United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child implementation: introductory guidance

Non-statutory guidance developed in partnership with public authorities and the third sector, introducing key concepts within the UNCRC and links with further resources for embedding a children’s rights-based approach in public services.

Introducing the UNCRC

Children's Rights as Human Rights

Children and young people have the same human rights as adults. These are the same rights that protect everyone. They span the entire spectrum of civil, political, economic, social, cultural and environmental rights. Children and young people also have additional rights that recognise that childhood is a special, protected time, in which children must be allowed to grow, learn, play, develop and flourish with dignity.

Specific human rights for children are set out in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC).

The Convention offers a vision of the child as an individual and as a member of a family and community. By recognising children's rights in this way, the Convention firmly sets the focus on the whole child.

It is important to be clear that adult and children's rights are equal, there is no hierarchy of human rights.

We know that children and young people face unique barriers to realising their rights. Their future often depends on the action taken by adults to implement their rights in practice. As children their voices can be unheard, or more easily dismissed.

For that reason, the UNCRC recognises that children are human beings with fundamental rights that are written into international law. It also makes clear that special action needs to be taken to ensure those rights are respected, protected and fulfilled.

As one of the core United Nations (UN) human rights treaties, the UNCRC helps to safeguard the dignity and the equal and inalienable rights of all children and young people. It does this by making sure that important rights set out in other international human rights treaties are applied in a way that is relevant and appropriate to the needs of children and young people. The UNCRC makes clear that in all actions concerning children, the best interests of the child shall be a primary consideration.

What is the UNCRC?

The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) is the internationally mandated children's rights treaty that informs our strategies and programmes. It sets out the rights that all children and young people in the UK have and outlines what children need to give them the best chance of growing up happy, healthy and safe. It also explains how adults and governments should work together to make sure all children can access all their rights. The UNCRC defines the child as a person under 18 years of age.

General Principles of the UNCRC?

There are four articles in the UNCRC that are seen as special.

They are known as the "General Principles" and they help to interpret all the other articles.

  • Rights should be applied without discrimination (Article 2)
  • Best interests of the child to be a primary consideration (Article 3)
  • Right to life, survival and development (Article 6)
  • Right to express a view and have that view taken into account (Article 12)

What are the Optional Protocols of the UNCRC?

The UNCRC has three Optional Protocols.

These set out extra provisions which have been written after the treaty was adopted.

A state that signs up to the UNCRC isn't required to sign up to its Optional Protocols.

Currently, the UK is signed up to the first two Optional Protocols, but not to the third Optional Protocol on a communications procedure.

What rights do children have under the UNCRC?

The UNCRC contains 42 articles that cover all aspects of a child's life and set out the civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights that all children in the UK have.

Examples of these are:

  • The right of the child and young people to be heard and have their opinion considered (Article 12)
  • Freedom from violence, abuse and neglect (Article 19)
  • The right to a proper house, food and clothing (Article 27)
  • Access to primary and secondary education (Article 28)
  • The right to play and to rest (Article 31)

It sets out children's individual rights - such as to a name and nationality, and to an adequate standard of living - alongside additional rights for specific groups of children, such as disabled children, children who have been exploited or mistreated, refugee and migrant children, children in custody, and children in care. The Scottish Government has made a guide for children and young people about their specific human rights under the Convention.

"Children's rights are important because they are essential to make a child's life liveable."

Member of Children's Parliament in "What kind of Scotland?"


Email: UNCRCIncorporation@gov.scot

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