Signed by 140 member nations and becoming effective in 1990, the Convention on the Rights of the Child of 1989 is an international human rights treaty setting out children’s civil, political, economic, social health, and cultural rights.
Applying to all people under the age of 18, unless the age of majority is attained earlier under national legislation, its implementation is supervised by a United Nations committee of 18 independent experts.
The specified rights include children’s rights to life, their own names and identity, being raised by their parents, and continuing a relationship with both parents in the event of separation or divorce. They also include children’s rights to express opinions, to be protected from abuse or exploitation, and to have their privacy protected. The convention forbids capital punishment for children.
This quickly became the world’s most ratified human rights agreement. There has been significant progress, including the global under-five mortality rate falling by 60%, and the proportion of primary school-age children not in school halving to 10% from 20%.
Yet much work remains to be done to achieve the convention’s goals. Some 15,000 children aged under five years old die every day. 12m girls each year become child brides. Even before the Covid-19 pandemic, globally over 250m school-age children were not receiving a formal education.
In 2019, teenage climate activist Greta Thunberg and 15 other children filed a landmark complaint to the UN 18-person committee of experts, arguing that by doing too little to stop climate change five countries (Germany, France, Brazil, Argentina, and Turkey) had violated their human rights as stated in the convention. The five countries were the biggest greenhouse emitters among the 46 countries that signed a protocol to the convention allowing this kind of legal action, although at least three of them tried to have the complaint ruled inadmissible. The committee’s ruling is eagerly awaited.