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Is there a special set of rights for children and young people?

Yes, the special set of rights for children and young people (18 years old and younger) is called the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC). On the 20th November 1989, the United Nations (UN) approved the Convention on the Rights of the Child. It is now an international agreement that countries sign up to obey. Once countries ratify (agree to uphold) the convention they are legally bound to what it says. It is the most widely ratified Convention in the World.


A global consensus

SCY bases our work in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) because it reflects a well-researched global consensus on what childhood should be. It outlines the minimum standards for the healthy development of children and youth.


The UNCRC is comprehensive enough to inform:

  • Governments as they create laws and policies that affect children

  • Parents, caregivers, and families as they seek to raise their children or need to advocate on their behalf

  • Service providers

  • Civil society

  • Communities

  • Organizations


It has been ratified in Canada

The Convention on the Rights of the Child was adopted unanimously by the General Assembly of the United Nations in 1989. It was eagerly ratified through the next decade by almost every country of the world. Canada played a leading role in its development and ratified the Convention in 1991.


By ratifying the UNCRC, Canada expressed its willingness to be bound by the principles of the UNCRC. By signing this document, Canada is obliged to review their domestic laws and practices regarding children and to make any changes needed to reach the minimum standards set by the Convention.


A Convention is different
A Convention is not only a moral agreement, but also a legal one. A Convention elevates to that of full rights-bearing citizen. This is a new and important status for Canada’s children. No previous agreement has provided such standards for children’s rights. The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, often understood to apply to children, has very limited applicability. The Charter is limited to rights that protect against government action, and it does not cover many rights of relevance to childhood. The Convention is a landmark document in the history of childhood.


The Convention systematically articulates the rights of children
Children are defined as everyone under the age of 18 years. The rights are indivisible and inalienable—a child can neither give up nor lose his or her rights, regardless of behaviour, family context, or parental wishes. A child’s rights do not compete with the rights of adults, but are complimentary to the rights of adults.


How does the Convention define a child?

The Convention defines a child as a person below the age of 18, unless the laws of a particular country establish the legal age for adulthood as younger than 18.


Does the Convention address responsibilities?

With rights come responsibilities. The Convention outlines the following responsibilities:

  • For children: the responsibility to respect the rights of others.

  • For parents: to respect and provide for the rights of their children.

  • For governments: to support families and to respect and provide for the rights of children through laws, policies and special programs.


Why is a legal document describing children’s rights necessary?

According to UNICEF Canada, each day 35,000 children die from malnutrition and related diseases. Wars have killed 2 million and disabled 4 million children over the past 15 years. Seven million are growing up in refugee camps or temporary settlements. Some 80 million children between the ages of 10 and 14 work for low wages often in dangerous conditions. So, what does this mean for Canadians? Canada’s children are not immune to inadequate or inappropriate living conditions. Many of Canada’s children experience poverty, poor nutrition, physical, sexual or emotional abuse, neglect, and more mild forms of child labour. Many of our refugee and immigrant children have experienced the trauma of war. (Thank you to Cape Breton University's Child Rights Centre for giving permission for us to reproduce this question and answer.)


We have the Charter of Rights and Freedoms in Canada; why do we need something more?

The Canadian Charter of Rights and human rights laws apply to children; however, the only time children are specifically mentioned in the Charter is in reference to a child's right to receive an education in English or French.


But the Convention is important because for the first time, it explicitly recognizes children as rights holders expanding the list of rights, and in focusing on the needs of children specifically.


Do I have to memorize all the rights?
There are 54 articles and 2 optional protocols in the Convention that outlines child rights and obligations of the ‘duty bearers’ (all adults).


You don’t have to memorize all the different rights in order to understand and use child rights, a simple way to determine what rights children and youth have and how to exercise the rights is to know the 4 guiding principles:

  • Non-discrimination. These rights are for all children. Children and youth have the right to be treated without discrimination and have the right to be who they are.

  • Right to life, survival and development

  • Best interests of the child

  • Engaging children and youth by seeking their Participation in matters affecting them


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