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Convention of the Rights of the Child

In 1989, the United Nations held a Convention on the Rights of the Child, which was the first legally binding treaty of international law to protect the rights of the child. The principles that were adopted hold member countries responsible for creating national and local legislation that align with the international law.

Since its ratification, 193 member countries have taken steps to comply with the law. For example, the Russian Federation established juvenile and family courts, which had not existed before, and Finland developed a plan for more early childhood education and programs that minimize social exclusion of children. Other countries, such as Eritrea, created penal codes to punish parents who abused or neglected their children. Even non-member states, like the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA), a rebel group in southern Sudan, have accepted this treaty. The only two countries who have not signed the Convention are Somalia and the United States. Somalia lacks a recognized government, which is why they have not signed the treaty. The United States has indicated it intends to ratify the treaty; however they have not yet done so for complicated legal and political reasons.

The Convention itself outlines 54 articles and two optional protocols, all of which detail the basic human rights of people under the age of 18 years. The basic rights are 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. While there are many articles that relate to these basic rights in the Convention, a significant proportion of them relate directly to parenting.

For example:

  • Article 9 (separation from parents) states that children who do not have parents who live together have a right to stay in contact with both parents unless it might hurt the child.

  • Article 11 (kidnapping) states that governments should take step to prevent children from being taken out of their country illegally, particularly in cases of parental abduction when a parent takes their child without the other parent’s consent.

The articles in the Convention were negotiated and reached by consensus over a ten year period by government and non-governmental officials, human rights advocates, attorneys, mental and physical health professionals, educators, child development experts, and religious leaders from all over the world. The Convention offers a reference point, or standard by which countries can be compared as to how well they are meeting the rights of the child. A Committee on the Rights of the Child helps to monitor the implementation of laws and programs, and to monitor compliance.

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