The Purpose of Module 5

The purpose of this module is to provide an overview of the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) and its provisions related to ESC rights.

The module discusses:

  • the general principles that provide the basic framework for the CRC;
  • specific provisions related to ESC rights;
  • implementation measures; and
  • mechanisms for monitoring implementation of the CRC.

The Convention on the Rights of the Child

In 1959, the UN General Assembly adopted the Declaration of the Rights of the Child. [1] It was the first major international instrument exclusively devoted to children’s rights.  It pro­claimed the principle that “the best interests of the child” should guide the actions of those affecting children.  The Declaration provided the moral and legal basis for developing a binding treaty on the rights of the child.

The United Nations proclaimed 1979 as the Year of the Child to mark the twentieth anniver­sary of the Declaration of the Rights of the Child.  In the same year the UN Human Rights Commission began drafting a binding treaty on the subject.  The decision to start the process of drafting the Convention was, however, not obvious.  One objection was that children as much as adults were covered by the existing human rights treaties.  Moreover, there were special provisions in these treaties relating to children in particular.  In some cases this was by implication, as in articles relating to the right to education.  In other cases the formulations explicitly made clear that the child, or the family, was the subject of the provision.  For example, the ICESCR recognizes the right of everyone to education.  It prescribes, inter alia, that primary education shall be compulsory and available free to all (art. 13).  The formulations on the right to health also include that governments should take steps to reduce infant mortality and provide for the healthy development of the child (art. 12).

The Covenant also raises the question of child labor:

Children and young persons should be protected against economic and social exploitation.  Their employment in work harmful to their morals or health or dangerous to life or likely to hamper their normal development should be punishable by law.  States should also set age limits below which the paid employment of child labour should be prohibited and punishable by law. [2]

The European Social Charter has similar norms, somewhat more detailed (art. 7).  More concrete regulations relating to child labor are codified in the ILO conventions, in particular through Convention Nos. 138 and 182.

Discrimination against girls is indeed one aspect of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW).  One obligation expressed therein is that measures should be taken to reduce female dropout rates in the schools. [3]   CEDAW also contains provisions aimed at protecting the woman as mother during and after pregnancy.  Family education should, according to the Convention, make clear “the common responsibility of men and women in the upbringing and development of their children, it being understood that the interest of the children is the primordial consideration in all cases.” [4]

The decision within the United Nations to go ahead with the treaty project on children’s rights in spite of the above mentioned and other existing standards was partly in response to pressure. Strong lobby groups—as there had been in the case of women’s rights—argued that more precise norms were needed and that some important aspects of the rights of the child were, in fact, not covered by existing treaties.  One aspect that NGOs emphasized was that it had become more obvious with time that the interests of children did not always and necessarily coincide with those of their guardians.  This point could be more clearly made in a comprehensive text focused on the rights of the child.

In 1989, the UN General Assembly adopted the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC).  The text, which emerged after the decade-long drafting process, is the uniquely comprehensive list of human rights norms relating to children.  It includes child-related provisions of the other human rights treaties, such as those mentioned above.  Furthermore, the text includes novel aspects such as survival, protection and development of children, as well as provisions for other rights, including the right to participation.  The CRC takes into account the situation of children of minority and indigenous groups, and deals with children threatened by drug abuse and neglect.

An important aspect of the CRC is that it defines some general principles, which together form an approach to the rights of the child that guides national programs of implementation.  The CRC also involves UN bodies and NGOs in the monitoring and implementation efforts.

Convention on the Rights of the Child—general principles

The Convention on the Rights of the Child is rooted in some basic values about the treatment of children, their protection and participation in society.  These ideas are expressed in some of the early articles in the text.  The choice of these articles as “general principles” was made by the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child during its first session in September-October 1991, when it agreed on guidelines on how the initial reports by governments should be written and structured.  That was the context for the important decision to give special emphasis to articles 2, 3, 6 and 12. [5]

These articles were put under a special heading in the guidelines before norms on civil rights, family aspects, health, education and the other more substantive provisions.  It was made clear that the committee wanted governments also to report on the application of these principles in relation to the realization of the other articles in the CRC.  Thereby the convention became something more than a mere list of obligations; it offered a comprehensive message.

Best interests of the child

A major aspect of the philosophy behind the CRC is that children are equals; as human beings they have the same inherent value as grown-ups.  The affirmation of the right to play underlines the fact that childhood is valuable in itself and these years are not merely a training period for the adult life.  The idea that children have equal value may sound like a truism, but it is, in fact, a radical thought—one not at all respected today.

Children—especially when very young—are vulnerable and need special support to be able to enjoy their rights in full.  How can children be granted equal value and at the same time the necessary protection?  Part of the answer lies in the principle of “the best interests of the child,” formulated in article 3(1):

In all actions concerning children, whether undertaken by public or private social welfare institutions, courts of law, administrative authorities or legislative bodies, the best interests of the child shall be a primary consideration.

Whenever official decisions are taken which affect children, their interests should be seen as important.  The interests of the parents or the state should not be the all-important consideration. This is indeed one of the major messages of the CRC.

Views of the child

This first principle, by its very nature, gives importance to another principle, one about respecting the views of the child.  In order to know what actually is in the interests of the child, it is only logical to listen to him or her.  The principle is formulated in article 12(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 be given due weight, in accordance with the age and maturity of the child.

This has been termed by some commentators the “participation” element in the CRC.  The idea is that the child has the right to be heard and have his/her ideas taken seriously.  The reports by states parties so far have been vague on this article; some have stated that children of, for instance, twelve years of age have the right to reject an adoption or a change of name or nationality.  Few have displayed a comprehensive approach to this principle which affects life in schools and families—and in politics.

Right to survival and development

The principle most directly related to children’s economic and social rights is formulated in the right to life article.  Article 6(2) goes further than just granting children the right not to be killed. It includes the right to survival and to development:

States Parties shall ensure to the maximum extent possible the survival and development of the child.

The word “survival” is unusual in human rights treaties; it is borrowed from the terminology used in development discussions.  The purpose was to introduce a dynamic aspect to the right to life, thus including the need for preventive action, such as immunization.

The term “development” relates to the individual child and should be interpreted in a broad sense.  It adds a qualitative dimension to the article.  Not only physical health is intended but also mental, emotional, cognitive, social and cultural development.

Article 6 could be seen as the platform for all other articles in the CRC dealing with ESC rights for children.  Its wording about “the maximum extent possible” implies a recognition that implementation requires resources and that certain measures may not be possible for poorer countries.  At the same time, the formulation indicates that priority should be given to the implementation of this requirement in all countries.

Much of the debate about children’s right to life has focused on the issue of abortion.  There is a reference to the unborn child in the preamble of the CRC, which has caused some confusion: “the child, by reason of his physical and mental immaturity, needs special safeguards and care, including appropriate legal protection, before as well as after birth.”  It is understandable that the antiabortion lobby has found support in this formulation, but the preamble is not part of the formal treaty obligations.  In fact, when an article against abortion was proposed during the drafting process, this was rejected.

Recognizing the Agency of Children

Ameena, a thirteen-year-old Muslim girl, was sold by her parents for a small sum to a Saudi Arabian sheikh. She was one of several siblings, many of whom were girls. Her father worked as a weaver; the family was impoverished. The "sale" was disguised as a marriage, although even under Muslim law, Ameena was too young to give her consent to the "nikah." Ameena would not have come to public notice had it not been for a vigilant and sensitive air hostess, Ms. Ahluwalia, who noticed the young distraught child in the aircraft before it flew out of the country. On Ms. Ahluwalia's sounding an alert, the police were informed, the sheikh was arrested, and Ameena was sent to a government protective home for children in New Delhi. The home is located within the complex which houses the notorious Tihar Central Jail in Delhi, and the proximity does not end there. The home functions as a prison despite the status of a "home" under the law.

A police case was registered against the sheikh and Ameena's parents. During the several months the case went on, Ameena lived in the prison-like confines of the protective home. While her parents traveled from distant Andhra Pradesh at devastating cost to attend court hearings, the sheikh sought refuge in the Saudi Arabian embassy in Delhi, and managed to eventually flee the country. Ameena's relationship with her parents naturally was strained and she developed a friendship with Ms. Ahluwalia, who visited her regularly. Ms. Ahluwalia expressed her desire to adopt Ameena, or at least take her into temporary custody till the case was decided, but her requests were refused by the state as well as the courts.

In a case filed by Ms. Ahluwalia and several women's organizations the Delhi High Court directed that Ameena be restored to the custody of her parents and sent home. To prevent her being sold again, the Court issued directives to the state government that Ameena be provided with free education, and that the state monitor her well-being at regular intervals and make some provisions for providing economic security to the family. Ameena went home with her parents, even with the criminal case pending against them.

Ameena was at no stage seen as a person with any agency or capacity to take decisions for herself. Her father gave consent on her behalf to the "nikah," Ms. Ahluwalia activated the police and the legal system, the state placed her in the protective home, the court sent her back to her parents, and eventually her parents prevailed upon her to dilute her testimony against them in the criminal case.

What did Ameena want? We don't really know because she was not asked. While the law and her parents obviously believed her to be old enough to be married and become sexually active, she was not given even a limited amount of control over directing the path of her life. Perhaps all she wanted was not to be separated from her brothers and sisters, and to enjoy the last few years of her childhood in peace.

Lack of recognition of the capacity of children to decide has very negative implications for certain categories of children, such as street children, who become accustomed at an early age to taking their own decisions and to a certain type of freedom. Treating all children as bereft of any agency without reference to their age and situation seems to be a direct assault on their rights as individuals.6

There are, however, several other aspects of the protection and development of the unborn child that can be discussed on the basis of the CRC.  The Committee on the Rights of the Child has emphasized the importance of health care for pregnant women.  Children born of malnourished or sick mothers will have a bad start.  It is important to encourage pregnant women to avoid the use of alcohol and other drugs as well as smoking.  When tackling these problems, it may not matter much whether action is based on a right to protection for the unborn child or the right of the born child to have a healthy beginning.

Modern child psychology has made clear how important the first days, weeks and months are for the future development of the child.  This should also be considered in serious efforts of implementing article 6.  It is absolutely essential that the child from the very beginning have a possibility to relate to and communicate fully with the mother and/or another adult.  Do all parents know these fundamental facts?  Are they given a chance to be with their children?  Recent surveys in several industrialized countries indicate that parent education is unsatisfactory and that time for children is a scarce commodity.  Day-care centers, nursery and ordinary schools are other critical social environments for children in which it should be possible for children to develop their personalities.


The fourth general principle of the CRC, as identified by the Committee on the Rights of the Child, is that all children should enjoy their rights and no child should suffer 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 or his or her parent’s or legal guardian’s race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national, ethnic or social origin, property, disability, birth or other status. [Emphasis added.]

The message is about equality of rights.  Girls should be given the same opportunities as boys. Refugee children and children of indigenous or minority groups should have the same rights as all others.  Children with disabilities should be given the same possibility to lead a decent life as the rest.

The Rights of the Child and ESC Rights

On the whole, it seems that the CRC has contributed to a renewed and more positive discussion about ESC rights in general.  By its very nature the convention gives support to the position that all rights are indivisible, interdependent and interrelated.  This has been further amplified by the holistic approach the UN committee has taken in its monitoring work.  Most articles of the CRC have elements of protection, participation and development; they are kin to both of the Covenants.

In view of the CRC’s holistic approach, it is not obvious which of the substantive articles should be seen as belonging to the category of ESC rights.  However, the articles which the UN committee grouped together under the heading of “Basic Health and Welfare” are definitely of relevance in this context.  The same is true for the provisions under “Education, Leisure and Cultural Activities.”  Other articles of interest in this connection are some of those described as “Special Protection Measures,” which relate to vulnerable groups of children or children in situations of risk.  Some of these aim at protecting children against various forms of exploitation, including hazardous labor.

Education and the Girl Child

Today 125 million primary-school-age children are not in school; most of them are girls.

Another 150 million children start primary school but drop out before they have completed four years of education, the vast majority before they have acquired basic literacy skills.

In much of the developing world, the education provided to children is of an abysmal quality . . . "School" in much of sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia is a crumbling building without a roof, without access to clean water, and often without toilets. Millions of children are being taught by poorly trained teachers in classrooms which lack a blackboard, chalk, chairs or desks.

Young girls account for two out of every three children not in school. As a result, the next generation of illiterate adults, like the current generation, will be predominantly female. At the heart of the education systems of the developing world is a pattern of gender apartheid which distributes opportunity not on the basis of inherited rights, but on the basis of inherited chromosomes.

The denial of education to so many millions of children is not just a tragedy in its own right. It stands as an indictment of governments. Half a century ago, article 26 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights established education as a fundamental human right. This was reaffirmed by the Convention on the Rights of the Child. Signed by all but two of the world's governments, the Conventions sets clear and binding legal obligations on governments to provide all children with the right to education.7

A complete analysis of the social rights of the CRC would also deal with some of the articles under “Family Environment and Alternative Care.”

Basic health and welfare

All provisions in the CRC relating to health and welfare can be deduced from the principle of the right of the child to survive and develop.  The emphasis on development is paramount in the article about disabled children.  They should “enjoy a full and decent life, in conditions which ensure dignity, promote self-reliance and facilitate the child’s active participation in the community” (art. 23).

The point about nondiscrimination is also made in the key health article: Governments should strive to ensure that no child is deprived of access to health care services (art. 24).  The article further states that governments should take appropriate measures to diminish infant and child mortality; to develop a primary health care system for children; to combat disease and malnutrition through, inter alia, the provision of nutritious food and clean water; to ensure pre- and post-natal care for mothers; to spread awareness about child health and nutrition, including information on the advantages of breast-feeding, hygiene, and environmental sanitation and on the prevention of accidents; and to develop guidance for parents and family planning. (See Module 14 on the right to health.)

Further, the same article takes a position against female circumcision.  The formulation is that governments should “take all effective and appropriate measures with a view to abolishing traditional practices prejudicial to the health of children” (art. 24[3]).  (See Module 17 on cultural rights and Module 4, “Culture and Women’s Rights: Female Genital Mutilation,” p. 87).

AIDS Orphans

AIDS orphans are defined as children under the age of fifteen who have lost either their mother or both parents to AIDS. Many of the people who die of AIDS are infected in their twenties and die in their thirties, leaving their children behind as orphans. It was estimated that by the year 2000, the total number of AIDS orphans would rise to 13 million. The overwhelming majority of the orphans are in Africa. Before AIDS, about 2 percent of all children in developing countries were orphans. By 1997, the figure had jumped to 7 percent in many African countries-in some countries the figures run as high as 11 percent.

Some AIDS orphans are taken in by extended families, but they are usually abandoned when the family finds the burden too great. The majority are left to fend for themselves on the streets. These children end up begging, drug peddling or working as casual laborers. Compared with children orphaned by other causes, AIDS orphans are at increased risk of malnutrition, illness, abuse and sexual exploitation. AIDS orphans are stigmatized, leaving them socially isolated and frequently deprived of education and other basic social services.

The CRC also raises the issue of social security benefits.  States parties should recognize the right of the child in this context and take necessary measures (art. 26). Children of working parents have the right to benefit from child care services (art. 18[3]).  The right of development is the basis also for the article about a reasonable standard of living: “States Parties recognize the right of every child to a standard of living adequate for the child’s physical, mental, spiritual, moral and social development” (art. 27[1]). They shall, in case of need, provide material assistance, particularly with regard to nutrition, clothing and housing (art. 27[3]).

For obvious reasons, there are reservations in these articles relating to resources.  Special care for disabled children is “subject to available resources” and the states shall take measures in regard to the child’s standard of living “within their means.”

International cooperation is mentioned both in relation to the rights of disabled children and the provisions in the key health article.  The latter also introduces the concept of progressive implementation:

States Parties undertake to promote and encourage international co-operation with a view to achieving progressively the full realization of the right recognized in the present article.  In this regard, particular account shall be taken of the needs of developing countries. [Art. 24(4).]

Education, leisure and cultural activities

The provisions on education, leisure and culture in the CRC are also related to the principle of the right to development.  The aspect of nondiscrimination is emphasized in the key article about the right to education.  Primary education should be compulsory and available free to all.  In addition, secondary education should be available and accessible to every child; financial assistance should be offered in case of need.  Higher education should be accessible to all on the basis of capacity (art. 28).

The same article requests governments to take measures to reduce dropout rates.  This is an aspect that the Committee on the Rights of the Child has stressed in its discussions with states parties.  In particular, there have been questions on what has been done to guarantee school attendance of girls as compared to boys.  In some countries children of minority groups are also disadvantaged in this respect.  The real costs to the family of a child’s being at school could be prohibitive.  Another important factor in this context is whether education is given in the language of the child.

School is not only about learning facts and figures.  The CRC expresses views both about the spirit in the school and the values to be taught.  The pedagogic methods should be child- oriented.  School discipline should be administered “in a manner consistent with the child’s human dignity and in conformity with the present Convention” (art. 28[2]).  The UN committee interprets this to mean that corporal punishment should not be allowed in schools.

Education should aim at developing the child’s personality and talents as well as mental and physical abilities to their fullest potential.  It should prepare the child for a responsible life in a free society, in the spirit of understanding, peace, tolerance, equality of sexes, and friendship among all peoples, ethnic, national and religious groups and persons of indigenous origin. Respect for human rights and the natural environment are also specifically mentioned (art. 29).

Reducing Dropout Rates

"In Andhra Pradesh, India, the M. Venkatarangaiya Foundation (MVF) has grown from small beginnings in five villages to provide educational opportunities for over 80,000 children from 500 villages.

"Working in an area with high levels of child labour and exceptionally low rates of female enrolment, the immediate priority was to get young children from 'child-labour-prone' households into primary school. Then, a new programme was developed for children aged 9-14 who had not been to school because they were working, and were now to old to start. The 'bridging programme' provided for these children, now mostly run in village schools, prepare them for progression into government schools.

"Most of the children enrolled in MVF schools were either already working as agricultural labourers on cotton farms, or destined to follow their brothers and sisters in this line of work. High levels of household debt owed to the cotton farmers as a result of high-interest loans taken up during the 'hungry season' had created a cycle of life-long debt bondage, which was in turn providing the farmers with a steady stream of child labour.

"What explains the success of MVF? The provision of educational opportunities was one element. Equally important, however, was a campaign of mass political mobilisation, especially targeting the owners of cotton farms as well as parents themselves. Over 1,500 teachers joined a Forum of Teachers against Child Labour, going out to villages to talk to the parents of out-of-school children about the education. These teachers also helped train large number of 'para-teachers', most of them from local villages. Parent-teacher associations were established in every village, with parents helping to develop the curriculum and to design the schedule for the school day." 8

Another article (art. 31) covers the right of the child to rest, leisure and play.  His/her right to participate fully in cultural and artistic life should be promoted.  The government should “encourage the provision of appropriate and equal opportunities for cultural, artistic, recreational and leisure activity.”  Also, in article 28(3) it is specified that international cooperation might be desirable.

Protection against exploitation

All provisions of the CRC are relevant to all children.  Take, for example, the rights of the refugee child; these are not limited to aspects raised in article 22, though this one deals especially with the rights of such a child.  The intention is that all other provisions also should be available for the refugee child.  Some of the articles dealing with special protection for children in particularly difficult circumstances were grouped together by the committee under the heading “Special Protection Measures.”  Some of them clearly relate to ESC rights.  Article 30 deals with the right of a child belonging to a minority group or one of the indigenous peoples to enjoy his or her culture.

Exploitation in various forms is banned in five separate articles.  One deals with economic exploitation and protection against work “likely to be hazardous or to interfere with the child’s education, or to be harmful to the child’s health or physical, mental, spiritual, moral or social development.”  It makes a reference to the provisions of other international instruments such as the relevant ILO conventions.  It requests states to provide for rules about minimum age of employment, for regulation of hours and conditions of employment, and for inspections and the possibility of sanctions in order to enforce these standards (art. 32).

This article was discussed in some detail at a “General Discussion” organized by the Committee on the Rights of the Child in October 1993.  Representatives of some Latin American nongovernmental groups suggested that there is a clash between this protective article and “the right of the child to work.”  They argued that some children have to work for their own, or their families’, living.  An age limit could make their work illegal and prevent them from organizing themselves for protection.

This is the other side of the coin of a holistic approach.  If important provisions of the CRC are not implemented, certain rules intended to support the child could have a repressive effect.  The conclusion of the committee, however, was not to question the validity of the article, but to emphasize that children should not be put in situations of such negative choices.  This approach in itself has repercussions for economic policy, also on a “macro” level.

Children and Debt Bondage

Madiga, aged twelve, was the most educated of the half dozen boys tending cattle outside a village twenty kilometers from the city of Hyderabad, India. Madiga spent four years in the village primary school. A year and half ago Madiga was taken out of school by his parents to work for Mr. Reddy, the owner of a local dairy. Madiga's parents had borrowed 2,000 rupees (fifty US $) from Mr. Reddy to cover the cost of their eldest son's marriage. To pay for the interest on the loan and as a form of security, Madiga was put to work for Mr. Reddy. The landlord pays Madiga a pot of rice (sixteen kilos) and twenty rupees a month (half US $). If he had a chance, Madiga said, he would return to school, but he could not leave Mr. Reddy until his parents repaid the loan. Since his parents are agricultural workers, it seems unlikely that they could ever save enough to pay Mr. Reddy.9

In fact, article 32 allows for different minimum ages depending on the nature of the job; lighter work is possible in lower ages.  The point is that there should be a conscious policy in this field and that children’s health and possibilities for education should not be undermined.  This is also the approach of the relevant ILO conventions.

Another type of exploitation is to be effectively countered: Necessary measures should be taken to protect children from the use of narcotic drugs.  Preventive action should also be taken against the use of children in the production and trafficking of such substances (art. 33).

Children should be protected from all forms of sexual exploitation and sexual abuse.  National, bilateral and multilateral measures should be taken against child prostitution and child pornography (art. 34).  Likewise, national, bilateral and multilateral measures should be taken to prevent the abduction, sale or “trafficking” of children (art. 35).  Finally, there is an article asking, in general, that governments protect the child against all other forms of exploitation “prejudicial to any aspects of the child’s welfare” (art. 36).

There is no reference to progressive implementation or to resource problems in these articles. The conclusion is that they should be implemented without delay.  The international dimensions mentioned in some of the articles refer to the need for cooperation to counter transnational criminal activities.

Measures of Implementation

General Measures of Implementation

The degree of implementation of the CRC is to a large extent a question of political will. When drafting the reporting guidelines, the committee chose to give heavy emphasis to general measures, including those of a political nature, to make a reality of the principles and provisions of the convention.  It proposed a comprehensive approach of reform in the spirit of the CRC, not least the establishment of procedures that would encourage constant scrutiny of what actually is done in this domain. 

Of particular interest here is article 4, which describes obligations of conduct rather than of result; the emphasis is on what efforts the state party makes in promoting the implementation of the CRC.  The same is true for the other two articles under General Measures of Implementation—those relating to making the Convention and the state party report widely known to the public (arts. 42 and 44[6]).

Legislative, administrative and other measures

A state party should review its legislation and ensure that the laws are consistent with the CRC.  This process of legal harmonization is relevant also for many of the rights usually described as economic, social and cultural.  Laws are needed for the protection of children against exploitation, for instance, in the formal or informal labor market.  Furthermore, it is normal that legislation is enacted to ensure compulsory education.  Also, in the fields of health and social welfare most countries have developed legal norms to establish certain principles and guarantee nondiscrimination.

Child Soldiers

There are an estimated 300,000 child soldiers around the world. Each year the number grows as more children are recruited for use in active combat. The development of lighter weapons, for example the AK-47, means that boys as young as eight can be armed. They are recruited because they are often less demanding soldiers than adults and easier to manipulate; they are cheaper to keep because they eat less. The youngest registered child soldiers are about seven years old, while article 38 of the CRC of 1989 proposes that children under the age of fifteen should not be recruited to participate in armed combat.

While some children join up of their own free will, many child soldiers are recruited by force. Children living by themselves in a combat area, without contact with school or family, run a particularly great risk of being recruited. During the last ten years at least 2 million children (soldiers and civilians) have died in war; 4-5 million have become physically disabled. Approximately 10 million children suffer from psychic damage caused by armed conflict. They have seen people killed and have experienced the terror of possibly being killed themselves.

Children do badly when they participate in war. They take tremendous risks, are often shot and killed, crippled, tortured, and/or raped. They are deprived of their most basic rights to survival and development. Drug dependency and sexually transmitted diseases such as HIV/AIDS are common.

Child soldiers are deprived of their childhood. They are often victims of severe emotional disorders with symptoms such as anguish, apathy, nightmares, depression, difficulty concentrating, hyperactivity and refusal to eat. They are scarred for life. Rehabilitation of the child soldiers is a difficult process. Without rehabilitation and integration back into the local community, child soldiers are unable to readjust to the norms and values prevailing there.


The “administrative and other measures” could include a range of steps in order to make the implementation effective.  Already the reporting guidelines indicate that mechanisms should exist on the national and local level to coordinate policies and to monitor the implementation of the CRC.  In some countries there is nowadays an ombudsman, special commission or a similar institution for ombudswork for the rights of the child; the intention in most such cases is to ensure a system of independent monitoring.

Other mechanisms could be created for monitoring the rights of the child, including the establishment of complaint procedures.  National commissions with NGOs have been established in a number of countries.  The political decision-making itself is, of course, crucial.  What procedures are there to ensure that children’s rights matters are taken seriously in both the parliament and local assemblies?  There should be opportunities for children themselves and their representatives to be heard.  A major purpose of the procedures designed in relation to the CRC is to encourage a free public discussion on the rights of the child.

Another aspect that the committee has raised in this context is the importance of collecting reliable and relevant facts on the situation of children.  With precise data the discussion about remedies can be better informed and focused.  Improvement of the capacity of the national statistical office can therefore be an essential contribution to the implementation of the CRC.

One important means towards genuine realization of the CRC is education and training of personnel working with children—nursery school teachers and other teachers, child psychologists, pediatricians and other health personnel, the police, social workers and others.  A deep understanding among these professionals of the idea of the rights of the child could be immensely important.


In the spirit of respecting the principle that all human rights are indivisible, interdependent and interrelated, there was an intention during the drafting of the CRC to avoid distinguishing between the two sets of rights as defined by the two Covenants.  In the text there is only one direct reference to the term “economic, social and cultural rights” (art. 4, sentence 2).

A general reservation about resource conditionality would have weakened provisions in the CRC that were not intended to be subject to the availability of resources, for instance those relating to civil rights and nondiscrimination (the corresponding articles are unconditional in other human rights treaties).  A distinction was therefore made in this very article along the line of the divide between the two Covenants.  The formulation was not adjusted to the facts that ESC rights are not the only ones demanding substantial resources for implementation and that there are some aspects of these rights which are less expensive.  This left the precise meaning of “economic, social and cultural rights” in this context less than clear. One interpretation is to include in that category only those articles of the CRC in which resource limitations are expressly made, for example relating to disabled children and the right to an adequate standard of living (arts. 23 and 27).

What precisely does “available resources” mean?  In large part, of course, it means the financial resources at hand.  However, there are other types of resources, for instance those related to personnel, know-how and organizational capacity.  Traditions, culture and political maturity are other important factors related to the ability of a society to tackle its problems. Values like tolerance, mutual respect and a spirit of solidarity can also be seen as resources.

Furthermore, resources should not be seen as static.  Not least for the long range perspective, the dynamic dimension is politically interesting—the mobilization of resources.10 Although the political authorities are directly responsible for the implementation of the CRC, the resources of the whole society matter, including those in the so-called civil society.  This ought to be a spur for governments to be open to and encourage the initiatives and work of nongovernmental groups.

The issue of privatization of public services is part of this discussion.  One argument for such moves has been precisely to mobilize more resources; private activities have also been regarded as more cost-effective.  The CRC does not take a position on whether, for example, health clinics and schools should be in private or public hands.  What is important, however, is that the rights of the child are respected, and in that regard, the government will always be responsible.

Another political controversy has affected the discussion about what resources are available for child-related services: To what extent can budgets be trimmed or not trimmed during a period of recession or economic crisis?  Programs of structural adjustment have been enforced in most countries during recent years; this has been an economic necessity.  How do these policies relate to the rights of the child?

A responsible—and future-oriented—economic policy is naturally in the interest of children. For them it is desirable that space be created for necessary investments and that foreign debts be reduced.  This ought not to be controversial.  The problem relates to present priorities, to how cuts and savings are made today.  UNICEF and others have discussed structural reform with a human face, with the intention of creating safeguards against cuts with severe social consequences.11  The declaration adopted at the World Summit for Children at the United Nations in September 1990 called for “structural adjustments that promote world economic growth, particularly in developing countries, while ensuring the well-being of the most vulnerable sectors of the populations, in particular the children.”12

An international exchange of ideas in this sphere is essential and seems indeed to be devel­oping. The emphasis by UNDP and others on “human development” has contributed to wider awareness of the economic importance of investing in humans.  Examples often mentioned in that discussion are key provisions for children—primary education and access to basic health services.  The World Summit emphasized the principle of “first call” for children.

Such priority-setting fits well with the wording in ar­ticle 4 that directs governments to undertake implementation measures “to the maximum extent of their available resources.”  The sentence is not an escape clause for countries with fewer resources; it asks all states parties to give priority within their means to implementation of the CRC.

This has interesting implications. One is that countries with more resources should offer services to children on a higher absolute level than is possible for poor countries.  The CRC should not only be seen as a list of minimum requirements.  Richer countries should ask more from themselves; they should also put in “the maximum extent” of their resources.  This makes the CRC more relevant to affluent societies.

On the other hand, poor countries should at least endeavor to fulfill the minimum core obligations.  They should undertake every effort in using their limited resources to meet these minimum requirements as a matter of priority.  Monitoring and the devising of strategies and programs are obligations, whatever the starting point is.

There is one clear difference between article 4 of the CRC and article 2 of the ICESCR: the latter allows for a progressive realization of the rights (with the exception of the aspect of nondiscrimination).  This possibility of a gradual approach is not at all included in article 4 of the CRC and, in fact, is limited in the CRC to a few specific articles.  The key provision on the right to education uses the language of “achieving this right progressively” (art. 28[1]).  A similar touch is given to the major health article, which recognizes the right of the child to enjoy “the highest attainable standard of health” (art. 24[1]).

International cooperation

The very last words of article 4 raise the issue of international cooperation: “States Parties shall undertake such measures to the maximum extent of their available resources and, where needed, within the framework of international co-operation”  (emphasis added).  On the basis of this reference, it seems that what is intended, at least partly, is development assistance.

Cooperation is mentioned in other articles as well.  One was quoted above, relating to means for the provision for the right to health (art. 24[4]).  A similar formulation is included in article 28(3) on the right to education and in the article on the rights of disabled children.  In article 23(4) there is also an emphasis on exchange of information and knowledge.  Furthermore, there are references to international standards and agreements in several of the articles and, as in the case of protection against sexual exploitation, requests for bilateral and multilateral measures in a transnational context (arts. 34 and 35).

There are obligations tied to the clauses about international cooperation in the CRC.  For the donor countries the question is what priority—and direction—child-related programs should have in overall development aid policy.

The World Summit discussed other types of cooperation in the economic arena.  For example:

Debt relief for children, including debt swaps for investment in social development programmes, should be considered by debtors and creditors.  The international community, including private-sector creditors, are urged to work with developing countries and relevant agencies to support debt relief for children.13

Monitoring and Enforcement

The international procedures designed to monitor the implementation of the CRC are not very different from those established in relation to the other UN human rights treaties.  (See Module 24 for more details on the Committee on the Rights of the Child’s procedures.)

The workings of the Committee on the Rights of the Child, however, are not the most important aspect of the monitoring and enforcement efforts.  National procedures are more crucial; that is where the discussion can be sufficiently detailed and well informed to spur genuine improvements.  In fact, much of the work of the committee aims at encouraging a good national process.  Another intended side effect is catalyzing international organizations to integrate the principles and provisions of the CRC into their programs. 

In the same spirit, the committee has tried to develop its thinking on how to measure progress and has initiated an internal discussion on economic and social indicators.  In the fields of health and education it has benefited from the goals adopted at the World Summit.  Progress in achieving those goals is consistent with the CRC and reflects a political will in support of the rights of the child.  Nonetheless, the committee is groping with fundamental problems on how to meaningfully discuss government performance in relation to the CRC.  For instance, it still lacks a technique for evaluating official budgets and their provisions for children in a competent manner.

At the same time, the committee has to be aware of the fact that the CRC, like other UN human rights treaties, is defining individual rights.  Though there is no procedure for individual complaints in relation to this convention, the committee cannot remain with only global trends. The answer has been to focus a lot on especially vulnerable groups of children and emphasize the aspect of nondiscrimination.  While welcoming a high general rate of school attendance, for example, the committee tends to focus on those who drop out: Who are they and what could be done to protect their rights?

A factor of importance in monitoring is the precise nature of the state party obligations.  Many articles request the government not only to respect but also to protect a right or to take concrete measures for its realization; this is true not least for the economic and social rights.  On many aspects of the CRC, it may not be sufficient to legislate; proactive measures may be needed to ensure enforcement.  The approach of the committee has been to assume that the intention is to achieve results.  It has therefore focused on the concrete situation of the children concerned and asked whether the CRC is indeed reflected in their daily lives.

Author: The author of this module is Thomas Hammarberg.



1. Convention on the Rights of the Child, adopted 20 Nov. 1989, GA Res. 44/25, 44 UN GAOR Supp. (No. 49) at 165, UN Doc. A/44/736 (1989), reprinted in 28 ILM 1448 (1989).

2.        International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, adopted 16 Dec. 1966, GA Res. 2200 (XXI), 21 UN GAOR Supp. (No. 16) at 49, arts. 16-25, UN Doc. A/6316 (1966), 993 UNTS 3, entered into force 3 Jan. 1976, article 10(3).

3. Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, adopted 18 Dec. 1979, GA Res. 34/180, 34 UN GAOR Supp. (No. 46), UN Doc. A/34/46 (1980), 1249 UNTS 13, entered into force 3 Sept. 1981, reprinted in 19 ILM 33 (1980), article 10(f) (hereafter cited as CEDAW].

4. CEDAW, article 5(b).  See S. Goonesekere, “Women’s Rights and Children’s Rights: The United Nations Conventions as Compatible and Complementary International Treaties,” Innocenti Occa­sional Papers, 1992.

5. General guidelines regarding the form and content of initial reports to be submitted by States Parties under article 44, paragraph 1(a), of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, UN Doc. CRC/C/5 (1991); see also Official Records of the General Assembly, Forty-seventh Sess., Supp. (No. 41), UN Doc. A/47/41, Annex III (1992).

6. This case study was provided by Shomona Khanna, India.

7. Kevin Watkins, Education Now: Break the Cycle of Poverty (Oxford: OXFAM International, 1999), 1-3.

8.  Ibid., 131.

9. Myron Weiner, The Child and the State in India (Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1991), 19.

10. J. Himes, “Implementing the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child: Resource Mobilization and the Obligations of the States Parties,” Innocenti Occasional Papers, 1992.

11. Giovanni Andrea Cornia, Adjustment with a Human Face: Protecting the Vulnerable and Pro­moting Growth, ed. Richard Jolly and Frances Stewart (Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1987).

12. World Declaration on the Survival, Protection and Development of Children, World Summit for Children, point 10 (1990).

13. Plan of Action for Implementing the World Declaration on the Survival, Protection and Devel­opment of Children in the 1990s, World Summit for Children, point 31 (1990).

copyright information