What are children’s rights?
Questions on this page:
What are international children’s rights?
Human rights are the basic standards that people need to live in dignity. All human beings are entitled to enjoy human rights. Human rights exist to make sure that we are treated properly and fairly, and given the freedom to develop to our full potential, and to promote our wellbeing.
In addition to the rights that are available to all people, there are rights that apply only to children. Children need special rights because of their unique needs – they need additional protection that adults don’t. The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child is an international document that sets out all of the rights that children have – a child is defined in the Convention as any person under the age of 18.
Governments can decide whether they will ratify the Convention, which means that the government agrees to make sure that all of these rights are available to children. The Convention on the Rights of the Child has been ratified by every country in the world, except for the United States and Somalia.
The UK Government ratified the Convention on 16 December 1991. This means that the Government must make sure that every child in the UK has the rights that are listed in the Convention. The Government can do this by passing laws or by taking other action, including making sure that the rights in the Convention are widely known in the UK.
What rights do children have?
The Convention on the Rights of the Child has 54 articles (sections), and most of these articles list a different right that children have, and different responsibilities that the Government, and others, have to make sure that children have these rights. This includes:
• Making sure that children are equal: The Government must make sure that all children have the rights in the Convention, regardless of their or their parent’s race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national, ethnic or social origin, property, disability, birth or other status (article 2).
• Children’s best interests: The Government must make sure that your best interests are taken into account when any decision is made which affects you. All organisations working with children should work in a way that is best for children (article 3).
• Parent’s rights and right to family life: The Government must respect the rights of your parents / family / carers to raise you, where they are raising you in a way that respects your rights (article 5). You also have the right to know and be cared for by your parents (article 5), and the government must make sure that you are not taken away from your parents against your will, unless this is in your best interests (it will be in a child’s best interests to be taken away from their family, for example, where they are being abused at home and are not safe living there) (articles 8 and 9).
Where you are separated from one or both of your parents (for example, where your parents have separated), the Government must make sure that you have contact with the parent you are separated from, unless this is not in your best interests (for example, where it might cause you harm to see your parent) (article 9).
For children who have parents living in different countries, the Government must make sure that you can stay in regular contact with both parents (article 10).
Parents or guardians have the responsibility to bring you up, and they should do this in a way that is in your best interests. The Government must give help to your parents where this is necessary to help them care for you properly (article 18).
• Right to have an identity: The Government must make sure you are registered at birth (i.e. that you have a birth certificate), and that you have a name and a nationality and that you know who your parents are (articles 7 and 8). Having your birth registered is important because it helps you to exercise your other rights (e.g. to get access to education, housing and other support if you need it, and will allow you to register to vote).
• Going abroad: The Government must make sure that children are not taken out of the UK illegally (article 11).
• Having your opinions heard: You must be given the chance to give your opinion when decisions are made that affect you, and the Government must make sure that these opinions are taken into account by the people making the decision (article 12).
• Freedom of expression and getting information: You must be able to get and share information with others, as long as this does not damage others (article 13). The Government must make sure that you can get information from many sources, like different papers and television and radio programmes, and must make sure that the media includes programmes and information that are relevant to children and do not harm you (article 17).
• Freedom of thought and religion: The Government must make sure that no one interferes with your opinions and your ability to do things that you want to do because of your religion, as long as this doesn’t cause you or anyone else any damage, or interferes with anyone else’s rights. Your parents are allowed to give you guidance on practicing your religion (article 14).
• Freedom to gather together and join organisations: You must be able to gather together with other people and to join organisations, as long a this does not cause anyone harm, or interfere with other people’s rights (article 15).
• Privacy: The Government must make sure that no one is able to interfere with your privacy or attack your honour or reputation (article 16).
• Protection from violence, exploitation, abuse, neglect and maltreatment: The Government must make sure you are protected from any type of physical or mental violence, injury or abuse, neglect, maltreatment or exploitation, including sexual abuse or exploitation, while you are living with your parents or in the care of anyone else (article 19). Special procedures must be set up to help you if you have been the victim of abuse.
• Health: The Government must make sure you are able to be as healthy as you can be, and that you are able to get health care when you need it. You must also be able to get clean water, nutritious food and live in a healthy environment. The Government must also make sure you can get information about staying healthy (article 24).
• Benefits: The Government must make sure that you and your parents or carers can get financial help when you need it (article 26).
• Standard of living: You have the right to a standard of living that is necessary for your physical, mental, spiritual, moral and social development. It is your parents’ responsibility to make sure you have these needs met, but the Government must help your parents by giving them support if they can’t afford to do this (article 27).
• Education: The Government must make sure you get a good quality education. This includes making sure that primary and high school is free and available to you, that you can attend school regularly and that schools don’t discipline you in a way that causes you harm and only in a way that respects your dignity (article 28). Your education should make sure you develop to your full potential and learn to respect human rights, your parents and the values, language and culture of the UK and other countries (article 29).
• Rest and leisure: The Government must make sure you have rest and leisure time, and can be involved in cultural activities (article 31).
• Work: The Government must make sure that you do not do any work that is harmful to you, or that interrupts your education (article 32).
• Drugs: The Government must protect you from using illegal drugs (article 33).
• Sexual abuse: The Government must protect you from any form of sexual abuse (article 34).
• Abduction: The Government must make sure you are not abducted, or sold (article 35).
• Harm to you: The Government must protect you from coming to any other type of harm or any actions that are bad for your welfare (article 36).
• Torture: The Government must make sure that you are never tortured or never treated in a way that is cruel, inhuman or degrading (article 37).
• Detention: The Government must not put you in detention except where this is a last resort and this must only be for the shortest amount of time. If you are put in detention after you break the law or for another reason (if you need mental health treatment, for example), you must be treated with respect and dignity and should never be locked up with adults. You must be able to contact your family and get a lawyer to help you (article 37).
• Joining the army: The Government must not let you join the army before you turn 15. You should get special protection in war zones (article 38).
• Recovery from abuse: If you have been the victim of abuse, the Government must make sure you are given help to recover (article 39).
There are also some additional rights for particular groups of children or for children in special circumstances.
• Children not living with their parents: If you are not living with your parents, or have had to be removed from your parents, the Government must make sure that you are cared for, and that you are given special assistance and protection (article 20). This can include, for example, making sure there are foster carers available.
If you are looked after by local authorities (e.g. in foster care) or put in a special facility to provide you special care or treatment for a physical or mental health problem, you must have someone review your situation regularly (article 25).
• Adoption: If you are going to be adopted, the Government must make sure that your best interests are the most important thing taken into account (article 21).
• Refugee children: If you have come from abroad and are a refugee, or are trying to be recognised as a refugee, the Government must give you protection and support in making sure you have the rights in the Convention, whether you have come to the UK with a family member or alone. If you have come to the UK alone, the Government must treat you the same as if you were any other child in the UK who cannot live with their parents (article 22). This means that the Government must make sure that you are cared for, and that you are given special assistance and protection (article 20). This can include, for example, making sure there are foster carers available.
• Children with disabilities: If you have a mental or physical disability, the Government must make sure that you are able to live a full and decent life and they must help you to do be able to do things independently, and be involved in the community. People who care for you must be given support if they need it (article 23).
• Children from minority groups: If you are from an ethnic, religious or linguistic minority group, the Government must make sure you are able to use the language and culture of your group (article 30).
• Children who have broken the law: If you have been accused of breaking the law, the Government must treat you with respect and dignity. You must be treated as innocent until you have been proved to be guilty, be told about why you have been arrested straight away, and be able to get help from your family and a lawyer (article 40).
How does the Government make sure children in the UK have rights?
In 1991, the UK Government agreed to make sure that children have all of the rights listed in the Convention on the Rights of the Child. The Government should make laws and do other activities, like educating people about children’s rights, to make sure that children’s rights are protected.
The Government has passed a law – the Human Rights Act 1998 – to protect human rights generally, but have not passed a law specifically on children’s rights. Some of the laws the Government have passed helps to protect your rights, like laws that say you must be given special help if you can’t live with your parents, for example, or laws that make discrimination illegal.
At the moment, the Government is considering passing a law – the Children and Families Bill – that would make sure that children’s rights are protected in the UK.
This page has been helpful to 655 people.