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Two decades on - the Convention on the Rights of the Child

On the 20th Anniversary of its adoption by the UN General Assembly, the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) has been ratified by more member States than any of the other human rights treaties. 

Human Rights Chief urges practical measures to realize children’s rights to mark the 20th anniversary of the CRC - © UN Photo/John IsaacHuman Rights Chief Navi Pillay, celebrating the anniversary said that with the adoption of the Convention on 20 November 1989, the international community recognized for the first time that “children, both girls and boys alike, are not simply the property of their parents or of their care givers, but individual rights-holders, fully entitled to their rights and in charge of their own destiny according to their age and level of maturity.”

Despite much progress the High Commissioner told a recent event in Geneva held to commemorate the anniversary that, “there persist severe violations, including violence, sexual abuse and exploitation, child trafficking and forced labour.” 

“Also tragically evident,” she said, “are those multiple and overlapping forms of discrimination that affect girls, children with disabilities and those from minority and indigenous populations, street children, children in conflict with the law, refugee and migrant children and children from other marginalized and displaced groups.”

The lack of access children and their representatives have to systems of justice has been identified as a central concern in moving the Convention forward.  The Chairperson of the Committee on the Rights of the Child, in an address to a conference of legal experts, convened to discuss the legal obligations imposed by the Convention, noted that the CRC is a legally binding instrument containing rights that must be applicable and enforceable in the jurisdiction of any State Parties. 

Significantly, the international community is now discussing the development of an Optional Protocol to the Convention. An Optional Protocol would introduce a complaints procedure for violations of the rights of the child where domestic remedies at national level have failed or do not exist.  Pillay offered her support for the initiative saying, “This mechanism could significantly strengthen the monitoring of the Convention and contribute to the effective implementation of children’s rights.”

The anniversary of the Convention has been celebrated globally throughout 2009 at many different levels and in different countries.  Last month in Geneva more than 600 experts, child-rights advocates and professionals, representatives of NGOs and civil society, children themselves, and other interested stakeholders coming from all regions of the world addressed the three main challenges to implementation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, grouped under the thematic headings of Dignity, Development, and Dialogue. They identified a series of recommendations that will help re-focus attention, both nationally and internationally, on the practical measures that must be taken to further the effective realization of the rights of the child in its totality.

On this Day in New York the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon will address a special commemorative event organized by UNICEF, which has brought together representatives of Governments, civil society, the private sector, as well as children and young people at the United Nations to commemorate the 20th anniversary.

20 November 2009