History of children's human rights

Children's rights are a relatively new concept. Although Human Rights  have been discussed since the 17th century, it was not until the 19th and 20th centuries that the rights of children began to be considered. Initially, discussion of children's rights tended primarily to be focussed more on protection rights e.g. outlawing child labour, rather than any concept that children were entitled to their own rights as equal citizens of the world.

At the beginning of the 20th century millions died in the First World War and many more were orphaned by the fighting. The League of Nations was formed after the war. As an inter-governmental organisation its aim was to try to protect basic human rights standards.

Around the same time Eglantyne Jebb, a British teacher, took action. Eglantyne Jebb helped found Save the Children and drafted the Declaration on the Rights of the Child which was subsequently adopted by the League of Nations. This was designed to put pressure on the post-war governments to protect children's rights.

In 1924 the League of Nations adopted the Geneva Declaration on the Rights of the Child. However with the rise of fascism leading to the Second World War, millions of children were again left unprotected – killed, gassed or orphaned.

The atrocities of the Second World War were the catalyst to setting up a way of internationally regulating human rights. In 1945 the United Nations adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Although the rights of children were implicitly included, many argued that the special needs of children justified an additional separate document.

In 1959 the United Nations General Assembly adopted a second Declaration of the Rights of the Child.

Meanwhile the United Nations Human Rights Commission group started to work on the draft of the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC). Non-governmental organisations were critical to the drafting of the Convention. It was not until nearly 30 years later in 1989 that work on the CRC was completed and the Convention was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly.

The UNCRC has the status of an international law. It is essentially a 'promise to all children' to respect, protect and fulfil all of their human rights. It one of the most comprehensive of all the human rights treaties containing a complete list of civil and political and social, cultural and economic rights. On the 2nd September 1990 the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child was entered into force. The United Kingdom ratified it in 1991 although they submitted certain reservations.

Children's rights milestones

  • 1924 - Geneva Declaration of the Rights of the Child adopted by the League of Nations
  • 1948 - Universal Declaration of Human Rights adopted by the UN
  • 1959 - Declaration of the Rights of the Child adopted by the UN
  • 1979 - International Year of the Child
  • 1989 - Convention on the Rights of the Child adopted by the UN
  • 1990 - World Summit for Children held at the UN
  • 1991 - UK ratified the UNCRC
  • 2000 - Optional protocols to the CRC are adopted by the UN, specifically On the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflicts, and On the Sale of Children, Child Prostitution and Child Pornography.
  • 2002 - A World Fit for Children is agreed to as a consensus document at the United Nations General Assembly Special Session for Children.

Useful Links

  • This video will give you a brief history of the UNCRC.
  • Funky Dragon
  • Historical perspective on Compass website
  • UNICEF rights site
  • Save the Children


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