Tomorrow marks the 20th anniversary of the implementation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) – the first legally binding international pact for protecting children’s rights.
On November 20, 1989, member countries of the United Nations unanimously adopted the convention. So far, 193 countries – including every UN member except the United States and Somalia – have ratified the treaty.
The convention acknowledges that every child has basic rights, including the rights to life, to receive an education, and to be protected from violence, harmful employment, abuse, and exploitation, and to develop their full potential.
By ratifying the convention, governments agree to put this commitment into practice.
The treaty mainly demands governments draw up policies in the best interest of children, but also urges community groups and parents to uphold its values. It obliges them to provide people under the age of 18 with nutrition, clean water, sanitation and primary health care to minimise child illnesses.
They should also provide education to children, including girls, and uphold children’s freedom to express opinions.
The United Nations Children’s Fund (Unicef) was put in charge of safeguarding standards set out by the CRC.
Hong Kong ratified the convention in 1994 when Britain – which ruled the city at the time – extended its 1992 ratification of the pact to its dependent territories. China ratified the convention in 1991.
Dan Seymour, chief of the gender and rights unit of Unicef’s policy and practice division, said children’s rights had improved in both developed and developing countries over the past 20 years.
There were some notable examples, he said. These included South Africa’s prohibition of corporal punishment and development of a separate justice system for juveniles, and the creation by west African country Burkina Faso of a Children’s Parliament to review proposed legislation.
But Seymour noted there are challenges ahead. 'Too many children are considered to be the property of adults, and are subjected to various forms of abuse and exploitation,' he said.