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What is the Convention?

The Convention on the Rights of the Child is a multilateral treaty designed to promote the protection of children worldwide. It is one of the core UN human rights treaties, and is the most rapidly and widely ratified of them all. The UK ratified it in 1991.

The Convention has been hailed as a victory for the children’s rights movement. However, it is only as effective as its implementation, and has been criticised for endorsing only Western values.

What does the Convention cover?

The rights set out in the Convention are wide-ranging, encompassing civil and political rights as well as economic, social and cultural ones, for all children under 18. They have been categorised as rights to provision, rights to protection and rights to participation, with the last of these often considered the Convention’s main achievement (although implementation is often particularly problematic).

The Convention also says what governments, public authorities and adults must do to ensure all children can enjoy all their rights.

Two optional protocols added to the Convention in 2000 concern children in the armed forces, and commercial sexual exploitation. A 2011 optional protocol provides a quasi-judicial process for children whose rights have been violated. The UK has ratified the first two but not the third optional protocol.

How is it enforced?

All treaties bind the States that have ratified them, under international law, but this does not necessarily mean that they are implemented and enforced.

The Convention on the Rights of the Child established a Committee on the Rights of the Child to oversee and report on States’ implementation. Its latest report on the UK was published in May 2016. The Committee can also hear complaints from individual children whose Governments have ratified the 2011 optional protocol on individual complaints (the UK has not). However, the Committee’s recommendations are not legally binding.

UNICEF, the United Nations Children’s Fund, is specifically named in the Convention as a source of expert assistance and advice on implementation. Independent National Human Rights Institutions (NHRIs), non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and national reporting and follow-up mechanisms can also have a direct role.

The extent to which the Convention forms part of national law and can be enforced by national courts varies. Generally speaking the UK Government has preferred to take a sector-by-sector approach to implementing the Convention. In Wales and Scotland Ministers and public authorities have some new general duties in relation to children’s rights. But there have been many calls for the UK to incorporate the Convention directly into domestic law.

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