parents to exercise their parental responsibilities. The Convention also acknowledges that children have the right to express their opinions and to have those opinions heard and acted upon when appropriate, to be protected from abuse or exploitation, to have their privacy protected and requires that their lives are not subject to excessive interference.
The Convention also obliges signatory states to provide separate legal representation for a child in any judicial dispute concerning their care and asks that the child’s viewpoint be heard in such cases. The Convention forbids capital punishment for children.
The Committee on the Rights of the Child stated in its General Comment 8 (2000), that there was an “obligation of all States parties to move quickly to prohibit and eliminate all corporal punishment and all other cruel or degrading forms of punishment of children”. Article 19 of the Convention states that State Parties must “take all appropriate legislative, administrative, social and educational measures to protect the child from all forms of physical or mental violence”, but makes no explicit reference to corporal punishment.
As of November 2009, 194 countries have ratified the Convention, including every member of the United Nations except Somalia and the United States. The United States government played an active role in the drafting of the Convention and signed it on February 16, 1995, but has not ratified it. The US has signed and ratified both of the optional protocols to the Convention.