Human Rights, Children and Youth
What are the Human Rights of Children and Youth?
Human Rights are universal, and civil, political, economic, social and
cultural rights belong to all human beings, including children and young
people. Children and youth also enjoy certain human rights specifically
linked to their status as minors and to their need for special care and
The human rights of children and youth are explicitly set out in the
Convention on the Rights of the Child, the most widely ratified human rights
treaty in history. They are also contained in other human rights documents
including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International
Covenants, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination
Against Women, and other widely adhered to international human rights
treaties and Declarations.
The Human Rights at Issue
The human rights of children and youth include the following indivisible,
interdependent and interrelated human rights:
- The human right to a standard of living adequate for a child's intellectual,
physical, moral, and spiritual development, including adequate food, shelter and clothing.
- The human right to freedom from discrimination based on age, gender, race,
colour, language, religion, nationality, ethnicity, or any other status, or
on the status of the child's parents.
- The human right to the highest possible standard of health and to access to
- The human right to a healthy and safe environment.
- The human right to education -- to free and compulsory elementary education,
to readily available forms of secondary and higher education, and to freedom from all types of discrimination at all levels of education.
- The human right to protection from neglect and all types of physical or
- The human right to protection from economic and sexual exploitation.
- The human right of the child to express an opinion about plans or decisions affecting his or her life.
- The human right of the child to live in a family environment. States should
provide families with assistance and support if necessary for meeting the fundamental needs of the child.
Governments' Obligations to Ensuring the Human Rights of Children and Youth
What provisions of human rights law guarantee the Human Rights of Children and Youth?
Includes excerpts from the
Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the
Convention on the Rights of the Child, the
International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the
International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the
Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, the
Convention against Discrimination in Education, and the
ILO Minimum Age Convention (No. 38).
- "Everyone has the right a standard of living adequate for ... health and well-being.... Motherhood and childhood are
entitled to special care and assistance. All children ... shall enjoy the same social protection.... Everyone has
the right to education...."
Declaration of Human Rights, Articles 25 and 26
- "States Parties shall respect and ensure ... rights ... to each child ... without discrimination of any kind,
irrespective of the child's or his or her parent's or legal guardian's race, colour, sex, language, religion,
political or other opinion, national, ethnic or social origin, property, disability, birth or other status.... States
Parties shall ensure ... the survival and development of the child.... States Parties recognize the right of the
child to the ... highest attainable standard of health....; shall strive to ensure that no child is deprived of his
or her right of access to ... health care services.... States Parties shall ... diminish infant and child mortality;
... ensure the provision of ... health care to all children.... States Parties shall take all effective ... measures
with a view to abolishing traditional practices prejudicial to the health of children.... States Parties recognize
the right of every child to a standard of living adequate for the child's physical, mental, spiritual, moral and
social development.... States Parties ... shall take appropriate measures to assist parents and others responsible
for the child to implement this right and shall in case of need provide material assistance and support...,
particularly with regard to nutrition, clothing and housing.... States Parties recognize the right of the child to
education.... 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.... States Parties undertake to
protect the child from all forms of sexual exploitation and sexual abuse.... "
- --Convention on
the Rights of the Child, Articles 2, 6, 24, 27, 28, 32, and 34
- "The States Parties ... recognize that ... special measures of protection and assistance should be taken on behalf of
all children and young persons without any discrimination for reasons of parentage or other conditions. Children and
young persons should be protected from economic and social exploitation. Their employment in work harmful to their
morals or health or dangerous to life or likely to hamper their normal development should be punishable by law....
States Parties ... recognize the right of everyone to an adequate standard of living....; to the ... highest
attainable standard of physical and mental health.... The steps to be taken ... to achieve the full realization of
this right shall include those necessary for ... the reduction of the stillbirth-rate and of infant mortality, and
for the healthy development of the child.... States Parties ... recognize the right of everyone to education...."
- --International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural
Rights, Articles 10, 11, 12, and 13
- "... Sentence of death shall not be imposed for crimes committed by persons below eighteen years of age.... Juvenile
offenders shall be segregated from adults and be accorded treatment appropriate to their age and legal status....
The family is the natural and fundamental group unit of society and is entitled to protection by society and the
State.... Every child shall have, without any discrimination as to race, colour, sex, language, religion, national or
social origin, property or birth, the right to such measures of protection as are required by his status as a minor,
on the part of his family, society and the State. Every child shall be registered immediately after birth and shall
have a name. Every child has the right to acquire a nationality."
- --International Covenant on Civil and Political
Articles 6, 10, 23, and 24
- "States Parties condemn discrimination against women in all its forms, agree ... to take all appropriate measures,
including legislation, to modify or abolish existing laws, ... customs and practices which constitute discrimination
against women.... States Parties shall take all appropriate measures ... to modify the social and cultural patterns
of conduct of men and women, with a view to achieving the elimination of prejudices and customary and all other
practices which are based on the idea of the inferiority or the superiority of either of the sexes or on stereotyped
roles for men and women.... States Parties shall ... eliminate discrimination against women ... in the field of
education...; in the field of health care...."
- --Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of
Discrimination Against Women, Articles 2, 5, 10, and 12
- "The States Parties ... undertake ... to ... discontinue any ... practices which involve discrimination in
education....; to formulate, develop and apply a national policy which ... will ...... promote equality of
opportunity and of treatment in ... education and in particular:...To make primary education free and compulsory;
make secondary education in its different forms available and accessible to all; make higher education equally
accessible to all on the basis of individual capacity; assure compliance by all with the obligation to attend school
prescribed by law...; To encourage and intensify ... the education of persons who have not received any primary
education or who have not completed the entire primary education.... It is essential to recognize the right of
members of national minorities to carry on their own educational activities, including the maintenance of schools and
... the use or the teaching of their own language...."
- --Convention against Discrimination in Education,
Articles 3, 4, and 5
- "Each Member... undertakes to pursue a national policy ... to ensure the effective abolition of child labour and to
raise progressively the minimum age for admission to employment or work to a level consistent with the fullest
physical and mental development of young persons.... The minimum age ... shall not be less than the age of completion
of compulsory schooling and, in any case, shall not be less than 15 years.... The minimum age for admission to any
type of employment or work which by its nature or the circumstances in which it is carried out is likely to
jeopardize the health, safety or morals of young persons shall not be less than 18 years...."
Minimum Age Convention (No. 38), Articles 1, 2, and 3
Governments' Commitments to Ensuring the Human Rights of Children and Youth
What commitments have governments made to ensuring the realization of the Human Rights of Children and Youth?
Includes commitments made at the Earth Summit in Rio,
the World Conference on Human Rights in Vienna, the International Conference on Population and Development in
Cairo, the World Summit for Social Development in
Copenhagen, the Habitat II conference in Istanbul., and excerpts from the World Declaration on Education For All.
- "The creativity, ideals and courage of the youth of the world should be mobilized to forge a global partnership in
order to achieve sustainable development and ensure a better future for all."
- --Rio Declaration, Principle 21
- "...The involvement of today's youth in environment and development decision-making and in the implementation of
programmes is critical to the long-term success of Agenda 21.... Each country should combat human rights abuses
against young people, particularly young women and girls, and should consider providing all youth with legal
protection, skills, opportunities and the support necessary for them to fulfil their personal, economic and social
aspirations and potentials.... Children ... are highly vulnerable to the effects of environmental degradation. ....
The specific interests of children need to be taken fully into account ... in order to safeguard the future
sustainability of any actions taken to improve the environment...."
- -- Agenda 21, Chapter 25, paras 1, 8, and 12
- "National and international mechanisms and programmes should be strengthened for the defence and protection of
children, in particular, the girl-child, abandoned children, street children, economically and sexually exploited
children, ... children victims of diseases..., refugee and displaced children, children in detention, children in
armed conflict, as well as children victims of famine and drought and other emergencies. International cooperation
... should be promoted to support the implementation of the Convention [on the Rights of the Child] and the rights of
the child should be a priority in the United Nations system-wide action on human rights. The World Conference on
Human Rights ... stresses that the child for the full ... development of his or her personality should grow up in a
family environment which accordingly merits broader protection.... The World Conference ... calls on States to
integrate the Convention ... into their national action plans.... Particular priority should be placed on reducing
infant and maternal mortality rates, reducing malnutrition and illiteracy rates and providing access to safe
drinking-water and to basic education.... Exploitation and abuse of children should be actively combated, including
by addressing their root causes. Effective measures are required against female infanticide, harmful child labour,
sale of children and organs, child prostitution, child pornography, as well as other forms of sexual abuse."
- --Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action,
Part I, para. 21, and Part II, paras. 47 and 48
- "All States and families should give the highest possible priority to children. The child has the right to standards
of living adequate for its well-being and the right to the highest attainable standards of health, and the right to
education. The child has the right to be cared for, guided and supported by parents, families and society and to be
protected by appropriate legislative, administrative, social and educational measures from all forms of physical or
mental violence, injury or abuse, neglect or negligent treatment, maltreatment or exploitation, including sale,
trafficking, sexual abuse, and trafficking in its organs.... When formulating socio-economic development policies,
special consideration should be given to increasing the earning power of all adult members of economically deprived
families, ... and to enabling children to be educated rather than compelled to work.... Countries should aim to meet
the needs and aspirations of youth, particularly in the areas of formal and non-formal education, training,
employment opportunities, housing and health, thereby ensuring their integration and participation in all spheres of
society, including participation in the political process and preparation for leadership roles...."
- --Cairo Programme of
Action, Principle 11 and paras. 5.4 and 6.13
- "We will ... ensure that children ... enjoy their rights and promote the exercise of those rights by making
education, adequate nutrition and health care accessible to them....; Take appropriate and affirmative steps to
enable all children and adolescents to attend and complete school and to close the gender gap in primary, secondary,
vocational and higher education...."
- --Copenhagen Declaration, Commitment 6
- "We are determined to ... ensure the human rights of ... the girl child as an inalienable, integral and indivisible
part of all human rights and fundamental freedoms....; ... ensure the full enjoyment by ... the girl child of all
human rights ... and take effective action against violations of these rights...."
- --Beijing Declaration, paras. 9 and
- "Actions to be taken: ... Advance the goal of equal access to education by taking measures to eliminate
discrimination in education at all levels on the basis of gender, race, language, national origin, age or disability,
or any other form of discrimination.... By the year 2000, provide universal access to basic education and ensure
completion of primary education by at least 80 per cent of primary school-age children; close the gender gap in
primary and secondary school education by the year 2005; provide universal primary education in all countries before
the year 2015.... Set specific target dates for eliminating all forms of child labour that are contrary to accepted
international standards and ensure the full enforcement of relevant existing laws and ... enact the legislation
necessary to implement the Convention on the Rights of the Child and International Labour Organization standards,
ensuring the protection of working children, ... street children, through the provision of appropriate health,
education and other social services.... Address the acute problems of children ... by supporting efforts ... aimed
at ... the prevention and eradication of female infanticide, harmful child labour, the sale of children and their
organs, child prostitution, child pornography and other forms of sexual abuse...."
- --Beijing Platform for Action, paras.
80, 175, and 230
- "... We recognize the particular needs of ... children and youth for safe, healthy and secure living conditions....
We shall ... ensure ... the effective participation of youth, in political, economic and social life...."
- --Istanbul Declaration, para. 7
- "The needs of children and youth, particularly with regard to their living environment, have to be taken fully into
account. Special attention needs to be paid to the participatory processes dealing with the shaping of cities, towns
and neighbourhoods; this is in order to secure the living conditions of children and of youth and to make use of
their insight, creativity and thoughts on the environment. Special attention must be paid to the shelter needs of
vulnerable children, such as street children, refugee children and children who are victims of sexual
exploitation.... We commit ourselves to ... Working in partnership with youth in order to develop and enhance
effective skills and provide education and training to prepare youth for current and future decision-making roles and
sustainable livelihoods in human settlements management and development...."
- --Habitat Agenda, paras. 13 and 45
- "Basic education should be provided to all children, youth and adults. To this end, basic education services of
quality should be expanded and consistent measures must be taken to reduce disparities. For basic education to be
equitable, all children, youth and adults must be given the opportunity to achieve and maintain an acceptable level
- --World Declaration on Education For All, Article 3
For more information, please contact PDHRE
The People's Movement for Human Rights Education (PDHRE) / NY Office
Shulamith Koenig / Executive Director
526 West 111th Street, New York, NY 10025
tel: 212.749-3156; fax: 212.666-6325;