During the International Year of the Child in 1979, Poland proposed that a Convention on the Rights of the Child be drawn up.
A working party from the UN Commission on Human Rights was set up and a Convention was produced and unanimously accepted on 20th November 1989 (exactly 30 years after the first Universal Declaration on the Rights of the Child had been adopted). The UK ratified the Convention in December 1991, which meant that it became incorporated into our statute books.
Although the Convention does not have the force of law, it is a yardstick by which the facilities and services for children can be measured. By ratifying the Convention, the UK promised to ensure that all forthcoming legislation concerning young people would work towards full implementation of the Articles set down in the Convention. The Government is required to write a report to the UN Committee every five years to demonstrate how they have progressed towards their goal.
The UN Convention has 54 articles. These are underlined by three key principles:
- Non-discrimination: All rights within the Convention are to be available to all children and young people, without discrimination.
- Best interests: The best interests of the child or young person must always be the primary consideration in all undertakings concerning the children and young people.
- Views of the Child/Young Person: The children or young people’s views must be considered and taken into account whenever decisions are made which affect them.
The Articles can also be broken into three main categories – Provision, Protection and Participation.
Provision – deals with the rights to a minimum standard of health, education, social security, physical care, family life, play, recreation, culture and leisure.
Protection – deals with the rights of children and young people to be safe from discrimination, physical abuse, exploitation, substance abuse, injustice and conflict.
Participation – deals with the rights of children to their name and identity, to be consulted and taken account of, to have information, freedom of speech and opinion and to challenge decisions made on their behalf.
Only two States have not signed up to the Convention (USA and Somalia), making it one of the most universally recognised conventions ever reflecting the profound common desire to achieve a better world for children.