2.3 What is meant by ‘best interests of the child’?

The concept of the ‘best interests of the child’ is a central building block and a guiding principle of both the UN Convention and the African Charter. It means that when any decision or action is being taken that will affect a child, you need to think about whether it is in the best interests of that child.

In all actions concerning children, whether undertaken by public or private social welfare institutions, courts of law, administrative authorities or legislative bodies, the best interests of the child shall be a primary consideration.

(From Article 3, United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child)

In all actions concerning the child undertaken by any person or authority the best interests of the child shall be the primary consideration.

(From Article 4, African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child)

The Committee on the Rights of the Child has interpreted Article 3 as applying both to children as individuals and as a group. For example it applies to a child’s specific health condition and care, and it applies to decisions affecting groups of children, for example, policies on health or welfare. To give an example, if you are deciding to give a child a particular treatment, you must be sure it is in their best interests to do so. Equally, the way in which your clinic or hospital ward is organised should take account of the best interests of children rather than the convenience of the administrators or doctors.

It is important to understand the weight that should be given to the best interest principle. Article 3 of the UN Convention and Article 4 of the African Charter require that the best interests of the child is a primary consideration. This recognises that other interests can be considered, but that the child’s interests are the most important interests. The scope of the article is extremely wide, covering all actions concerning the child or children.

2.2 Learning outcomes

2.4 How to determine the best interests of a child