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1 Children and young people’s rights

The idea that children have rights is a central proposition of Childhood and Youth Studies and is based on almost a century of international legislation.

In 1924, the first ever international children’s rights treaty, The Declaration of Geneva, was adopted by the League of Nations (the precursor to the United Nations). It was written by the founder of the Save the Children Fund, Eglantyne Jebb, who argued that children should be protected not only out of charity but should be fed, clothed and sheltered as a right.

Figure 2 Eglantyne Jebb (1876 -1928), founder of the Save the Children Fund (1918) and initiator of the Declaration of the Rights of the Child.

In five points, the Declaration set out the special rights that all children had because of their age and perceived vulnerabilities, as well as the responsibilities that all adults had in fulfilling those rights (Box 1) .

Box 1 Declaration of the Rights of the Child (1924)

  1. The child must be given the means requisite for its normal development, both materially and spiritually.
  2. The child that is hungry must be fed, the child that is sick must be nursed, the child that is backward must be helped, the delinquent child must be reclaimed, and the orphan and the waif must be sheltered and succoured.
  3. The child must be the first to receive relief in times of distress.
  4. The child must be put in a position to earn a livelihood, and must be protected against every form of exploitation.
  5. The child must be brought up in the consciousness that its talents must be devoted to the service of its fellow men.
(University of Minnesota Human Rights Library, no date)

Since the Declaration of the Rights of the Child was adopted in 1924, there have been various international conventions, such as the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which have clauses that invoke special protection for children. The most significant children’s rights treaty, however, is the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) which came into force in 1989. You will look at this next.

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