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An Analysis of United Nations' Conventions Protecting Children

Updated on October 13, 2014

What Started It All: The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child

In 1989, the United Nations approved a treaty it terms as the "UN Convention on the Rights of the Child." Even though the UN Declaration of Human Rights does recognize children, women and families in need of protection of their rights, the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child is the first attempt to clearly define, describe and give details on what the rights of a child are and what a child is for the international community. Over the past twenty-five years, the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child has seen protocols and resolutions passed within the United Nations that have acted as amendments to it, and increased efforts by UNICEF, the international community and non-profits to help defend and improve children's rights as inspired by it. However, is the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, its protocols, its amendments, and the policies and actions it has inspired enough to help the defense and protection of children's rights worldwide? This article will conduct an analysis of these documents in order to answer this question in the best, possible way.

Our Children Have Rights Too

This was a photo from an event the Sama Tata Foundation held a few years ago in Dakar, to help inform beggar children about us but also give them the chance to forget about the struggles in their daily life, by playing a little football.
This was a photo from an event the Sama Tata Foundation held a few years ago in Dakar, to help inform beggar children about us but also give them the chance to forget about the struggles in their daily life, by playing a little football. | Source

An Analysis of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child

The original UN Convention on the Rights of the Child is a treaty that mentions the kind of rights children should have as recognized by the international community. Children are defined as individuals under the age of 18, or according to the specifications of a particular state's statues regarding what a "minor" or "an adult" are. A child's rights are spelled out directly under Article 6 and Article 7. Many of these rights are reflective of the rights for all persons, including children, as originally outlined in the UN Declaration of Human Rights. These correlative rights include the right to life, to survival, to identity, nationality, to family, and representation under the national laws that they live under. One of the main difference, however is that children are emphasized, in particular under Article 3 and some of the rights outlined in Article 6 and Article 7, that they are to be cared for by their legal guardians, parents or other adults. However, Article 8 does mention that if a child's rights are illegally denied or taken away, that it is up to the state to make sure that the child is cared for and his or her rights are restored.

The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child mentions further responsibilities of the state regarding children is spelled out further in many of the articles past this point. Their rights include the ability to express themselves, thought, religion, independent thought, access to the judicial system, and to an education. In response, the state is to provide information, laws, and educational opportunities and literature for children.


The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child is considered to be the first, international, legally binding document that offers to protect and define the rights of children around the world and the responsibility that states should have towards them. However, the ability for the international community to properly defend children's rights have risen over the years. This has led questions as to how well the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child is enough to defend children's rights and if more needs to be done. For example, the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child focused heavily on the responsibilities the state has towards children, as well as their parents and/or legal guardian, yet suggests nothing when in either case when a child cannot turn to his or her governments, parents and/or legal guardian when his or her rights are threatened. Furthermore, the rights spelled out for children are rather general , and parallel to other human rights and doctrines drawn up by the United Nations over the years for other social groups and issues. Additionally, the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child failed to address child specific human rights issues such as child slavery, child begging, child prostitution, and the needs of former and current child soldiers.

Analysis of Additional Protocols to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child

Even though the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child did not cover all issues related to children, it at least was the first in several efforts to improve children's rights through the United Nations. For example, several "rules" were approved to protect the rights of juveniles by the General Assembly in 1990. In 2000 one of the first protocols was passed to help enhance the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. A/RES/54/263 called for two protocols to enhance the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child regarding two major issues: child involvement in armed conflict and child prostitution. These protocols are included as annexes; the first, focuses on child involvement in armed conflict, while the second focuses on child prostitution. The first protocol/annex calls for all individuals under the age of 18, i.e. children, to not be directly involved in armed conflict and the actions that need to take place to prevent this from happening. The second protocol/annex calls for states to prohibit the sale, prostitution and pornographic activities of children. The protocol goes further to define what the international community identifies child prostitution, child pornography, and the selling of children for profit.

Even though this was the first time that child prostitution, child pornography, the selling of children and the involvement of children in armed conflict was officially declared in an official UN document, the definitions provided are general and vague. Furthermore, the language of the protocols didn't seem to understand the gravity, nor the complexities related to these issues. For example, for many years the United Nations has labeled women and children as "camp followers" during peacekeeping efforts and DDR programs. However, scholars like Dyana Mazurana have pointed out through extensive ethnographic research that this isn't true. Normally, women and children fight in armed conflict, either by choice or by force, if they are needed. Additionally, women and children are seen fighting with the armed opposition groups, and not with the state. Therefore, while the protocol on the involvement of children in armed conflict acknowledges the need to keep children out of conflict and for the state to do what it can, it does not cover circumstances when children, in particular, girls get involved with a conflict on the side against the state either by choice or force. In the second protocol, the language regarding how children are sold and why is very vague, which demonstrates a lack of understanding to the issue. Children are often sold for a variety of reasons, whether for remuneration, as the protocol states, but also to settle debts, disputes, as slaves, as laborers, and even for sexual purposes. In regards to child prostitution, the language of this protocol often suggests that an adult of some relation to the child led that individual to become a prostitute. Once again, this is not always the case. Sometimes, children chose to become prostitutes because they have no other way to provide for themselves, or their families.

A few years ago, the Security Council passed a few resolutions: SCR 1880, 1881 and 1886 that specifically state to help children and women receive the protection they need not only from conflict-based sexual violence, but also with their needs once UN peacekeepers have arrived and begin their work to help transition them to post-conflict society. However, child prostitution and the selling of children remains a major problem, as is the subject of children involved in human trafficking, and those seeking refugee status. Therefore, even though the United Nations and the international community acknowledge that children have their own unique human rights issues that need to be attended to, the protections that exists have very little understanding, nor a comprehension as to how complex and serious these issues really are and what must be done to resolve them. However, the children's rights that are somewhat spelled out and resolved, like those regarding a child's right to education and proper health care, are seeing progress and positive changes as exemplified by the international community's work.

The Progress of Children's Rights Since 1989

Do You Think Children's Rights Has Improved Since the Adoption of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1989?

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Has Children's Rights Improved since the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child was Passed?

Tell us what you think? Do you feel that your country, the United Nations, and the international community as a whole have really done a good job in improving children's rights over the past 25 years? Please let us know in the poll located to your right!

What Needs to Be Done To Improve Children's Rights

  • Improve the language of the protocols and add more details
  • Encourage the United Nations to work with its member-states, scholars, non-profits, and other non-state actors to better understand what children undergo everyday in order to affect powerful strategies to make their rights a reality
  • Keep on using the initiatives that are in place to help children go to school and get an education
  • If necessary, expand on efforts to help children, in particular girls to get an education because primary and secondary school numbers aren't quite to standards yet.

Twenty-Five Years Later: Has the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child Improved the Lives of Children Everywhere?

In conclusion, the international community can confidently say that children do live in a better world than they did in 1989. For example, the literacy rate has risen up to 85% and 91% in the regions of Africa and Southeast Asia thanks to efforts from UNICEF and UN member-states to encourage children to go to school. Children in rural areas have more access to quality schools, and enrollment in primary and secondary schools is rising. Most importantly, more girls are going to school than ever before, thanks to efforts by UNICEF and state-funded programs to help them go. Furthermore, the status and true participation of children as child soldiers is being recognized, and the Security Council, UNIFEM and the Department of Peacekeeping Operations are doing their best to make sure that children and women are not treated anymore as "camp followers."

However, despite these advances forward to help children that are worth celebrating, there are still major issues that need to be resoled. For example, the enrollment of boys in schools in comparison to schools is still larger. Secondary school enrollment is still much lower than primary school enrollment. Child prostitution, child slavery, human trafficking issues related to children, the selling of children, child pornography, assisting child refugees, and child involvement in drugs are still large issues that are not receiving proper assistance and/or attention on. Even though child soldering is now being recognized as a human rights issue, the efforts to help these children transition into civilian life is at its embryonic stages. Furthermore, the needs of child soldiers and the experiences they undergo during conflict are not fully understood by the international community. Therefore, even though the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child has helped advance the protection and needs of children worldwide, it is merely the beginning. In order for children's rights to improve, and become fully represented and protected, more protocols will have to be added to the Convention. Furthermore, the international community will need to work together to inform itself of the realities children face everyday and realize why something needs to be done to help them. If necessary, the United Nations and its member states might have to work with non-profits, scholars, and other non-state actors in order to properly remedy these issues to make sure that children, do indeed, have their rights and protections as guaranteed by the international community.

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