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Human rights law defines a child as any human being below the age of 18. In 2014, UNICEF estimated the total number of children in the world at 2.2 billion (The State of the World’s Children 2014 In Numbers: Every Child Counts).

Children are human beings, so they have exactly the same human rights as adults. However, children have been recognised as being in particular need of care and assistance, and for that reason they also have their “own” human rights treaty – the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC).

The CRC was adopted by the United Nations in 1989 and entered into force on 2 September 1990. The CRC applies to all children under the age of 18 in those countries that have accepted it – and nearly every country in the world has done so. Only the United States of America and Somalia have failed to ratify the Convention.

Why is the CRC important?
The CRC is the most widely ratified human rights instrument in the world. It stands as a landmark in the history of children’s rights because it was the first legally binding international instrument adopted specifically to protect the rights of children.

The CRC does not offer children any more rights than other human beings, but it does recognise that additional guarantees may be necessary in order to make sure that children are able to access the human rights which are possessed by everyone. It is notable among international treaties for containing the full spectrum of human rights: civil, political, social, economic and cultural rights.

The CRC marked a shift in the way children are viewed, as the CRC considers children as individuals with rights and responsibilities that reflect their evolving capacities. Furthermore, the CRC has set a specific framework for claiming rights for children.

If every child, regardless of their sex, ethnic origin, social status, language, age, nationality or religion has these rights, then they also have a responsibility to respect each other in a humane way. If children have a right to be protected from conflict, cruelty, exploitation and neglect, then they also have a responsibility not to bully or harm each other. If children have a right to a clean environment, then they also have a responsibility to do what they can to look after their environment.

How does the CRC work?

Every 5 years, country signatories to the CRC have to report back to the Committee on the Rights of the Child on progress made in ensuring respect for the rights included in the Convention. Other organisations are also encouraged to submit reports, and NGOs will very often pick up on possible violations of the Convention which have not been mentioned in the Government’s official report.
The Committee is made up of independent experts and after it has considered all submitted reports – the government’s, and those submitted by NGOs – and held a session in Geneva to question representatives of the government, it issues a series of Concluding Observations. These are intended to be recommendations which countries should implement in order to correct or improve on areas where the Committee feels the Convention is not being respected properly. They will check back on whether these recommendations have been implemented next time the government submits its report.

The state of children: facts and figures

The CRC was a giant step forwards in beginning the process of formalising governmental obligations and providing some form of accountability. However, it was, just the beginning of a process. In every country of the world, children’s rights have a long way to go before they can meet the standards outlined in the Convention.

Children in the world

Of the 2.2 billion children in the world, 600 million live in extreme poverty. This means that one in four children lives on less than one euro a day.2
Every year, almost 9 million children under the age of five die from largely preventable causes. However, this number was much higher 20 years ago and continues to decrease.3
17,000 children die of hunger every day.
The UN estimates that some 250,000 children – boys and girls under the age of 18 – are associated with armed groups or armed forces.
More than 100 million children of primary school age are not attending schools, with more girls than boys missing out.

Children in Europe

There are many issues facing children in Europe, and the following statistics represent a small selection. Other sections in these chapters provide further detail on some of the specific issues.

Children’s rights in Europe

– Many children suffer violence within the family, in the community, in residential care and in other settings. In Central and Eastern Europe, 35% of schoolchildren responding to a survey said they had been bullied during the last two months previous to the interview, with the percentage ranging from 15 to 64%.

– 19% of children in the EU are at risk of poverty.

– More than 626,000 children live in residential institutions in the 22 countries that make up Central and Eastern Europe and the Commonwealth of Independent States, CEE/CIS.

– Some groups of children suffer discrimination, often on multiple grounds. For instance, Roma children frequently experience exclusion from education, and their access to healthcare may be poor. Many disabled children regularly experience prejudice or lack of awareness, and are routinely excluded from participating in decisions that affect them.

– Despite the European Union being one of the wealthiest regions in the world, children across the region continue to live in poverty. 9% of children under 14 live in households where no adult is in paid work. Child poverty and social exclusion have increased significantly in some EU countries during the past twenty years, with younger children facing a higher risk of relative poverty than any other group.

Corporal punishment

It is recognised in human rights law that children have a right to protection against all forms of violence, including corporal punishment, at home, at school, and in any other setting. Yet societies throughout the world, including many European countries, still tolerate and even approve certain forms of violence against children, in particular those inflicted in the home.In 1998, the European Court of Human Rights issued a landmark judgment (A v. UK), the first ruling on parental corporal punishment. Child “A”, a young English boy, had been beaten by his stepfather with a cane, causing severe bruising. The European Court found that the boy’s right to protection from degrading punishment had been breached.
As at June 2011, corporal punishment is unlawful in schools in 117 states, although in only 29 of these are children protected from violent punishment wherever they are, including at home. Twenty-two Council of Europe member states have prohibited violence at home, in schools, in penal systems and in alternative care systems.

Source: Council of Europe