UN Convention on the Rights of the Child

The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) is an international human rights treaty that grants all children and young people (aged 17 and under) a comprehensive set of rights. It is the only international human rights treaty to include civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights. It sets out in detail what every child needs to have a safe, happy and fulfilled childhood regardless of their sex, religion, social origin, and where and to whom they were born, including the rights to:

  • special protection measures and assistance
  • access to services such as education and healthcare
  • develop their personalities, abilities and talents to the fullest potential
  • grow up in an environment of happiness, love and understanding
  • be informed about and participate in achieving their rights in an accessible and active manner.

Read the Convention on the Rights of the Child (PDF)

UK Performance

 The UK signed the convention on 19 April 1990, ratified it on 16 December 1991 and it came into force on 15 January 1992.

When a country ratifies the convention it agrees to do everything it can to implement it. The convention has not been incorporated into UK law. However, in 2010 the UK Government committed to give “due regard” to the convention when making new policy and legislation. The Welsh Government has also been using the Convention as the basis for policy making for children and young people in Wales since 2004.

The UK first reported to the UNCRC on 15 March 1994. Since then it has produced a further 3 periodic reports. The UK’s performance in implementing the convention was last examined by the UN in September 2008.

As one of the UK’s National Human Rights Institutions, the Commission can submit a shadow report to the UNCRC, setting out our evidence about the UK’s performance in implementing the convention.

Read our shadow report to the Committee

Some of the key observations made by the UNCRC reflected the priority issues the Commission raised in its shadow report, including:

  • Discrimination and social stigmatisation continues to be experienced by children from particular groups
  • The low age of criminal responsibility
  • Use of Anti-Social Behaviour Orders (ASBOs) for children
  • Use of physical restraint on children in places of deprivation of liberty
  • Rights of children with special educational needs
  • High rate of school exclusions for children from particular groups
  • Detention of asylum seeking children

Find out more about what the UN Committee concluded after examining the UK Government's performance

Preparing for the UNCRC’s Next Examination of the UK

The UK will be submitting its next (fifth) periodic report in January 2014. The Department for Education takes the lead in coordinating the UK’s State report to the UNCRC, securing contributions from the devolved administrations, which are responsible for implementing UNCRC in their jurisdictions. It has recently conducted a call for views on the draft state report: 

In line with the Commission’s role in facilitating the participation of civil society in monitoring the implementation of UN treaties, we commissioned the Children’s Rights Alliance (England) to coordinate a response to the call for views on behalf of the Children’s sector in England. Read the response

The UK’s performance in implementing the convention is expected to be examined again in 2016.

Option Protocol on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography

Articles 34 and 35 of UNCRC require states to protect children from all forms of sexual exploitation and abuse, and take all measures possible to ensure that they are not abducted, sold or trafficked. The Optional Protocol on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography supplements this by providing states with detailed requirements to end these activities.

The Protocol:

  • creates obligations to criminalize and punish activities related to these offences;
  • protects the rights and interests of child victims, by requiring States to provide legal services to child victims and to support them with necessary medical, psychological, logistical and financial support to aid their rehabilitation and reintegration; and
  • Stresses the value of international cooperation and public education as a means of combating these often transnational activities.

The Protocol came in to force in 2002, with the UK government ratifying it in 2009. The UK submitted its first state report on 6 June 2011 under the Optional Protocol (Read report) . The UK’s performance in implementing the Optional Protocol will be examined by the UNCRC in June 2014.

UN Special Rapporteur on the Sale of the Child

In 1990 the UN decided to appoint a Special Rapporteur on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography to investigate the exploitation of children around the world. The Special Rapporteur is expected to submit reports to the General Assembly and the Human Rights Council, making recommendations Governments, United Nations bodies and non-governmental organizations in order to protect the rights of children.

The Special Rapporteur’s most recent report (Report of the Special Rapporteur on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography) was submitted to the Human Rights Council in March 2014. Coming at the end of her six year mandate, the report provides an overview of the major, recent, global developments in relation to the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography.

As one of the UK’s National Human Rights Institutions, the Commission can make oral statements at the Human Rights Council in response to the reports of Special Rapporteurs. In March 2014, the Commission delivered a joint statement with the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission, which focused on the need to improve the UK’s criminal laws to better protect children from different forms of sexual exploitation.

back to top