The 54 articles of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) cover all aspects of a child’s life, from the right to education, health and protection from abuse to the right to freedom of expression and access to information. It also says what governments and adults must do to ensure all children can enjoy all their rights. The Convention underpins all the work that Unicef does.

Although the Convention must be seen as a whole and all the rights are linked, there are four articles in the Convention with a special status of general principles. These are overarching rights that are needed for any and all rights in the Convention to be realised:

  • Non-discrimination (article 2): the Convention applies to all children whatever their ethnicity, gender, religion, language, abilities, whatever they think or say, no matter what type of family they come from, whatever their circumstances. For example a child in care has the same right to an education as a child who lives with his/her parents.
  • Best interest of the child (article 3): a child’s best interests must be a top priority in all decisions and actions that affect children. All adults should do what is best for children and should think about how their decisions will affect children. Determining what is in children’s best interests should take into account children’s own views and feelings.
  • Right to life, survival and development (article 6): children have the right to life and governments must do all they can to ensure children survive and develop to their fullest potential. The right to life and survival guarantees the most basic needs such as nutrition, shelter or access to health care. Development - physical, emotional, educational, social and spiritual - is the goal of many of the rights in the Convention, for example the right to education, access to information, freedom of thought or right to play.
  • Right to be heard (article 12): every child has the right to express their views, feelings and wishes in all matters affecting them, and to have their views considered and taken seriously. This principle recognises children as actors in their own lives and applies at all times, throughout a child’s life. This means that when adults make decisions about a child’s life, the child should be asked what they think and feel and adult’s decision needs to take these into account. The Convention recognises that the level of a child’s participation in decisions must be appropriate to the child’s age and maturity.

Find out how we work with UK schools to embed the principles of the Convention in their practice and ethos, and how we work with local government in the UK to put children’s rights at the heart of public services.

You can read more about the UNCRC on our international site and find children's rights resources tailored for children & young people, parents, teachers and other groups on the CRIN website.

General principles of the UNCRC © Unicef UK/14/Fields
The right to be heard (article 12) is one of the four general principles of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. Here, children hold a meeting at Bangabandhu Primary School in London to discuss their Unicef UK rights-respecting work.© Unicef UK/14/Fields