The Convention on the Rights of the Child aims to give children the right to be treated with respect and make their voices heard, no matter what their background. Among other things, the best interests of children must come first in any instances involving children. All the countries in the world, except for the USA and Sudan, have acceded to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. This means that these states must ensure that the rights granted to children in the Convention on the Rights of the Child are followed in society. The Convention on the Rights of the Child is applicable to all children in any country which has ratified it.
Central articles in the Convention on the Rights of the Child
We’ve selected three articles from the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child that we’d like to draw your attention to, as they’re central to the work of Friends.
Article 2: All children have the same rights and are of equal value. There must be no discrimination
This is one of the primary principles of the Convention on the Rights of the Child and provides the starting point for work with children’s rights. These are fine words indeed, but extremely difficult to live up to. Every day there’s discrimination against children in Sweden and elsewhere in the world, for various reasons. Sometimes this discrimination is the result of a mistake, where what appears to be a fair rule or procedure has different consequences for different children. This can lead to children who practise a certain religion, for example, being disadvantaged by the rules precisely because of their religion. Sometimes such discrimination is more open, such as when a school prohibits two girls who are in a relationship from attending a prom as a couple.
Article 3: The best interests of the child must always come first
Ever since the Convention on the Rights of the Child was compiled, lively discussions have taken place on what should be regarded as the best interests of children. And who actually makes that decision on what the best interests of children are – adults, or children themselves? We don’t claim to have a solution to this, but we can at least state that maturity and age have an important part to play. As children don’t have as much experience of life as adults, they don’t always have the ability to foresee the consequences of their actions. That’s when we may need to intervene and give them support as responsible adults.
Article 12: Children have the right to express their views in all instances involving them
Responsibility for the security of children always rests with adults. But failing to involve children in issues affecting their lives is just wrong. Children and young people want to play an active part in the things happening to them. And much of their time is spent at school. That’s why students should, of course, have plenty to say about the environment, the food, the teaching and so on. And not least, about issues of security at school. But preventing bullying is always the responsibility of adults.
European Union (EU)
European countries have acceded to the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (the Europe Convention) and the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union (the EU Charter of Rights), and these are applicable in Europe. It’s up to the member states to ensure compliance with these conventions, but if an individual feels that the state has failed to comply with its obligation to implement the Europe Convention, they can lodge a complaint with the ECHR. If the ECHR finds that a breach has taken place, the court can order the state to pay damages to the individual.
The rights in these conventions aren’t applicable just to children, but to everyone. That said, the ECHR has expressed the opinion children are a vulnerable group (known as vulnerable persons) and that states therefore bear particular responsibility for ensuring that the rights of children are protected.
National level – Swedish example
Most countries have laws which protect the rights of children not to be subject to offensive treatment, and in Sweden this protection is implemented in a number of different locations. Criminal law includes provisions relating to criminal acts to which nobody should be subject. There are also specific crimes relating specifically to children, such as sexual exploitation of children and child pornography offences.
In Sweden, we also have an Education Act which protects children from offensive treatment in schools. Schools have a zero tolerance approach to offensive treatment of children, which means that schools must always act when there is a suspicion of children being subjected to offensive treatment. If a child has been subject to such treatment, the school has a responsibility to intervene, investigate and create an action plan to prevent such offensive treatment. If the school fails to take responsibility, the child can report the school to the Child and School Student Representative, who has the option of acting as a representative in court for children and students who are involved in offensive treatment linked with school.
We also have a Children’s Ombudsman who has to ensure that the Convention on the Rights of the Child is implemented in Sweden. The Children’s Ombudsman can summon various parties, such as authorities, to ask them how they’re working with the Convention on the Rights of the Child. The Children’s Ombudsman reports to the Committee on the Rights of the Child.