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Convention on the Rights of the Child

The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child is an international convention setting out the civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights of children.

Most member nation states (countries) of the United Nations have ratified it, either partly or completely. The United Nations General Assembly agreed to adopt the Convention into international law on November 20 1989; it came into force in September 1990, after it was ratified by the required number of nations. The Convention generally defines a child as any person under the age of 18 years, unless an earlier age of majority is recognised by a country's law.

The Convention acknowledges that every child has certain basic rights, including the right to life, their own name and identity, to be raised by their parents within a family or cultural grouping and have a relationship with both of their parents even if separated.

The Convention obliges states to allow parents to exercise their parental responsibilities. The Convention also acknowledges that the child has the right to express its own opinions and to have those opinions heard and acted upon when appropriate, to be protected from abuse or exploitation, to have their privacy protected and requires that their lives not be subject to excessive interference.

The Convention also obliges signatory states to provide separate legal representation for a child in any judicial dispute concerning their care and asks that the child's viewpoint be heard in such cases. The Convention forbids capital punishment for children.

The Convention is child-centric and places the child's needs and rights first – ahead of the parents or others. It requires that states act in the best interests of the child. This approach is different to the common law approach found in many countries that had previously treated children and wives as possessions or chattels, ownership of which was often argued over in family disputes. In many jurisdictions, properly implementing the convention requires an overhaul of child custody and guardianship laws, or, at the very least, a creative approach within the existing laws.

The convention also has two Optional Protocols, adopted by the General Assembly in May 2002 and applicable to those states that have signed and ratified them. The Optional Protocol on the involvement of children in armed conflict came into force on February 12 2002. The Optional Protocol on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography came into force on January 18 2002.

Signatories

According to UNICEF, the convention has been ratified by 191 countries. Only Somalia and the United States have not ratified the CRC. Somalia is currently unable to proceed to ratification as it has no recognized government.

The United States, by signing the Convention, has signaled its intention to ratify – but has yet to do so. The United States undertakes an extensive examination and scrutiny of treaties before proceeding to ratify. This examination, which includes an evaluation of the degree of compatibility with existing law and practice in the country at state and federal levels, can take several years – or even longer if the treaty is portrayed as being controversial or if the process is politicized. In particular, the laws of several U.S. states authorizing execution of persons between the ages of 16 and 18 at the time of commission of the crime has been a major barrier to the USA's ratification of the Convention. It is uncertain what effect the 2005 Supreme Court decision in the case of Roper v. Simmons, prohibiting the execution of defendants who were minors at the time of commission of the crime, will have on the US ratification process.

See also: UNICEF, Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers, Child labor, Children's rights movement.

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