Children’s rights are the human rights of children with particular attention to the rights of special protection and care afforded to minors, including their right to association with both parents, human identity as well as the basic needs for food, universal state-paid education, health care and criminal laws appropriate for the age and development of the child, equal protection of the child’s civil rights, and freedom from discrimination on the basis of the child’s race, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, national origin, religion, disability, color, ethnicity, or other characteristics. Interpretations of children’s rights range from allowing children the capacity for autonomous action to the enforcement of children being physically, mentally and emotionally free from abuse, though what constitutes “abuse” is a matter of debate. Other definitions include the rights to care and nurturing.
“A child is any human being below the age of eighteen years, unless under the law applicable to the child, majority is attained earlier.” According to Cornell University, a child is a person, not a subperson. The term “child” often, but does not necessarily, mean minor, but can include adult children as well as adult nondependent children. There are no definitions of other terms used to describe young people such as “adolescents”, “teenagers,” or “youth” in international law, but the children’s rights movement is considered distinct from the youth rights movement.
The field of children’s rights spans the fields of law, politics, religion, and morality.
Children have two types of human rights under international human rights law. Firstly, they have the same fundamental general human rights as adults, although some human rights, such as the right to marry, are dormant until they are of age, Secondly, they have special human rights that are necessary to protect them during their minority. General rights operative in childhood include the right to security of the person, to freedom from inhuman, cruel, or degrading treatment, and the right to special protection during childhood. Particular human rights of children include, among other rights, the right to life, the right to a name, the right to express his views in matters concerning the child, the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion, the right to health care, the right to protection from economic and sexual exploitation, and the right to education.
Children’s rights are defined in numerous ways, including a wide spectrum of civil, cultural, economic, social and political rights. Rights tend to be of two general types: those advocating for children as autonomous persons under the law and those placing a claim on society for protection from harms perpetrated on children because of their dependency. These have been labeled as the right of empowerment and as the right to protection. One Canadian organization categorizes children’s rights into three categories:
Provision: Children have the right to an adequate standard of living, health care, education and services, and to play and recreation. These include a balanced diet, a warm bed to sleep in, and access to schooling.
Protection: Children have the right to protection from abuse, neglect, exploitation and discrimination. This includes the right to safe places for children to play; constructive child rearing behavior, and acknowledgment of the evolving capacities of children.
Participation: Children have the right to participate in communities and have programs and services for themselves. This includes children’s involvement in libraries and community programs, youth voice activities, and involving children as decision-makers.
In a similar fashion, the Child Rights Information Network, or CRIN for short, categorizes rights into two groups:
Economic, social and cultural rights, related to the conditions necessary to meet basic human needs such as food, shelter, education, health care, and gainful employment. Included are rights to education, adequate housing, food, water, the highest attainable standard of health, the right to work and rights at work, as well as the cultural rights of minorities and indigenous peoples. Environmental, cultural and developmental rights, which are sometimes called “third generation rights,” and including the right to live in safe and healthy environments and that groups of people have the right to cultural, political, and economic development.
Amnesty International openly advocates four particular children’s rights, including the end to juvenile incarceration without parole, an end to the recruitment of military use of children, ending the death penalty for people under 21, and raising awareness of human rights in the classroom.Human Rights Watch, an international advocacy organization, includes child labor, juvenile justice, orphans and abandoned children, refugees, street children and corporal punishment.
Scholarly study generally focuses children’s rights by identifying individual rights. The following rights “allow children to grow up healthy and free”:
Freedom of speech
Freedom of thought
Freedom from fear
Freedom of choice and the right to make decisions
Ownership over one’s body
The United Nations’ 1989 Convention on the Rights of the Child, or CRC, is the first legally binding international instrument to incorporate the full range of human rights—civil, cultural, economic, political and social rights. Its implementation is monitored by the Committee on the Rights of the Child. National governments that ratify it commit themselves to protecting and ensuring children’s rights, and agree to hold themselves accountable for this commitment before the international community. The CRC is the most widely ratified human rights treaty with 190 ratifications. Somalia and the USA are the only two countries which have not ratified the CRC. The CRC is based on four core principles, namely the principle of non discrimination, the best interests of the child, the right to life, survival and development, and considering the views of the child in decisions which affect them (according to their age and maturity). The CRC, along with international criminal accountability mechanisms such as the International Criminal Court, the Yugoslavia and Rwanda Tribunals, and the Special Court for Sierra Leone, is said to have significantly increased the profile of children’s rights worldwide.