What are human rights?
Human rights are a set of basic things that all people need to live in dignity. We all have human rights whoever we are and whatever we have done.
Human rights exist to make sure that we are treated properly and fairly, and are given the freedom to develop to our full potential.
On top of the rights available to everyone, there are some that apply only to children. Children need special rights because they need extra protection that adults don’t. The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child is an international document that sets out all of the rights that children have – a child is defined in the Convention as any person under the age of 18.
Governments can decide whether they will ratify the Convention, which means that the government agrees to make sure that all of these rights are available to children in their country. Public bodies should follow it – for example, courts, tribunals, social workers at case conferences and school exclusion panels.
The UK Government ratified the Convention on 16 December 1991. This means that the Government must make sure that every child in the UK has the rights that are listed in the Convention. The Government can do this by passing laws or by taking other action, including making sure that the rights in the Convention are widely known in the UK.
What are international children’s rights?
The Convention on the Rights of the Child has 54 articles (parts), and most of these articles list a different right that children have, and different responsibilities that the Government, and others, have to make sure that children have these rights.
Making sure that children are equal
The Government must make sure that all children have the rights in the Convention, regardless of their race, their parent’s race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national, ethnic or social origin, property, disability, birth or other status (article 2).
Children’s best interests
The Government must make sure that your best interests are taken into account when any decision is made which affects you. All organisations working with children should work in a way that is best for children including courts, social workers and state schools (article 3).
Parent’s rights and right to family life
The Government must respect the rights of your parents / family / carers to raise you, if they are raising you in a way that respects your rights (article 5). You also have the right to know and be cared for by your parents (article 5), and the government must make sure that you are not taken away from your parents against your will, unless this is in your best interests, for example if it is unsafe at home (articles 8 and 9). For more information, see Home and Family, Bullying and Abuse, and Children’s Services.
Where you are taken away from one or both of your parents (for example, where your parents have separated), the Government must make sure that you have contact with the parent you are taken from, unless this is not in your best interests (for example, where it might cause you harm) (article 9). For more information, see Home and Family and Children’s Services.
For children who have parents living in different countries, the Government must make sure that you can stay in regular contact with both parents (article 10). For more information, see Not from the UK.
Parents or guardians have the responsibility to bring you up, and they should do this in a way that is in your best interests. The Government must give help to your parents where this is needed to help them care for you properly (article 18). For more information, see Children’s Services.
Right to have an identity
The Government must make sure you are registered at birth (i.e. that you have a birth certificate), and that you have a name and a nationality and that you know who your parents are (articles 7 and 8). Having your birth registered is important because it helps you to use your other rights (e.g. access education, housing and other support if you need it, and will allow you to register to vote).
The Government must make sure that children are not taken out of the UK illegally (article 11).
Having your opinions heard
You have to be given the chance to give your opinion when decisions are made that affect you, and the Government has to make sure that these opinions are thought about by the people making the decision (article 12). For example, if you are in care you have a right to an advocate. For more information, see Children’s Services and Advocacy.
Freedom of expression and getting information
You must be able to get and share information with others, as long as this does not damage them (article 13). The Government must make sure that you can get information from many sources, like different papers and television and radio programmes, and must make sure that the media includes programmes and information that are relevant to children and do not harm you (article 17).
Freedom of thought and religion
The Government must make sure that no one gets in the way of your opinions or your ability to do things that you want to do because of your religion, as long as this doesn’t cause you or anyone else any damage, or interferes with anyone else’s rights. Your parents are allowed to give you guidance on practising your religion (article 14).
Freedom to gather together and join organisations
You must be able to gather together with other people and to join organisations, as long as this does not cause anyone harm, or interfere with other people’s rights (article 15).
The Government must make sure that no one is able to interfere with your privacy or damage your honour or reputation (article 16).
Protection from violence, exploitation, abuse, neglect and maltreatment
The Government must make sure you are protected from any type of physical or mental violence, injury or abuse, neglect, maltreatment or exploitation, including sexual abuse or sexual exploitation, while you are living with your parents or in the care of anyone else (article 19). Things must be done to help you if you have been the victim of abuse. For more information, see Abuse and bullying and Children’s Services.
The Government must make sure you are able to be as healthy as you can be, and that you are able to get healthcare when you need it. You must also be able to get clean water, healthy food and live in a healthy environment. The Government must also make sure you can get information about staying healthy (article 24). For more information, see Children’s Services and Sex, health and drugs.
The Government must make sure that you and your parents or carers can get financial help when you need it (article 26). For more information, see Children’s Services.
Standard of living
You have the right to a standard of living that is necessary for your physical, mental, spiritual, moral and social development. It is your parents’ responsibility to make sure you have these needs met, but the Government must help your parents by giving them support if they can’t afford to do this (article 27). For more information, see Children’s Services.
The Government must make sure you get a good quality of education. This includes making sure that primary and high school is free and available to you, that you can attend school regularly and that schools don’t punish you in a way that causes you harm and only in a way that respects your dignity (article 28). Your education should make sure you develop to your full potential and learn to respect human rights, your parents and the values, language and culture of the UK and other countries (article 29). For more information, see Education.
Rest and leisure
The Government must make sure you have rest and leisure time, and can be involved in cultural activities (article 31).
The Government must make sure that you do not do any work that is harmful to you, or that interferes with your education (article 32). For more information, see Employment for young persons.
The Government must protect you from using illegal drugs (article 33). For more information, see Sex, health and drugs.
The Government must make sure you are not abducted, or sold (article 35).
Harm to you
The Government must protect you from coming to any other type of harm or any actions that harm your welfare (article 36). For more information see our sections on Bullying and abuse and Children’s Services.
The Government must make sure that you are never tortured or never treated in a way that is cruel, inhuman or degrading (article 37). For more information see our sections on Bullying and abuse and Children’s Services.
The Government must not put you in detention except where this is a last resort and this must only be for the shortest amount of time. If you are put in detention after you break the law or for another reason (if you need mental health treatment, for example), you must be treated with respect and dignity and should never be locked up with adults. You must be able to contact your family and get a lawyer to help you (article 37). For more information, see Police and Law.
Joining the army
The Government must not let you join the army before you turn 15. You should get special protection in war zones (article 38). For more information, see At what age can I…
Recovery from abuse
If you have been the victim of abuse, the Government must make sure you are given help to get better (article 39).
Children not living with their parents
If you are not living with your parents, or have had to be taken away from your parents, the Government must make sure that you are cared for, and that you are given special help and protection (article 20). This can include, for example, making sure there are foster carers available.
If you are looked after by local authorities (e.g. in foster care) or put in a special place to provide you care or treatment for a physical or mental health problem, you must have someone review your situation regularly (article 25). For more information, see Children’s Services.
If you are going to be adopted, the Government must make sure that your best interests are the most important thing taken into account (article 21). For more information, see Adoption.
If you have come from abroad and are a refugee, or are trying to be recognised as a refugee, the Government must give you protection and help make sure you have the rights in the Convention, whether you are with a family member or alone.
If you have come to the UK alone, the Government must treat you the same as if you were any other child in the UK who cannot live with their parents (article 22). This means that the Government must make sure that you are cared for, and that you are given special assistance and protection (article 20). This can include, for example, making sure there are foster carers available. For more information, see Not from the UK.
Children with disabilities
If you have a mental or physical disability, the Government must make sure that you are able to live a full and good life and they must help you to do be able to do things independently, and be involved in the community. People who care for you must be given support if they need it (article 23). For more information, see Children’s Services.
Children from minority groups
If you are from an ethnic, religious or linguistic minority group, the Government must make sure you are able to use the language and culture of your group (article 30).
Children who have broken the law
If you have been accused of breaking the law, the Government must treat you with respect and dignity. You must be treated as innocent until you have been proven guilty, be told about why you have been arrested straight away, and be able to get help from your family and a lawyer (article 40). For more information, see Police and law.
How does the Government make sure children in the UK have rights?
In 1991, the UK Government agreed to make sure that children have all of the rights listed in the Convention on the Rights of the Child. The Government should make laws and do other activities, like teaching people about children’s rights, to make sure that children’s rights are protected.
The Government has passed a law – the Human Rights Act 1998 – to protect human rights generally, but have not passed a law specifically on children’s rights. Some of the laws the Government have passed help to protect your rights, like laws that say you must be given special help if you can’t live with your parents, for example, or laws that make discrimination illegal.