Today is the 30th anniversary of the signing of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. 30 years ago, I was a young and idealistic teacher, working in a primary school in Lichfield, Staffordshire. I remember reading about the Convention at the time and thinking how surprising it was that no-one had considered it important to set down the rights of children before.
Now, I’m older. But I’m still idealistic. I continue to believe that those 54, densely worded articles remain essential to humanity. I continue to believe that all civilised nations should commit to making the Convention a reality. And I continue to believe that I (and others) should fight for the rights of children around the world, without discrimination, whatever their ethnicity, gender, religion, language, abilities or any other status, whatever they think or say, whatever their family background.
The Convention must be seen as a whole: all the rights are linked and no right is more important than another. The right to relax and play (Article 31) and the right to freedom of expression (Article 13) have equal importance as the right to be safe from violence (Article 19) and the right to education (Article 28). But there are four articles in the convention that are seen as special. They’re known as the “General Principles” and they help to interpret all the other articles and play a fundamental role in realising all the rights in the Convention for all children. They are:
- Non-discrimination (article 2)
- Best interest of the child (article 3)
- Right to life survival and development (article 6)
- Right to be heard (article 12)
If you aren’t familiar with the Convention, download and read a summary of it it now. It’s the most widely ratified human rights treaty in the world – it’s even been accepted by non-state entities, such as the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA), a rebel movement in South Sudan. All UN member states except for the United States have ratified the Convention. The Convention came into force in the UK in 1992.
There is still so much to do to make those rights a reality for all children. But much has been achieved. Happy 30th anniversary.