About the Convention

The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) applies to all children and young people under 18. Its aim is to recognise the rights of children and young people and ensure that they grow up in the spirit of peace, dignity, tolerance, freedom, equality and solidarity.

The UNCRC was drafted in 1989 and is the most widely and rapidly ratified human rights treaty in history. 196 countries have ratified it, including the United Kingdom on 16th December 1991. The USA is the only country which has not yet ratified the Convention.

The fact that a country has ratified the UNCRC does not guarantee that the rights within it shall be respected, protected and fulfilled. This can only be ensured when steps are taken to implement the Convention into domestic law, policy and practice.

What rights do children have under the UNCRC?

 Every child in the UK is entitled to over 40 specific rights under the Convention.

These rights can be divided into several categories:

  • General Principles
    • Right to life, survival and development;
    • Right to non-discrimination;
    • Right to express views freely;
    • Right to have a child’s best interests taken as a primary consideration in all matters affecting them.
  • Civil Rights and Freedoms
    • Right to a name and nationality
    • Freedom of expression
    • Freedom of thought and association
    • Access to information
    • Right not to be tortured or ill-treated
  • Violence against Children
    • protection from violence, abuse and neglect
    • abolishing traditional practices prejudicial to the health of children 
    • school discipline 
    • protection from all forms of sexual exploitation
    • protection from inhuman or degrading treatment 
    • recovery from trauma and reintegration
  • Family environment and alternative care
    • Right to live with and have contact with both parents
    • Right to be reunited with parents if separated from them
    • Right to appropriate alternative care where necessary
  • Basic health and welfare
    • Rights of disabled children
    • Right to health and health care
    • Right to social security
    • Right to child care services
    • Right to an adequate standard of living
  • Education, leisure and cultural activities
    • Right to education
    • Right to play
    • Right to leisure and to participate in cultural life and the arts
  • Special protection measures
    • Rights of refugee children
    • Rights of children affected by armed conflicts
    • Rights of children in the juvenile justice system
    • Rights of children deprived of their liberty
    • Rights of children suffering exploitation

The Convention also places obligations on states to safeguard these rights and to publicise the UNCRC to children, young people, parents and carers and everyone working with children and young people. 


The implementation of the UNCRC is overseen by the Committee on the Rights of the Child. The Committee is made up of 18 independent experts on children’s rights from different countries. The Committee meets three times a year in Geneva.

The Committee has three main roles:

  1. Review: every five years, the Committee makes recommendations to member states telling them what they can do to improve the protection of children’s rights. These are called Concluding Observations.

 Find out more about the Concluding Observations for the United Kingdom here.

  1. Guidance: the Committee produces General Comments which set out what UNCRC rights mean in more detail. 

Find out more about the Committee’s General Comments here.

  1. Individual complaints: the Committee can hear complaints from individual children who think their rights have been breached.

However, children can only do this if their Government has signed up to the “individual complaints mechanism”. The Scottish and UK Governments have not done this yet. 

Find out more about the individual complaints mechanism here.

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