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UN Convention on the Rights of the Child

The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) is an international treaty – an agreement between different countries – designed specifically to meet the needs of children. Children have all of the rights in other international human rights treaties too, but the UNCRC includes additional rights which only children need. 

The UNCRC says that all children and young people under the age of 18 have certain rights. The Convention is separated into 54 “articles”, or sections. The rights in the treaty include the right to education, the right to play, the right to health and the right to respect for privacy and family life. You can read about the rights protected by the Convention here.

All children should enjoy all of the rights, without discrimination on grounds such as disability, sex, race, age or sexual orientation, and whatever the circumstances in which they live or are cared for.

When a state ratifies (signs up to) a treaty it takes on legal obligations under international law. The UK ratified the UNCRC in December 1991. Unfortunately the Convention has not been made part of our domestic law, meaning that a child cannot go to court relying only on the UNCRC. However, as international law, the Convention is meant to be followed and should be referred to by courts, tribunals and other administrative processes when making decisions that affect children.  Public bodies should also comply with it. This means that the UNCRC can be referred to in courts, tribunals and administrative proceedings such as case conferences, reviews and school exclusion panels. 

The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child (the Committee) is a group of 18 children’s rights experts from different countries. It meets three times a year in Geneva.

It has three main roles:

  1. Every five years the Committee makes recommendations to governments, called Concluding Observations, telling them how to improve the protection of children’s rights. You can find out more about this here
  2. The Committee can hear complaints from individual children who think that their rights have been breached. Children can only take a case to the Committee if their Government has signed up to the “individual complaints mechanism”. The UK Government has not done this yet, but CRAE is asking for it to do so.
  3. The Committee explains what the rights in the UNCRC mean in more detail in “General Comments”. You can find these here.