Photo courtesy of World Vision

The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) adopted in 1989, which Sri Lanka ratified on 1991, recognizes the economic, social and cultural rights of children. It is the most ratified treaty or convention in the world.

The convention centers around the four main principals of non-discrimination, best interest of the child, the right to survival and development and the views of the child.

Non-discrimination means that all children should enjoy their rights and should not be subjected to any discrimination. The obligation to provide equality of opportunities among children is expressed in Article 2, the first paragraph of which reads: “States parties shall respect and ensure the rights set forth in the present convention to each child within their jurisdiction without discrimination of any kind, irrespective of the child’s parents or legal guardian, race, color, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national, ethnic or social origin, poverty, disability, birth or other status.”

Best interest of the child talks about how children are vulnerable and need special support to be able to enjoy their rights fully. It is imperative to grant them the necessary protection while ensuring that they enjoy their rights. Part of the solution lies in the principle of the best interest of the child, formulated in Article 3:1. “In all actions concerning children whether undertaken by public or private social welfare institution, courts of law, administrative authorities or legislative bodies, the best interest of the child shall be a primary consideration.”

The principle directly related to children’s economic and social rights is formulated in the right to the right to survival and development article, which goes further than just granting children the right not to be killed; it includes the right to survival and development, which is formulated in Article 6:2 and states: “State parties shall ensure to the maximum extent possible the survival and development of the child.”

A crucial dimension of the convention is expressed through another principle about respecting the views of the child. In order to know what is actually in the interest of the child it is logical to listen to him or her. The principle is formulated in Article 12:1 that states “States parties shall assure to the child who is capable of forming his or her own views the rights to express those views freely in all matters affecting the child, the view of the child being given due weight in accordance with the age and maturity of the child.”

Governments have changed laws, policies and made investments as a result of the convention in order to provide children with the nourishment and healthcare they require to live and develop, as well as to put better protections in place to protect them from abuse and exploitation. Additionally, it has made it possible for children to participate in their societies and have their opinions heard.

Despite these developments, the convention is still not universally accepted or properly understood. When children are not provided with access to proper medical care, nutrition, education and protection from violence, millions of children continue to have their rights violated. Childhoods are cut short when children are compelled to drop out of school, do dangerous jobs, get married, serve in the military or are detained in adult jails.

Childhood is being fundamentally transformed by global changes such as the development of digital technology, environmental change, protracted conflict and widespread migration. Children now face fresh challenges to their rights but also new chances to exercise their rights.

The current generation must demand that international leaders in industry, government and communities immediately stop violating children’s rights.

The gap between rich and poor countries is growing; despite the fact that many nations have experienced economic growth in the past 10 years, the poor still live in poverty. The decrease in foreign aid, current conflicts and war, as well as the erroneous use of state government financing may be to blame for this.

The convention upholds the notion of children’s capacities develop and change while still in the formative stages. While children have the right to have their opinions considered under the convention, this does not guarantee that they will be able to make decisions that will have a significant impact on their lives. Although the child’s input may have some influence, the decision making will still be done by the adult party with the proper authority.

Children must have the freedom to voice their opinions unhindered by pressure or coercion as well as the right to do so. If the child does not want to or if it is not in their best interests, they cannot be coerced into expressing an opinion. A genuine viewpoint must be heard during the process and it must not be used as a public relations stunt or another type of manipulation that the child has little to no possibility of influencing.

Children should be granted the legal ability to file lawsuits and engage in other legal actions under their own names, a privilege that is typically reserved for their parents or guardians.

For a proper enjoyment of the broader right to freedom of expression guaranteed by other rights instruments, the rights granted to minors under Article 12 are viewed as being necessary. There can be no civil or political justice without the freedom of expression, which is regarded as the cornerstone of all forms of democracy and just government. This is why Article 12 is important. Children must have this right in order to take advantage of and exercise their right to free expression. It entails providing children with the knowledge they need to create an informed viewpoint and then giving them the chance to express it in a way that is just and fair to them.

Children have the right to peacefully gather and demonstrate within the terms of Article 15 of the convention. This is unmistakably a political right that is being granted and, in connection with Article 12, a coordinated attempt to preserve children’s participation in politics at all levels, not just those that directly affect them as individuals. When democratic rights are expanded to include a larger percentage of the population, democratic societies are always improved. Greater freedom and justice for everyone have resulted from the expansion of rights to ever more classes, the poorest socioeconomic groups, former slaves and women. A sincere effort to reach out to children as much as possible will have a comparable impact.

UNCRC may be an international convention but in addition to having legal standing in the nations that have ratified it, it also relies on moral commitments on the part of state governments to enforce it. State governments and international organizations must be dedicated to prioritizing children in order for UNCRC to benefit children. Decisions on both economic development and nation building must be made with the rights of children in mind. All stakeholders such as international agencies, government bodies, communities, families and children need to play their part in achieving the objectives set by UNCRC.

Sahan Wiratunga is Senior Project Officer at PEaCE/ECPAT Sri Lanka