The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child

The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) is a document which describes 54 basic rights that all under 18s should have.

Our government signed up to the UNCRC in 1990 and it was ratified in 1991. By ‘ratifying’ the UNCRC, it means that our government have a duty under international law to make sure that the rights of all children and young people in Northern Ireland are protected and to work towards making these rights a reality in our law.

Our government have to report to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child (a panel of human rights experts) every 5 years to explain how well they are protecting children, as ‘rights-holders’ in NI. The Committee then make suggestions on how our government can do better.

The first article of the convention states that these rights belong to everyone under the age of 18.

General Principles

The 4 general principles of the UNCRC, sometimes called the core principles, are important articles which guide your other rights. While all of your rights are equally important, these articles provide a basis for how you should be treated.

Article 2: The Convention applies to everyone: whatever your race, religion or abilities, whatever you think or say, whatever type of family you come from. The government should make sure you are protected against discrimination (being treated differently or unfairly) because of any of these factors.

Article 3: When adults are making decisions about you, they should always do what is best for you.

Article 6: You have a right to life and to opportunities which will help you develop to your full potential.

Article 12: You have the right to say what you think should happen in decisions that affect your life, and to have what you say taken seriously.

Your Civil Rights and Freedoms

This section explains your rights to be yourself, for example your right to have your own identity, thoughts and ideas.

Article 7: You have the right to;
  • A legally registered name

  • A nationality (legal status of belonging to a nation)

  • Know and be cared for by your parents, if it is in your best interests

The government must do all they can to make sure that you are not left stateless (not belonging to any country).

Article 8: You have the right to an identity - an official record of who you are. No-one should take this away from you.

Article 13: You have the right to freedom of expression. This means you can say what you think or feel and look for and receive all kinds of information, as long what you say or do does not harm other people’s rights.

Article 14: You have a right to choose your own religion and have your own beliefs and opinions.

Article 15: You have the right to meet and make friends with others and to get involved in activities, events and organisations. You also have the right to take part in meetings, peaceful marches or demonstrations, as long as doing this does not harm other people’s rights.

Article 16: You have a right to privacy and to be protected from people unlawfully interfering with your privacy.

Article 17: You have the right to get information and resources from lots of different places, especially material that will improve your mental, physical and social well-being. This information should be given to you in a way that you can understand. However, information that may be harmful to you should not be easy to get.

Protection

You have a right to be protected from all types of harm or danger. This section outlines your protection rights and what adults like your parents/guardians, police officers and the government need to do to keep you safe.

Article 19: The government should do all that they can to make sure that you are safe from all harm, including physical and mental abuse. Your parents/guardians should not harm you in any way. If you are being harmed by someone, the government must act to protect you.

Article 24(3): The government should do all that they can to stop traditional practices which can harm children and young people.

Article 28(2): The government should do all that they can to make sure school discipline is fair and respects your rights.

Article 34: The government must protect you from sexual abuse and exploitation.

Article 37(a): If you come into contact with the law, you have a right to be treated fairly and should not be treated in any cruel or degrading way. If you have committed or have been charged with committing a crime, you should not face life in prison.

Article 39: You have the right to get special help from the government if you have been hurt, neglected, badly treated or because you are a victim of war.

Family Life

This section describes your rights involving your family. This includes your right to know and be cared for by your parents if it is in your best interests, and your rights if you are adopted or being cared for by social services.

Article 5: The government must respect the rights and responsibilities of parents/guardians to direct and guide you as you grow up, so you can enjoy your rights properly.

Article 9: You should be able to live with your parents/guardians and you should not be separated from them unless it is in your best interests. If you do not live with both your parents, you have a right to keep in contact with them as long as it is safe to do so and it is in your best interests.

Article 10: If you and your parents are living in separate countries, the government must manage applications to reunite your family quickly and fairly. They should also make sure that these applications will not have any negative consequences for you or your family.

Article 11: You should not be kidnapped. If you are, the government should do all that it can to get you home safely.

Article 18(1&2): Your parents/guardians have the main responsibility to look after and care for you, if it is in your best interests. The government must help them do this.

Article 20: If for some reason you cannot be looked after by your own family, you must be given alternative care. The people who care for you should respect your background (e.g. your own religion, culture and language).

Article 21: If you are being placed for adoption this must be arranged in a way that is best for you, making sure you can live a safe and happy life. You should only be adopted by people who are able to treat you well. The process must be properly regulated and you may be placed in another country if you are unable to be cared for safely in your home country.

Article 25: If you are in the care of the government (this is sometimes called being in care or looked after) in a residential setting or a treatment centre, they should regularly check that this is still the best choice/option for you.

Article 27(4): The government must to all that they can to make sure that your parents/guardians provide for you financially, even if they live in another country.

Health and Welfare

You have a right to live a healthy life that helps you to grow and develop. This section explains the governments responsibility to make sure you can achieve this, including helping your parents to provide for you.

Article 6: You have a right to life and to opportunities which will help you develop to your full potential.

Article 18(3): The government must do all that they can to make sure you and your family have access to services such as child-care.

Article 23: If you have a disability, the government must provide extra care and support which respects your dignity, enables you to be as independent as possible and helps you to actively participate in your community.

Article 24: You have a right to the best health care possible and to information that will help you to stay well. Health education is an important part of this and should be part of school work.

Article 26: You have a right to claim social security benefits if your parents/guardians are unable to provide for you.

Article 27(1-3): You are entitled to a good standard of living which will help you to grow up happy, healthy and safe. This means having a warm place to live, healthy food and clothes.

Article 33: You have the right to be protected from dangerous drugs and from being involved in making or selling these drugs.

Education, Leisure and Culture

This section includes your education rights, for instance, being able to go to school, no matter where you come from or how much money you have, and your right to enjoy free time to socialize and have fun with friends.

Article 28: You have the right to primary and secondary education, and that any discipline used in school respects your dignity.

Article 29: Your education should help you to develop your personality, skills and talents to your fullest potential; it is not just about exams and tests.

Article 30: You have the right to learn and use the language, customs and religion of your family, regardless of whether these are shared by the majority of the people in the country where you live.

Article 31: You have the right to rest, play, have fun and take part in a wide range of activities, so long as this doesn’t affect other people’s rights.

Special Protection

Article 22: You have the right to special protection and help if you are a refugee (someone who has had to leave their country because it is not safe for them to live there).

Article 30: You have the right to learn and use the language, customs and religion of your family, regardless of whether these are shared by the majority of the people in the country where you live.

Article 32: If you have a job it should be safe and follow government guidelines, such as how many hours you work and how much you are paid. Any work that you do must not be dangerous, or in any way harmful, to your health or education.

Article 33: You have the right to be protected from dangerous drugs and from being involved in making or selling these drugs.

Article 35:The government must protect you from being abducted, sold or trafficked.

Article 36: You have the right to protection from any other kind of exploitation (being taken advantage of).

Article 37(b-d): If you come into contact with the law;
  • You have a right to freedom, this should not be taken from you unlawfully or unfairly.

  • You should be treated with dignity and respect at all times.

  • You have a right to access legal support and to challenge any sentence given to you.

If you have broken the law;
  • You should only go to prison as a last resort.

  • You should not be put in prison with adults.

  • You should be allowed regular contact with your family.

Article 38: You have the right to protection from war. The government must do all they can to make sure children under 15 are not forced to join an army or take part in war.

Article 39: You have the right to get special help from the government if you have been hurt, neglected, badly treated or because you are a victim of war.

Article 40: If you have been accused of a crime you have the right to defend yourself with legal help. The court and the police should make sure that you understand what is happening at all times and they should only hold you in a police station as a last resort and for as short a time as possible.

Implementation

These articles explain what government needs to do to ensure they are abiding by the UNCRC e.g. making sure you know about your UNCRC rights as well as your rights in local law.

Article 4: The Government must do all they can to make sure you can enjoy your rights.

Article 41: If the laws of your country provide better protection of your rights than the articles in this Convention, those laws should apply.

Article 42: All adults and young people should know about the Convention.

Article 43-54: These articles tell the government and adults what they have to do to put this Convention into place to make your life better.