Frequently Asked Questions
 
1. What is the Convention on the Rights of the Child? 
2. Why is a document describing children's rights necessary? 
3. How does the Convention define a 'child'? 
4. Will the Convention on the Rights of the Child replace the laws in a particular country? 
5. Who checks to see if countries are meeting the standards set by the Convention? 
6. Does the Convention on the Rights of the Child take responsibility for children away from their parents, and give more authority to governments? 
7. Article 12 says that children have the right to express their views in all matters affecting them.  Does this mean that children can now tell their parents what to do? 
8. Will the Convention on the Rights of the Child affect the way that parents pass on religious and moral teachings to their children? 
9. In other words, the Convention encourages respect for others along with children's rights? 
10. Can children still be expected to help their parents with chores? 
11. What does the Convention on the Rights of the Child say about the ways parents discipline their children? 
12. Will the Convention on the Rights of the Child affect authority and discipline in schools? 
13. Doesn't the Convention on the Rights of the Child raise rights issues that children are too young to understand? 
 
 
 
1. What is the Convention on the Rights of the Child? 

     The Convention on the Rights of the Child, adopted by the United Nations in 1989, spells out the basic human rights to which children everywhere are entitled: the right to survival; the right to the development of their full physical and mental potential; the right to protection from influences that are harmful to their development; and the right to participation in family, cultural and social life. 
     The Convention protects these rights by setting minimum standards that governments must meet in providing health care, education, and legal and social services to children in their countries. 
     The Convention is the result of 10 years of consultations and negotiations between government officials, lawyers, health care professionals, social workers, educators, children's support groups, non-governmental organizations and religious groups from around the world. 
     More countries have ratified the Convention than any other human rights treaty in history -- 177 countries had become States Parties to the Convention as of 15 August 1995. 
 

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2. Why is a document describing children's rights necessary? 

     Although many nations have laws relating to children's rights, the reality is that too many nations do not live up to their own minimum standards in these areas. Children suffer from poverty, homelessness, abuse, neglect, preventable diseases, unequal access to education, and justice systems that do not recognize their special needs; children of minority groups are often particularly affected. These are problems that occur in both industrialized and developing countries. 
     The Convention on the Rights of the Child and its acceptance by so many countries has heightened recognition of the fundamental human dignity of all children and the urgency of ensuring their well-being and development.  The Convention makes clear the idea that a basic quality of life should be the right of all children, rather than a privilege enjoyed by a few. 
 

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3. How does the Convention define a 'child'? 

     The Convention defines a 'child' as a person below the age of 18, unless the laws of a particular country set the legal age for adulthood as younger than 18. 
 

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4. Will the Convention on the Rights of the Child replace the laws in a particular country? 

     When countries ratify the Convention, they agree to review their laws relating to children. This involves assessing their social services, legal, health and educational systems, as well as levels of funding for these services.  Governments are then obliged to take all necessary steps to ensure that the minimum standards set by the Convention in these areas are being met. 
     In some instances, this may involve changing existing laws or creating new ones.  Such legislative changes are not imposed from the outside, but come about through the same process by which any law is created or reformed within a country. 
     A number of these standards for children's rights and well-being already exist in the constitutions and legal systems of countries around the world.  Where a country has higher legal standards than those set forth in the Convention, the higher standards always prevail. 

What the Convention says: 

  • States Parties shall undertake all appropriate legislative, administrative, and other measures for the implementation of the rights recognized in the present Convention.  With regard to economic, social and cultural rights, States Parties shall undertake such measures to the maximum extent of their available resources and, where needed, within the framework of international co-operation. (Art. 4) 
 
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5. Who checks to see if countries are meeting the standards set by the Convention? 

     Governments that ratify the Convention must report to the Committee on the Rights of the Child.  Reports on the situation of children's rights in their country are made within two years of ratification, and every five years thereafter. 
     The Committee is made up of 10 members from different countries and legal systems who are of "high moral standing" and experts in the field of children's rights. They are nominated and elected by the governments that have ratified the Convention but act in a personal capacity, not as representatives of their countries. 
     It is important to remember that the Convention focuses primarily on what governments, rather than individuals, must do to ensure children's rights. The Committee on the Rights of the Child setting and meeting the Convention's standards for the well-being of children and families. 
     The Committee does not monitor the behavior of individual parents.  Nor does the Committee receive complaints from citizens, including children, against individual parents. 
 

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6. Does the Convention on the Rights of the Child take responsibility for children away from their parents, and give more authority to governments? 

     On the contrary, the Convention upholds the primary importance of parents' role and refers to it repeatedly throughout the document. It says that governments must respect the responsibility of parents for providing appropriate guidance to their children, including guidance as to how children shall exercise their rights.  And it places on governments the responsibility to protect and assist families in fulfilling their essential role as nurturers of children. 

What the Convention says: 

  • States Parties shall respect the responsibilities, rights and duties of parents.., 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. (Art. 5) 
  • States Parties shall use their best efforts to ensure recognition of the principle that both parents have common responsibilities for the upbringing and development of the child.  Parents or, as the case may be, legal guardians, have the primary responsibility for the upbringing and development of the child... (Art. 18. 1) 
  • States Parties shall render appropriate assistance to parents and legal guardians in the performance of their child-rearing responsibilities and shall ensure the development of institutions, facilities and services for the care of children. (Art. 18.2) 
 
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7. Article 12 says that children have the right to express their views in all matters affecting them.  Does this mean that children can now tell their parents what to do? 

     No, the intent of this article is to encourage adults to listen to the opinions of children and involve them in decision-making -- not to give children authority over adults. Article 12 does not interfere with parents' right and responsibility to express their views on matters affecting their children. 
     In promoting the right of children to express their views on matters affecting them, the Convention recognizes that such participation must occur in a manner that is appropriate to the child's level of maturity. Children's ability to form and express their opinions develops with age, and most adults will naturally give the views of teenagers greater weight than those of a preschooler, whether in family, legal or administrative decisions. 
     The emphasis of this article is on legal and administrative issues. The Convention encourages parents, judges, social welfare workers or other responsible adults to consider the child's views on such matters, and use that information to make decisions that will be in the child's best interests, in many countries, laws requiring consideration of children's opinions on such issues already exist. 

What the Convention says: 

  • States Parties shall assure to the child who is capable of forming his or her own views the right to express those views freely in all matters affecting the child, the views of the child being given due weight in accordance with the age and maturity of the child. (Art. 12. 1) 
  • For this purpose, the child shall in particular be provided the opportunity to be heard in any judicial and administrative proceedings affecting the child... (Art. 12.2 ) 
 
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8. Will the Convention on the Rights of the Child affect the way that parents pass on religious and moral teachings to their children? 

     The Convention respects the rights and duties of parents in providing religious and moral guidance to their children.  Religious groups around the world have expressed support for the Convention, which indicates that it in no way prevents parents from bringing their children up within a religious tradition. 
     At the same time, the Convention recognizes that as children mature and are able to form their own views, some may question certain religious practices or cultural traditions. The Convention supports children's right to examine their beliefs, but it also states that their right to express their beliefs implies respect for the rights and freedoms of others. 

What the Convention says: 

  • States Parties shall respect the right of the child to freedom of thought, conscience and religion. (Art. 74. ?) 
  • States Parties shall respect the rights and duties of the parents to provide direction to the child in the exercise of his or her right in a manner consistent with the evolving capacities of the child. (Art. 14.2) 
  • Freedom to manifest one's religion or beliefs may be subject only to such limitations as are prescribed by la w and are necessary to protect public safety, order, health or morals, or the fundamental rights and freedoms of others. (Art. 14.3) 
 
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9. In other words, the Convention encourages respect for others along with children's rights? 

     Yes, the Convention is explicit about the fact that young people not only have rights, but also the responsibility to respect the rights of others, especially of their parents. It states that one of the aims of education should be the development of respect for the child's parents, and their values and culture. Rather than creating conflict between the rights of parentts and the rights of children, the Convention encourages an atmosphere conducive to dialogue and mutual respect. 
     The issue of respect for others appears in several articles. For example, the Convention states that children have the right to freedom of expression, and the right to meet with others or to form associations. But it stipulates that in exercising these rights, they must also respect the rights, freedoms and reputations of others. 

What the Convention says: 

  • States Parties agree that the education of the child shall be directed to.., the development of respect for the child's parents, his or her own cultural identity, language and values, for the national values of the country in which the child is living, the country from which he or she may originate, and for civilizations different from his or her own. (Art. 29. Ic) 
  • The child shall have the right to freedom of expression., The exercise of this right may be subject to certain restrictions, but these shall only be such as are provided by law and are necessary... for respect of the rights or reputations of others... (Art. 13.1 and 2a) 
  • States Parties recognize the rights of the child to freedom of association and to freedom of peaceful assembly. No restrictions may be placed on the exercise of these rights other than those imposed in conformity with the law and which are necessary... in the interests of... the protection of public health or morals or the protection of the rights and freedoms of others. (Art. 75.1 and 2) 
 
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10. Can children still be expected to help their parents with chores? 

     The Convention protects children from work that is hazardous to their health or interferes with their education. It was never intended to regulate smaller details of home life, and there is nothing in the Convention that prohibits parents from expecting their children to help out at home in ways that are safe and appropriate to their age. 
     At times, children's help can also be essential in the running of a family farm or business. However, if they involve their children in such work, parents must be aware of the laws that regulate child labor in their countries. If children help out in a family farm or business, the Convention requires that the tasks they do be safe and suited to their level of development.  Children's work should not jeopardize any of the other rights guaranteed by the Convention, including the right to education, or the right to rest, leisure, play and recreation. 
     When these conditions are met, helping their parents at home or in a business can be a way for children to learn about the increasing responsibilities they will have as they grow older. 

What the Convention says: 

  • States Parties recognize the right of the child to be protected from economic exploitation and from performing any work that is likely to be hazardous or to interfere with the child's education, or to be harmful to the child's health or physical, mental, spiritual, moral or social development. (Art. 32.1) 
  • States Parties recognize the right of the child to rest and leisure, to engage in play and recreational activities appropriate to the age of the child and to participate freely in cultural life and the arts. (Art 31. 1) 
 
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11. What does the Convention on the Rights of the Child say about the ways parents discipline their children? 

     The Convention makes it clear that children shall be protected from all forms of mental or physical violence or maltreatment. Thus, any forms of discipline involving such violence are unacceptable. In most countries, laws are already in place that define what sorts of punishments are considered excessive or abusive. It is up to each country to review these laws in light of the Convention. 
     The Convention does not specify what discipline techniques parents should use, but it strongly supports parents in providing guidance and direction to their children.  There are ways to discipline children that are non-violent, are appropriate to the child's level of development, and take the best interests of the child into consideration. Such forms of discipline are effective in helping children learn about family and social expectations for their behavior. 

What the Convention says: 

  • States Parties shall take all appropriate measures to protect the child from all forms of physical or mental violence, injury or abuse.., while in the care of parent(s), legal guardian(s) or any other person who has the care of the child. (Art. 79. 7) 
  • Such protective measures should, as appropriate, include effective procedures for the establishment of social programs to provide necessary support for the child and for those who have the care of the child, as well as for other forms of prevention... (Art.19.2) 
 
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12. Will the Convention on the Rights of the Child affect authority and discipline in schools? 

The Convention places a high value on education, devoting two articles to this issue. And common sense would indicate that schools must be run in an orderly way if children are to benefit from them. But order need not be imposed through the use of violence. 
     The Convention specifies that any form of school discipline should take into account the child's human dignity.  Therefore, governments must ensure that school administrators review their discipline policies, and eliminate any discipline practices involving physical or mental violence, abuse or neglect. 
     The Convention does not address such issues as school uniforms, dress codes, the singing of the national anthem or prayer in schools. It is up to governments and school officials in each country to determine whether, in the context of their society and existing laws, such matters infringe upon other rights protected by the Convention. 

What the Convention says: 

  • States Parties shall take all appropriate measures to ensure that school discipline is administered in a manner consistent with the child's human dignity and in conformity with the present Convention. (Art. 28.2) 
 
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13. Doesn't the Convention on the Rights of the Child raise rights issues that children are too young to understand? 

     Children's interest in rights issues, and the way in which parents handle those issues, will vary depending on the age of the child.  Helping children to understand their rights does not mean pushing them to make choices with consequences they are too young to handle. The Convention encourages parents to deal with rights issues with their children "... in a manner consistent with the evolving capacities of the child..." (Art. 5). 
     Parents, who are intuitively aware of their child's level of development, will do this naturally.  The issues they discuss, the way in which they answer questions, or the discipline methods they use will differ depending on whether the child is three, nine or sixteen years of age. 
     When parents help their children to understand both rights and responsibilities, and to respect the rights of others, they lay the foundation for responsible adulthood.  They prepare their children, as the preamble to the Convention says, to live: "...in the spirit of the ideals proclaimed in the Charter of the United Nations, and in particular in the spirit of peace, dignity, tolerance, freedom, equality and solidarity." 
 

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