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Youth justice in the UK: children, young people and crime
Youth justice in the UK: children, young people and crime

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5.1 Children’s rights

One of the first attempts to promote children’s rights in youth justice systems was established in 1985 when the United Nations adopted a set of rules guiding the development of specialist and separate juvenile/youth justice systems in the various nations of the world.

The ‘Beijing Rules’, as they are called, are the United Nations ‘Standard Minimum Rules for the Administration of Juvenile Justice’. These were followed by further agreements about youth and juvenile justice. In 1990 the United Nations ‘Guidelines for the Prevention of Juvenile Delinquency’ (the ‘Riyadh Guidelines’) and the United Nations ‘Rules for the Protection of Juveniles Deprived of their Liberty’ (the ‘JDL Rules’) were all adopted.

At about the same time in 1990 a World Summit on Children, convened by the UN, met in New York. It was the largest gathering of state leaders in history. From that meeting the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) emerged. Its focus is on children in general rather than youth justice but many of its provisions (Articles) are very relevant to children who find themselves caught up in criminal law and youth justice systems.

Activity 6 UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC)

Timing: Allow approximately 10 minutes for this activity

Use an internet search engine to find out the answers to the following questions:

  1. When did the UK ratify the UNCRC?
  2. Which nations have not yet ratified the UNCRC?
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Interactive feature not available in single page view (see it in standard view).


The UK ratified the UNCRC on 16 December 1991, and it came into effect within the UK from 15 January 1992. The thirtieth anniversary of these two important protections falls in 2021, and 2022 respectively. You may find it helpful to be alert to these anniversaries as they are likely to generate public discussion over the extent of compliance with the UNCRC recommendation that the UK Government should ‘raise the minimum age of criminal responsibility in accordance with acceptable international standards’ (UNCRC, 2016).

The USA remains the only nation to decline ratification of the UNCRC.