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Children's and young people's rights

International human rights agreements to protect children and young people

Children in Nepal

In the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948 the UN stressed that children have a right to "special care and assistance". Basic children's rights are enshrined in the 1989 UN Convention on the Rights of the Child – and are thus binding under in­ter­national law.

In addition, children's and young people's rights have now been in­cor­por­at­ed into numerous other in­ter­national agree­ments and dec­la­ra­tions. In­di­vid­ual rights are en­shrined for example in the In­ter­national Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (1966), in the In­ter­national Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (1966), in the Con­ven­tion on the Eli­mi­na­tion of All Forms of Dis­cri­mi­na­tion against Women (1979) and in the Con­ven­tion on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (2006).

UN Convention on the Rights of the Child

The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (Resolution 44/25 from the General Assembly of 20 November 1989) explicitly elevates children's rights to the status of human rights and makes them binding under in­ter­national law.

According to UNICEF the 10 basic children's rights are:

  1. The right to equal treatment
  2. The right to health
  3. The right to education
  4. The right to play and leisure time
  5. The right to freedom of expression and participation
  6. The right to be raised in a non-violent en­vi­ron­ment
  7. The right to protection in wartime and as refugees
  8. The right to protection from economic and sexual exploitation
  9. The right to parental care
  10. The right to special care and support for children who have any kind of disability

The Convention on the Rights of the Child has been signed by nearly all the states in the world (194), including Germany. No UN convention has more in­ter­national approval. The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child regularly reviews gov­ern­ment reports on the level of implementation, which must be submitted every five years by the coun­tries that are signatories to the Convention.

The Human Rights Council has appointed a special rapporteur for child traf­fick­ing, prostitution and porno­graphy, whose findings are documented in annual reports that are accessible to the public. Moreover, the UN Sec­re­tary-General has ap­point­ed two special rep­re­sen­ta­tives: one for violence against children and one for children in armed conflicts. Since January 2013, the UN also has an Envoy on Youth.


Optional Protocols to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child

Children in Tienfala, a community in Mali

Two Optional Protocols were added to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child in 2000. One contains measures to protect children against be­com­ing involved in armed conflicts. It prohibits the con­scrip­tion of children under the age of 18, who must be prevented from taking part in hostilities. The second Optional Protocol prohibits the sale of children, child pros­ti­tu­tion and child porno­graphy, and obligates signatory states to take pre­ven­tive measures against the sexual ex­ploi­ta­tion of children and young people and to rehabilitate affected children. The Federal Republic of Germany has ratified both these optional protocols.

In December 2011, the UN General Assembly adopted a third Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child. It opens up the possibility for individuals to lodge com­plaints if children's rights are being abused. Germany is one of the first coun­tries to have ratified this new protocol. On 14 April 2014, after ten coun­tries had ratified it, the third Optional Protocol entered into force.


ILO conventions

A boy watering corn in a field at the edge of Bangui in the Central African Republic.

The In­ter­national Labour Organization (ILO) has adopted two agree­ments for the elimination and regulation of child labour:

ILO Convention No. 138 adopted in 1973 obliges member states to ensure that child labour really is abolished and to progressively raise the minimum age for admission to work or employment to a level consistent with the fullest physical and mental de­vel­op­ment of young persons.

ILO Convention No. 182 adopted in 1999 obliges member states to im­me­diate­ly im­ple­ment effective measures for the prohibition and eli­mi­na­tion of the worst forms of child labour. These forms include, for example, slavery, debt bondage, child traf­fick­ing, prostitution, porno­graphy, forced con­scrip­tion as child soldiers, using children for illegal activities such as drug traf­fick­ing and employing children to do work that is harmful to their health, security or morals.

Germany has signed and ratified both these ILO conventions.


Millennium Declaration

Children and young people are explicitly mentioned in the Millennium Declaration and in most of the Millennium De­vel­op­ment Goals (MDGs) derived from it.

In MDGs 2 and 3, for example, the in­ter­national com­mu­ni­ty has made various commitments, which included realising universal access to primary education, reducing gender inequality and improving HIV prevention, all by the year 2015.

The commitment made by the governments under Millennium De­vel­op­ment Goal 4 was to reduce child mortality by two thirds between 1990 and 2015. So far, the number of deaths among the under-fives has been cut from more than 12 million deaths a year in 1990 to 6.6 million in 2012. Despite what has been achieved, there is still a long way to go before the fourth Millennium De­vel­op­ment Goal will have been reached.

World Programme of Action for Youth

The World Programme of Action for Youth adopted by the UN General Assembly in 1995 and expanded in 2007 has the aim of improving living conditions for young people. The Programme places particular emphasis on measures to strengthen national capacities in the youth sector. The intention is to increase young people's opportunities for participating effectively in society.

The Programme comprises a basic policy framework and guidelines for achieving these goals and is divided into 15 thematic priority areas: edu­ca­tion, em­ploy­ment, hunger and pov­er­ty, health, the en­vi­ron­ment, drug abuse, crimi­nality among young people, leisure activities, girls and young women, par­ti­ci­pa­tion in decision-making processes, glo­ba­li­sa­tion, in­for­ma­tion and com­mu­ni­ca­tions tech­no­lo­gies, HIV and AIDS, armed conflict and issues that concern all generations.

Agenda 21

The 1992 United Nations Agenda 21 adopted in Rio officially recognised that children and young people are also responsible for realising sus­tain­able de­vel­op­ment. Since then young people have had a right to participate in and contribute to in­ter­national negotiations. On the occasion of the Millennium+5 Sum­mit in 2005, heads of state and gov­ern­ment reaffirmed their intention to imple­ment Agenda 21 and the Johannesburg Plan of Ac­tion, which also names young people as one of the main target groups and groups of actors.

European Union

The European Union (EU) has recognised the rights of children in its Charter of Fundamental Rights. The EU has undertaken to uphold children's rights – this includes observing and following the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and its optional protocols, the Millennium Declaration and the Euro­pean Con­ven­tion for the Pro­tec­tion of Human Rights. In December 2010, the EU was the first regional or­ga­ni­sa­tion to ratify the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

In recent years the European Union has formulated a range of guidelines and yardsticks for the protection of children's rights. They include, for example, the 2003 EU Guide­lines on Children and Armed Conflict, and the 2007 Guide­lines for the Promotion and Pro­tec­tion of the Rights of the Child.

In addition, in May 2008 the EU foreign ministers reaffirmed the im­por­tance of a com­pre­hen­sive human rights-based approach. In a doc­u­ment entitled "Council Conclusions on the promotion and protection of the rights of the child in the European Union's external action – the de­vel­op­ment and hu­ma­ni­ta­rian dimen­sions" the EU undertakes to achieve this objective by all means available.

Regional initiatives

The African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child, which was modelled on the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, entered into force in 1999. Many articles in the two conventions are similar. How­ever, the African Charter does not include the right to social security. It does, how­ever, guarantee some other rights, for example prohibiting dangerous cultural practices that are prejudicial to children's health (Article 21).

In 2006, the African Union adopted the African Youth Charter. It entered into force in 2009 and calls for young people between the ages of 15 and 35 to be protected and supported. At the same time it points out what duties and obligations young people have towards their families, society, their coun­try and the in­ter­national com­mu­ni­ty.

The Pacific Youth Charter of 2006 and the Ibero-American Convention on the Rights of Youth of 2008 are also modelled on the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.


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