1.3 United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child

The UN Convention is a comprehensive human rights treaty. It sets out minimum legal and ethical standards for all children, as well as goals to aspire to. In practice, the Convention is a vision for children, backed up by legal standards. It was drawn up in the UN by nearly all the countries of the world, including East African countries, because previous human rights conventions did not address the specific situation of children. The UN Convention was drafted to meet this lack of provision, and was adopted by the UN in 1989. It has now been ratified by nearly every country in the world: indeed, it is the most ratified international human rights convention in history.

The Convention:

  • defines a child as a person below the age of 18 (unless majority is attained earlier)
  • applies to all children without discrimination on any grounds
  • identifies children as requiring measures of special protection and support
  • recognises the importance of family, community and culture in the upbringing, protection and overall well-being of a child.

Understanding the terminology: a summary

What is a Convention?

A ‘Convention’ is a treaty or legal instrument – an agreement in international law between countries. The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child is a wide-ranging international treaty that contains some 40 ‘Articles’ defining the rights of children.

What is a Charter?

A ‘charter’ is another form of legal agreement between countries. The African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child is an agreement between the countries on the African continent.

What are Rights?

Rights are the basic legal, social or ethical entitlements of any human being, including children; for example, the right to health or the right to protection from violence.

What are Articles?

Each right is described in more detail in the Convention in an individual section or paragraph; each of these descriptions is called an Article. For example, the right to health is found in Article 24 of the UN Convention. It contains many specific illustrations of what the right to health means and what governments must do to achieve it, such as reducing infant mortality and providing clean drinking water.

What is Ratification?

Ratification is the process by which an individual country signs up to the Convention and formally makes a commitment, under international law, to implement the Convention’s principles and standards. To date, 193 countries have ratified the Convention or officially committed to it through equivalent means. Somalia, South Sudan and the United States of America are the only countries that have not ratified the Convention. The African Charter has been ratified by 46 African countries, but 8 countries have yet to do so (ACERWC, n.d.).

Activity 1.1: What rights do children have?

Make a list of all the rights you think children have in your country.

Show your list to your colleagues at work and discuss the question of children’s rights with them. See if you can all agree on a list of rights.

Do you think these rights are met for all children in your country?

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There are many rights that you may have identified:

  • Children have a right to survival, which would include, for example, the right to food, water, shelter and an adequate standard of living to enable their development.
  • Children also have a right to optimum development, for which they need access to health care, play and education.
  • Children have a right to protection from violence, discrimination and all forms of exploitation.
  • Other rights that might seem less obvious concern the child having an identity – for example, the right to a name and a nationality, and the right to be registered at birth.
  • Children have a right to family life. This means respecting families, providing them with support to enable parents to care for their children properly, and a child not being removed from their family unless this is in the child’s best interests.
  • Children have the right to be treated fairly if they are accused of a crime.
  • Finally, children have rights to have their own views, to be listened to and taken seriously, and to make decisions for themselves as they acquire the ability to do so – for example, decisions about their religion, their opinions and their friendships.

Have a look at the summary of the UN Convention, this should be available to you as a resource (if not, it is available in the resources section of the CREATE website), and see which rights you got correct and which other rights you could have suggested.

How far you think these rights are realised for children in your country will depend on which country you live in. Many other factors affect children’s lives: whether their parents are wealthy or poor, whether the child is a girl or a boy, whether they have a disability or not, whether they live in a town or in a rural community. For example, children with disabilities are less likely to be able to exercise their right to education. Adolescent girls are less likely to have the chance to experience the right to play. Poor children in isolated communities are less likely to have access to health care and the best possible health.

So your answers to the question may well depend on where your health facility or the community in which you work is located. However, it is important to remember that all rights apply to all children. All governments have a responsibility to make every effort to make sure that these rights become a reality.

1.2 Learning outcomes

1.4 The ‘3 Ps’