UNITED NATIONS CONVENTION ON THE RIGHTS OF THE CHILD
The guiding spirit of the Convention, and the basis on which all other provisions must be judged,
is that the best interest of the child must be a primary consideration in any decision of that child.
A GLOBAL CHARTER OF CHILDREN’S RIGHTS
On November 20, 1989, the General Assembly of the United Nations approved a document which has the potential to improve the life of every child in the world.
The Convention on the Rights of the Child is the culmination of almost a century of efforts to promote the well-being of children and protect them from exploitation and abuse. It is also the most comprehensive expression of human rights eve developed by the international community. And it has direct importance for children in Canada.
WHY SPECIAL RIGHTS FOR CHILDREN?
Children’s basic rights are covered by other human rights laws, both the major international human rights treaties under the United Nation, and the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, along with provincial human rights legislation.
But children are a particularly vulnerable group in any society, because they lack the physical, emotional and intellectual means to protect themselves and promote their own welfare. They are also generally unable to participate in any meaningful way in the political process, which means that they do not have direct access to the decision-making power that affects their lives.
The recognition that children have basic rights enables society as a whole to take responsibility for protecting children and helping them to grow up to be good citizens. Under the Convention, a child is anyone under the age of 18. In some cases, countries may set a lower age of majority, but the Convention requires them to justify their actions in this regard.
The guiding spirit of the Convention, and the basis on which all the other provisions must be judged, is the best interest of the child must be a primary consideration in any decision about that child.
The Convention on the Rights of the Child is the most comprehensive statement of children’s rights ever made. It covers every aspect of a child’s life
WHAT RIGHTS ARE COVERED? IDENTITY, LEARNING AND SELF-EXPRESSSION
- Every child is entitled to a name and nationality
- Every child has the right to enjoy his or her own culture and language with specific attention to the children of minority communities and indigenous populations.
- Children have the right to appropriate information from all sources, and the right to free expression of their opinions.
- Every child has a right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion, as well as freedom of association.
- All children have a right to education, which should aim at developing the child’s personality, talents and mental and physical abilities to the fullest extent, while fostering respect for the child’s parents, his or her own cultural identity, language and values, and for the cultural background and values of others.
- Children have the right to leisure, recreation and cultural activities.
FAMILY AND COMMUNITY
- Children have the right to be cared for by their parents, unless it is not in their best interest.
- Children have the right to be reunited with their parents, even if their parents are in another country. Children whose parents may live in different countries have the right to maintain regular direct contact with both parents.
- Children have the right to protection from illicit transfer to other countries.
- Children without families and those removed from their families for their own protection have the right to special protection and assistance; with due regard to the child’s cultural background. In cases of adoption, the best interests of the child shall be the paramount consideration
- Refugee children also have the right to special protection and assistance.
MENTAL AND PHYSICAL WELL-BEING
- All children have the right to survival and development, and to protection from abuse and neglect
- Disabled children have the right to special care, education and training to help them enjoy a full and decent life in dignity and achieve the greatest degree of self-reliance and social integration possible.
- Every child has the right to the highest standard of health and medical care attainable. Children also have the right to benefit from social security, including social insurance.
- Every child has the right to a standard of living adequate for his or her physical, mental, spiritual, moral and social development.
- Children have the right to protection from sexual exploitation and abuse, including prostitution and involvement in pornography.
- No child below 15 years of age shall be recruited into the armed forces and governments will also ensure the protection and care of children who are affected by armed conflict.
- Children who are victims of armed conflict, torture, neglect, abuse or exploitation have the right to receive appropriate treatment for their recovery and social reintegration.
- Children have the right to protection from interference by the state with their privacy, family, home and correspondence, and from libel or slander.
- The child has the right to be protected from work that threatens his or her health, education or development.
- Children have the right to protection from the use of narcotic and psychotropic drugs, and from being involved in their production or distribution.
- The government must make every effort to prevent the sale, trafficking and abduction of children.
- No child shall be subjected to torture, cruel treatment or punishment, unlawful arrest or deprivation of liberty.
Every Child in conflict with the law has the right to treatment which promotes the child’s sense of dignity and worth, takes the child’s age into account, and aims at his or her reintegration into society.
WHAT DOES THE CONVENTION ON THE RIGHTS OF THE CHILD MEAN FOR CANADIAN CHILDREN?
On one level, the Convention is an international treaty, a statement of mutual commitment on the part of the ratifying countries to meet specific standards for the treatment of children within their own borders. The Government of Canada formally ratified the Convention on December 13, 1991. For the federal government, the Convention is part of binding international human rights law.
For Canadian organizations, whether public or private that deal with children, the Convention serves as a fundamental point of reference. It sets standards that can be used by any agency to determine how well they respect and protect children’s rights in their own programs, and it also provides some concrete suggestions for ways to meet children’s basic needs. In addition, child advocates can now refer to the Convention in their work to improve the situation of children in Canada.
Although the Convention, of it self, has no direct legal applicability in Canada, the Canadian Government is committed to make Canadian laws comply with the provisions of the Convention. In the meantime, Canadian courts can take into account the rights set out in the Convention when they make decisions affecting children.
The Convention is most important for children themselves. It recognizes that they are important, that their lives have value and that they have rights which must be respected by their societies. The Convention specifically entices children to participate in decisions that affect them, and stipulates that they must be allowed to express informed opinions when an issue is of concern to them.
HOW DOES THE CONVENTION AFFECT PARENTS AND THE FAMILY?
One of the major principles of the Convention on the Rights of the Child is that the best place for children to grow up in is within a loving family. The Convention, which is binding only on the federal government in Canada stipulates that the government must “respect the responsibilities, rights and duties of parents” with regard to their care of their children, and also says that the government should assist parents in providing their children with basic needs such as shelter, food and clothing.
Other provisions of the Convention relate to the specific problems of children who become separated from their parents, usually because they are refugees. The Convention sets out precise requirements for reuniting children and parents in such situations.
Regrettably, there are sometimes situations in which parents are not able to provide their children with the proper care and nurture. Only when it is in the best interest of the child to do so is the government authorized by the Convention to remove a child from his or her family.
WHAT CAN WE DO?
The Convention will achieve its true value if the words come off the page and are made to live in the lives of nations, communities, families and individuals:
There is a role for everyone in changing basic attitudes and assumptions about children and their place in society.
People who work with children at all levels – in health care, education, social services and the judicial system – need to know how their work directly affects children’s rights and what they can do to assure that children’s rights are respected on a day to day basis.
And children themselves must be empowered to claim their rights and, with those rights, the responsibilities that come with citizenship.
National Child Day November 20th Every Year