Convention on the Rights of the Child

Freechild Institute Youth Rights Toolkit

The most powerful statement ever supporting the notion that young people have specific rights is the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC).

Let us acknowledge and celebrate what youth can do to build a safer, more just world. Let us strengthen our efforts to include young people in policies, programmes and decision-making processes that benefit their futures and ours. — Ban Ki-moon

Combining all three categories of rights (provision, protection, participation), this document is the most-widely ratified treaty in the world, with every single nation on the planet except for two signing on. Those two nations are Somalia, where there is no functioning central government; and the United States, where conservative Republicans do not agree with the function or objectives of the document. Since the CRC focuses on “every human being below the age of 18 years unless under the law applicable under the child majority is attained earlier,” it includes youth rights.

Some of the rights guaranteed by the CRC include:

  • Protection from discrimination
  • The best interests of the child
  • The right to life
  • The child’s right not be separated from his or her parents against the child’s will
  • The child’s right to maintain contact with both parents if they separate
  • The child’s right to be heard in any judicial and administrative proceedings
  • The child’s right to freedom of thought
  • The child’s right to privacy
  • The child’s right to information from national and international mass media.
  • Children placed in physical or mental health care settings have the right to a periodic review of their circumstances and treatment.
  • The child’s right to a standard of living adequate for the child’s physical, mental, spiritual, moral and social development.
  • The child’s right to rest, leisure and recreational activities.
  • State obligations to protect children from all other forms of exploitation prejudicial to the child’s welfare.

The Most Relevant Section

All of the CRC is important to the health and wellbeing of everyone in every community across the United States, Canada, and around the world. The Freechild Institute has found there are several specific articles that relate to our work, including Articles 3 and 5. However, the one that constantly grabs my attention is Article 12.

Article 12 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child provides:

“1. States Parties shall assure to the child who is capable of forming his or her own views the right to express those views freely in all matters affecting the child, the views of the child being given due weight in accordance with the age and maturity of the child.

2. For this purpose the child shall in particular be provided the opportunity to be heard in any judicial and administrative proceedings affecting the child, either directly, or through a representative or an appropriate body, in a manner consistent with the procedural rules of national law.”

For this reason, The Freechild Institute believes Article 12 is one of the most important parts of the CRC. Young people of all ages should have a voice in every single decision affecting them, and their voice should be taken seriously. As our website details extensively, there are many ways this can happen.

What Article 12 Does

Young people of all ages, from the youngest to the oldest, have complex, diverse realities that vary everywhere, all the time. The very best way to understand their realities is to ask them, engage them and empower them to take substantive actions throughout their own lives.

When adults seek to authentically, genuinely listen to children’s voices and youth voice, they can learn where and what young people themselves value; why things matter to them; what difference things make throughout their lives; and who should be engaged with them. The reality of young peoples’ lives is different from adults, which limits the ability of adults to discern, understand or even acknowledge youth voice. Because of this, engaging children and youth in decision-making and other activities that affect them is absolutely essential for parents, teachers, youth workers and others.

Engaging with youth as full and equitable partners who are able to contribute to their own growth and to community development is how this happen. It requires adults in all parts of young peoples’ lives to become adult allies, and to move from viewing youth as passive recipients of an adult-led world towards seeing, treating and empowering youth as active partners throughout their own lives.

What Article 12 Is Not

  • Article 12 does not give young people permission to tell any adult what to do. It does encourage adults to engage every young person as a partner in their own lives.
  • Article 12 does not take away parent rights and responsibilities. Instead, it empowers parents to learn new ways to engage their childrens’ voices.
  • Article 12 does not make it harder for youth workers to counsel young people or teachers to facilitate class. Instead, it adds the abilities of children and youth to the mix, insisting that everyone involved can teaching and learn, plan and evaluate, and more.

The CRC says there are appropriate, responsible and relevant ways to involve young people that reflect their abilities and knowledge. Through experience and learning, children and youth develop those abilities and build on that knowledge. While adults are tempted to give youth more decisions to make than children, research shows that children can make mature decisions when they are very young, given meaningful opportunities to develop their abilities.

Why Does The Freechild Institute Support the Convention on the Rights of the Child?

In our work across North America, The Freechild Institute has discovered that there are major misconceptions about the CRC in the United States, and very limited implementation of the CRC in Canada. The Freechild Institute can contribute to the implementation of the CRC in Canada and the acceptance of the CRC in the United States. We can also inform the international conversation about the CRC at the United Nations and in countries around the world.

Here are three specific areas where The Freechild Institute can intersect with the Convention on the Rights of the Child:

  • Analyze activities on the state and federal levels to properly assess the real needs both of young people and the adults who serve them;
  • Develop, implement and replicate a multidisciplinary adult education program to improve the understanding of the CRC and informing various adults about how to implement it in their daily practice;
  • Dissemination and promotion to ensure a North American dimension as well as to share information and exchange ideas among adults serving young people in various settings, including parents, youth workers, teachers, mental health practitioners, and others.


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