Convention on the Rights of the Child
Opened for signatureNovember 20, 1989 in -
Entered into forceSeptember 2, 1990
Conditions for entry into force20 ratifications or accessions (Article 49)
Parties193 (two non-parties: United States and Somalia)

The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, often referred to as CRC or UNCRC, is an international convention setting out the civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights of children. Nations that ratify this international convention are bound by it by international law. Compliance is monitored by the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child which is composed of members from countries around the world. Once a year, the Committee submits a report to the Third Committee of the United Nations General Assembly, which also hears a statement from the CRC Chair, and the Assembly adopts a Resolution on the Rights of the Child.[1]

Governments of countries that have ratified the Convention are required to report to, and appear before, the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child periodically to be examined on their progress with regards to the advancement of the implementation of the Convention and the status of child rights in their country. Their reports and the committee's written views and concerns are available on the committee's website.

All member nation states (countries) of the United Nations, except the United States and Somalia,[2] have ratified it. The United Nations General Assembly agreed to adopt the Convention into international law as an advisory resolution on November 20 1989; it came into force on September 2, 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, unless an earlier age of majority is recognized by a country's law.


The Convention deals with the child-specific needs and rights. It requires that states act in the best interests of the child. This approach is different from 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 acknowledges that every child has certain basic rights, including the right to life, his or her own name and identity, to be raised by his or her parents within a family or cultural grouping and have a relationship with both parents, even if they are separated.

The Convention obliges states to allow parents to exercise their parental responsibilities. The Convention also acknowledges that children have the right to express their 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 also has two optional protocols, adopted by the General Assembly in May 2000 and applicable to those states that have signed and ratified them: The Optional Protocol on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict and the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the Sale of Children, Child Prostitution and Child Pornography.

David Smolin argues that Article 5, which insists that signatories should respect the rights of children or other guardians to "provide, in a manner consistent with the evolving capacities of the child, appropriate direction and guidance in the exercise by the child of the rights recognized in the present Convention"[3], "is couched in language which seems to reduce the parental role to that of giving advice".[4] The Campaign for U.S. Ratification of the Convention on the Rights of the Child argues that the Convention protects parental responsibility from government interference.[5]

Verhellen describes the growing tensions between human rights and separate children's rights and the way this conflict is handled in Europe.[6][clarify]

Stuart Birks states that the Convention may be interpreted to support a rebuttable presumption for shared parenting in the case of divorce or separation.[7]

State parties and signatoriesEdit

According to Amnesty International, 193 states are party to the Convention [8], including almost all the members of the United Nations, apart from the United States and Somalia.

Canada Edit

Canada has ratified the Convention but has not fully implemented the Convention in Canadian domestic laws. The Canadian Children's Rights Council has a full section with related parliamentary references on the implementation of the Convention in Canada.[9]

Youth criminal laws in Canada underwent major changes resulting in the Youth Criminal Justice Act (YCJA) which went into effect on April 1, 2003. [10]

In 1989, the Canadian House of Commons voted unanimously to pass a non-binding resolution to end child poverty by the year 2000. However, the child poverty rate did not change between 1989 and 2000; 16% of Canadian children still live in poverty. [11]


The Republic of Ireland signed the Convention on the Rights of the Child on 30 September 1990 and ratified it, without reservation, on 21 September 1992.[12] In response to criticisms expressed in the 1998 review by the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child in Geneva, the Irish government established the office of Ombudsman for Children and drew up a national children's strategy. In 2006, following concerns expressed by the committee that the wording of the Irish Constitution does not allow the State to intervene in cases of abuse other than in very exceptional cases, the Irish government undertook to amend the constitution to make a more explicit commitment to children's rights.[13]

Saudi ArabiaEdit

Saudi Arabia ratified the Convention in 1996 and considers it to be a valid source of domestic law. The Committee on the Rights of the Child, which reviewed Saudi Arabia’s treatment of children under the Convention in January 2005, strongly condemned the government for its practice of imposing the death penalty on juveniles, calling it "a serious violation of the fundamental rights". The committee said it was “deeply alarmed” over the discretionary power judges hold to treat children as adults: In its 2004 report the Saudi Arabia government had stated that it "never imposes capital punishment on persons... below the age of 18". However the government delegation later acknowledged that a judge could impose the death penalty whenever he decided that the convicted person had reached his or her majority, regardless of the person’s actual age at the time of the crime or at the time of the scheduled execution.[14]

United Kingdom Edit

The United Kingdom ratified the Convention on 16 December 1991, with several declarations and reservations,[15] and made its first report to the Committee on the Rights of the Child in January 1995. Concerns raised by the Committee included the growth in child poverty and inequality, the extent of violence towards children, the use of custody for young offenders, the low age of criminal responsibility, and the lack of opportunities for children and young people to express views.[16] The 2002 report of the Committee expressed similar concerns, including the welfare of children in custody, unequal treatment of asylum seekers, and the negative impact of poverty on children's rights. There was much attention in the media to the criticism of UK parent's rights to hit their children as 'a serious violation of the dignity of the child'.[17]

United States Edit

The United States has signed the Convention, but not completed the ratification processes.[18] On February 16, 1995, Madeleine Albright, at the time the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, signed the Convention. Though generally supportive of the Convention, President Bill Clinton did not submit it to the Senate for its advice and consent. [19]

Opposition to ratification Edit

The United States has not so far ratified the CRC, in part due to possible conflicts with U.S. law and because of opposition by some political and religious conservatives to the treaty.[20]

The administration of President George W. Bush has explicitly stated its opposition to the treaty:

"The Convention on the Rights of the Child may be a positive tool for promoting child welfare for those countries that have adopted it. But we believe the text goes too far when it asserts entitlements based on economic, social and cultural rights. ... The human rights-based approach ... poses significant problems as used in this text." [21]

Active opposition to the Convention in the United States has been concentrated in politically conservative groups.[22] Senator Jesse Helms, the former chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, described it as a "bag of worms," an effort to "chip away at the U.S. Constitution."[23]

Legal concerns over ratification have mostly focused on issues of sovereignty and federalism.[24] The United States generally does not sign treaties that it believes would impair its sovereignty.[25] Most United States laws for the protection of children are state rather than federal laws, and the Tenth Amendment to the United States Constitution restricts some of the authority of the United States government to pass legislation or ratify treaties that will protect children. The U.S. Constitution not only limits federal jurisdiction over children, the Supreme Court has held that to some significant degree, no government—federal, state, or local—may interfere with the parent-child relationship.[26][27].

The Heritage Foundation sees the conflict as an issue of national control over domestic policy: "Although not originally promoted as an entity that would become involved in actively seeking to shape member states’ domes­tic policies, the U.N. has become increasingly intrusive in these arenas."[28] They express concern about "sovereign jurisdiction over domes­tic policymaking and preserving the freedom of American civil society",[29] and argue that the actual practice of some UN Committees has been to review national policies that are unrelated, or are marginally related to the actual language of the Convention.[30] Supporters of homeschooling express concern that the Convention will "subvert the authority of parents to exercise important responsibilities toward their children. Under the UN Convention, parental responsibility exists only in so far as parents are willing to further the independent choices of the child."[31]

David Smolin argues that the objections from the religious and political conservatives stem from their view that the U.N. is an elitist institution, which they do not trust to properly handle sensitive decisions regarding family issues.[32] He suggests that legitimate concerns of critics could be met with appropriate reservations by the U.S. [33]

Support for ratificationEdit

The Campaign for U.S. Ratification of the Convention on the Rights of the Child argues that ratification "would establish a useful framework from which our leaders could create cost-effective and comprehensive policies and programs that address the specific needs of children and families."[34] World Vision, which is a large evangelical Christian relief NGO, has supported ratification of the Convention.[35] Smolin states that this support is probably more typical of worldwide evangelical Christian opinion because, globally, Christians who seek to help the "vulnerable, poor, needy, and oppressed...apparently find more inspiration than fear in the words of the CRC." [36] Other organisations which have supported ratification include Church World Service[37], the National Spiritual Assembly of the Baha'is of the United States[38], Church Women United[39], and the National Council of Churches.[40]

Conflicts with U.S. lawEdit

Article 37 of the Convention prohibits sentencing of juveniles to life imprisonment with no opportunity for parole. Laws in several U.S. states conflict this article.

David Smolin argues that Article 29 limits the right of parents and others to educate children in private school, by requiring that all such schools support the principles contained in the United Nations Charter and a list of specific values and ideals, and argues that "Supreme Court case law has provided that a combination of parental rights and religious liberties provide a broader right of parents and private schools to control the values and curriculum of private education free from State interference."[41]


  1. [1]
  3. Convention on the Rights of the Child, Nov. 20, 1989, 1577 U.N.T.S. 3
  4. David M. Smolin, Overcoming Religious Objections to the Convention on the Rights of the Child, 81, 90 Emory International Law Review, Vol. 20 (2006).
  5. Campaign for U.S. Ratification of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, CRC FAQs - Myths and Facts
  6. Convention on the Rights of the Child: Background, Motivation, Strategies, Main Themes. Third Edition. Eugeen Verhellen. 2000. Chapter 7.
  7. Birks, Stuart (June 2002). INCLUSION OR EXCLUSION II:WHY THE FAMILY COURT PROTESTS?". Centre for Public Policy Evaluation College of Business, Massey University. Retrieved on 2007-04-13.
  8. Children's Rights [2]
  9. Canadian Children's Rights Council [3]
  10. Canadian Children's Rights Council [4]
  11. Canadian Children's Rights Council [5]
  12. Children's Rights Alliance website
  13. Carl O'Brien, "UN to seek changes in Constitution in support of children", Irish Times, 28 September 2006.
  14. Human Rights Watch, Saudi Arabia: Follow U.N. Call to End Juvenile Death Penalty, January 2006 [6]
  15. Nick Frost, Child Welfare: Major Themes In Health And Social Welfare, Taylor and Francis (2004), page 175.
  16. Martin Davies, The Blackwell Encyclopaedia of Social Work, page 354.
  17. Colin J. Harvey, Human Rights In The Community: Rights As Agents For Change, Hart Publishing (2005), page 234.
  18. Smolin, Overcoming Religious Objections. [7] [8] [9]
  20. Smolin, Overcoming Religious Objections [10] [11] [12]
  21. News Article [13]
  22. Smolin, Overcoming Religious Objections to the Convention on the Rights of the Child, page 83. [14]
  23. T. Jeremy Gunn, The Religious Right and the Opposition to U.S. Ratification of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, page 117.[15]
  24. Suffer the Children?: A Call for United States Ratification of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. Lainie Rutkow and Joshua T. Lozman. Harvard Human Rights Review, Vol. 19, Spring 2006. ISSN 1057-5057.
  25. Suffer the Children?: A Call for United States Ratification of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. Lainie Rutkow and Joshua T. Lozman. Harvard Human Rights Review, Vol. 19, Spring 2006. ISSN 1057-5057.
  26. in Pierce v. Society of Sisters 268 U.S. 510 (1925)
  27. Meyer 262 U.S. 390 (1923)
  31. Oppose the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child
  32. Smolin, Overcoming Religious Objections [16]
  33. Smolin, Overcoming Religious Objections, 110 at [17]
  34. The Campaign for U.S. Ratification of the Convention on the Rights of the Child brief on the Convention
  35. World Vision, Here we stand: World Vision and child rights (2nd edition), 17 Dec 2007
  36. Smolin, Overcoming Religious Objections, 109 at [18]
  37. [19]
  38. National Spiritual Assembly of the Baha'is of the United States
  39. Church Women United
  40. National Council of Churches of Christ in the USA, Resolution on the 50th Anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights
  41. Smolin, Overcoming Religious Objections, Article 29, 104 at [20] - See Susan H. Bitensky, Educating the Child for a Productive Life, in Children's Rights in America 181 (Cynthia Price Cohen & Howard A. Davidson eds., 1990) (referring to fundamentalist curriculum used in some private religious schools which evidences hostility toward the United Nations). Relevant cases include Runyon v. McCrary, 427 U.S. 160 (1976); Wisconsin v. Yoder, 406 U.S. 205 (1972); Pierce v. Society of Sisters, 268 U.S. 510 (1925); Meyer v. Nebraska, 262 U.S. 390 (1923).

External linksEdit