Every child and young person has rights, no matter who they are or where they live. These include rights to education, protection and survival. Nearly every government in the world has promised to protect, respect and fulfil these rights, yet every day they are still violated.
The world’s first declaration on children’s rights was written by Save the Children’s founder, Eglantyne Jebb, in 1923.
Jebb's Declaration of the Rights of the Child formed the basis for the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC), an international statement that sets out fundamental rights for all children. Almost every country in the world has signed up to the UNCRC, but many still fail to prioritise and protect children.
Children around the world still face poverty, disease, discrimination and exploitation every day. Many are out of school, used as cheap labour or recruited into armed forces. Millions face danger as refugees and many have been separated from their parents.
We’re working to make children’s rights a reality through our education, protection, poverty and health programmes. And we’re pushing children’s rights worldwide by:
- ensuring children and young people's views are heard by decision makers
- campaigning to get children's rights included in laws and policies
- supporting organisations that promote and protect children’s rights.
At 62, Boboeva has 11 children and more than 30 grandchildren. When her two youngest daughters were born, she didn’t register their births. “I thought it was just a meaningless and useless piece of paper,” she said.
Later, at a women’s group supported by Save the Children, Boboeva learned that her without a birth certificate her children had no official name or nationality. These are rights for every child.
“I realised that everything requires birth registration,” she said. “To get a proper job, enrol in school, get married, register children.”
Boboeva has since registered her daughters’ births, which has opened up a world of opportunity. Now, she tells all the young women in the village to register their children.
How big is the problem?
There are many ways in which children’s rights can be violated. These are just a few examples.
- 1 in 3 children under five has not had their birth registered, meaning they don’t have an official name or nationality.
- Almost half of all child deaths before the age of five are the result of malnutrition.
- In half the countries where records exist, more than 80% of children aged 2–14 have experienced violent discipline.
- About a third of women aged 20 to 24 were married before the age of 18.
- Child labour affects 168 million children and around half are involved in hazardous work.
Claire from Steps stands up for children's rights
At a national level, we’re calling upon all governments to recommit to the UNCRC by focusing on three key areas.
- Ensuring all legislation is in full compliance with the UNCRC.
- Increasing government spending on children and ensuring that resources are being used effectively.
- Establishing an independent ombudsman for the protection and promotion of child rights in every country, and setting up an international complaints procedure for the UNCRC.
Our teams also incorporate children’s rights into local initiatives such as the ones outlined below.
- Central African Republic (CAR): In CAR, thousands of children have been recruited into armed groups. We’re working with ex-militia leaders on both sides of the conflict to make them aware of children’s rights, and we’re helping demobilised children rebuild their lives.
- Sierra Leone: We helped set up the Children’s Forum Network in 2000 in partnership with the government. This network of young people aims to raise awareness of children’s rights and offer children the chance to have a say on the issues that affect them.
- Myanmar (Burma): Children in Myanmar face significant child rights violations. We have been listening to children’s experiences and supporting child rights groups. In the run-up to the 2015 elections, we worked with UNICEF to put pressure on parties to prioritise children and give them a fair start in life.
- Child refugee crisis: As thousands of child refugees continue to flee Syria and other countries, we’re working in camps and along the routes refugees take into Europe. Our teams identify and protect children travelling alone, and help refugee children understand their rights and the services they are entitled to.
- Yemen: By setting up child-friendly spaces, we’re giving children living amid conflict in Yemen a safe place to play and learn. Our teams help them learn about their rights, and give children the chance to make their voices heard.
- Ethiopia: As part of our education improvement programme in Ethiopia, we’ve set up child-to-child support groups in schools. They meet on a weekly basis and give children a chance to discuss their rights and raise concerns about issues outside of school.
- Somalia: Alongside partner organisation TASS, we’re teaching communities about children’s rights and child protection as part of a programme to prevent female genital mutilation (FGM.)
- Syria, Jordan and Lebanon: Early marriage is on the rise among Syrian girls. We’re working in camps in Jordan and Lebanon to educate young people and parents about children’s reproductive rights. We’re also supporting youth groups to campaign on these issues.
- Every child’s right to be heard: A resource guide on the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child General Comment No.12.
- The right to learn: Community participation in improving learning.
- Every Last Girl: Free to live, free to learn, free from harm.
Last updated March 2017.