The true character of society is revealed in how it treats its children.
(Nelson Mandela 27 September 1997)
What is a Child?
Etymologically, the term “child” comes from the Latin infans which means “the one who does not speak.” The significance of this etymological reference is that it gives reference to the vulnerability of children in a society in which adults make policy and decisions. There is a lot of contestation in the world about who a child is, however, The Convention on the Rights of the Child of 1989 defines more precisely the term “child”:
“[…] a child is any human being below the age of eighteen years, unless under the law applicable to the child, majority is attained earlier”
It must be emphasised from the above that a child is a human being that is deserving of human dignity and has rights. The reason children required a specific convention that protected them was a realisation that children were a vulnerable group that needed specific protection.
What are the Rights of the Child?
Children’s rights were recognised after the 1st World war, with the adoption of the Declaration of Geneva, in 1924. The process of recognition of children’s rights continued thanks to the UN, with the adoption of the Declaration of children’s rights in 1959. The International Convention on the Rights of the Child is the first international legally binding text recognising all the fundamental rights of the child. The Convention has achieved near-universal acceptance, having now been ratified by 193 parties – more than belong to the United Nations or have acceded to the Geneva Conventions.
The Convention sets out these rights in 54 articles and two Optional Protocols. It spells out the basic human rights that children everywhere have:
- the right to survival;
- to develop to the fullest;
- to protection from harmful influences, abuse and exploitation;
- and to participate fully in family, cultural and social life.
The four core principles of the Convention are non-discrimination; devotion to the best interests of the child; the right to life, survival and development; and respect for the views of the child.
Children’s Rights: Human Rights
Children’s rights are human rights. They protect the child as a human being. As human rights,
children’s rights are constituted by fundamental guarantees and essential human rights:
- Children’s rights recognise fundamental guarantees to all human beings: the right to life, the
non-discrimination principle, the right to dignity through the protection of physical and
mental integrity (protection against slavery, torture and bad treatments, etc.)
- Children’s rights are civil and political rights, such as the right to identity, the right to a
- Children’s rights are economic, social and cultural rights, such as the right to education, the
right to a decent standard of living, the right to health, etc.
- Children’s rights include individual rights: the right to live with their parents, the right to
education, the right to be protected, etc.
- Children’s rights include collective rights: rights of refugee and disabled children, of minority
children or from autochthonous groups.
Children’s rights consider the vulnerable character of the child. They imply the necessity to
protect them. It means to grant a particular assistance to them and to give a protection adapted to their age and to their degree of maturity. So, children have to be helped and supported and must be protected against labour exploitation, kidnapping, and ill-treatment.
Our children are our greatest treasure. They are our future. Those who abuse
them tear at the fabric of our society and weaken our nation.
(Nelson Mandela22 November 1997)
Children’s Rights Reality
By agreeing to undertake the obligations of the CRC (by ratifying or acceding to it), national
governments have committed themselves to protecting and ensuring children's rights – and they have agreed to hold themselves accountable for this commitment before the international community. States parties to the Convention are obliged to develop and undertake all actions and policies in the light of the best interests of the child. However, despite ratification of the CRC the state of children’s rights through out the world is appalling.
According to statistics:
Child abuse - 40 million children below the age of 15 suffer from abuse and neglect. (United Nations Children’s Fund, 2008)
Gang violence - 100 percent of cities with populations greater than or equal to
250,000 reported gang activity. (US Department of Justice)
Child labour - 246 million children, one in every six children aged 5 to 17, are
involved in child labour. (International Labour Organization, 2002)
Child soldiers - UNICEF estimates that more than 300,000 children under 18 are
currently being exploited in over thirty armed conflicts worldwide.
Human trafficking - It is estimated that there are 27 million people in the world today who are enslaved. Every year 600,000 to 800,000 persons are trafficked across international borders. (US Department of State Trafficking in Persons Report, 2006)
In view of these statistics it is important that awareness and knowledge of children’s rights is
amplified in order to fully protect our children. Children are not only the future, but they are existing in the present. There is need to reinforce children’s rights for better development of children and securing the best interests of the child.
- By Takunda Mudyiwa