Convention on the Rights of the Child: The Vital Role of NGOs

Students in Mali (UN Photo/Marco Dormino)

When the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) was unanimously adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on November 20, 1989, governments took a major step forward in establishing a framework of world law to protect the basic dignity and rights of children in all parts of the world. 

On November 20, we remember with gratitude those who worked to develop the concepts and reality of the Rights of the Child, but also to measure the tasks that are before us. This year the CRC saw major progress in the form of ratification by South Sudan and Somalia, which leaves the United States as the only country absent.

This universal framework is based on the principle that each child should have the possibility to develop into an active and responsible member of society. The way in which a society treats its children reflects not only its qualities of compassion and protective caring, but also its sense of justice, its commitment to the future and its urge to better the human condition for continuing generations.

TheCRC covers a wide range of human rights, which can be summarized as the three Ps: provision, protection and participation.

  • Each child has the right to be provided with certain things and services, such as name, nationality, health care, and education.
  • Each child has a right to be protected from certain acts such as torture, exploitation, arbitrary detention, and unwarranted removal from parental care. 
  • Each child has a right to participate in decisions affecting their lives as well as in community life.

The Convention on the Rights of the Childis meant to provide guidance for governments to review national legislation and policies in their child-related initiatives. It is by examining national law and policy and the effectiveness of government structures and mechanisms that progress can be measured. The Conventionalso provides a framework of goals for the vital activities of NGOs. NGOs work on two lines simultaneously: to remind governments of their obligations through approaches to ministries, elected officials and the media and to undertake their own operational efforts.

To help governments to fulfill their obligations and to review national practices, a Committee on the Rights of the Child was created, as called for in article 43 of the Convention. The Committee is composed of 10 independent experts elected for a four-year term by States that have ratified the Convention. The Committee usually meets three times a year for a month in Geneva to review and discuss reports submitted once every four years by governments. The sessions of the Committee are largely carried out in a non-confrontational dialogue with an emphasis on “unmet needs.” The discussion usually lasts 6-9 hours for each country. The Committee members receive information and suggestions from NGOs in advance. Members ask many questions and, based on the government's responses, make suggestions for improving the promotion and protection of children's rights in the country.

By creating a common legal framework of world law, the Convention on the Rights of the Childhas increased levels of governmental accountability, brought about legislative and institutional reforms, and increased international cooperation.  As James P. Grant, then UNICEF Executive Director said,

Transcending its detailed provisions, the Convention on the Rights of the Child embodies the fundamental principle that the lives and the normal development of children should have first call on society's concerns and capacities and that children should be able to depend upon the commitment in good times and in bad, in normal times and in times of emergency, in times of peace and in times of war, in times of prosperity and in times of recession.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this blog post do not necessarily reflect the official policy of Citizens for Global Solutions.

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