A child at school holds up a sign showing that we all have rights. All of our work is based on the UNCRC. UNICEF/2016/Fields
A child at school holds up a sign showing that we all have rights. All of our work is based on the UNCRC. UNICEF/2016/Fields

How we protect
Children's rights

with the UN Convention
on the Rights of the Child

Home > What we do > What is the UN Convention on Child Rights?

What is the UN Convention?

The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) is the basis of all of UNICEF’s work. It is the most complete statement of children’s rights ever produced and is the most widely-ratified international human rights treaty in history.

Read a summary of the UN Convention


Read the full UN Convention


What makes the UN Convention so special?

The Convention has 54 articles that cover all aspects of a child’s life and set out the civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights that all children everywhere are entitled to. It also explains how adults and governments must work together to make sure all children can enjoy all their rights.

Every child has rights, whatever their ethnicity, gender, religion, language, abilities or any other status.

The Convention must be seen as a whole: all the rights are linked and no right is more important than another. The right to relax and play (Article 31) and the right to freedom of expression (Article 13) have equal importance as the right to be safe from violence (Article 19) and the right to education (Article 28).

UNICEF is the only organization working for children recognized by the Convention.

The Convention is also the most widely ratified human rights treaty in the world. All UN member states except for the United States have ratified the Convention. The Convention came into force in the UK in 1992.

Girl in Jordan in a UNICEF-supported centre. UNICEF/Al-Safadi

What is in the UN Convention?

You can read the full UN Convention (pdf), or just a summary (pdf), to find out more about the rights that are included.

There are four articles in the Convention that are seen as special. They’re known as the “General Principles” and they help to interpret all the other articles and play a fundamental role in realizing all the rights in the Convention for all children. They are:

  1. Non-discrimination (Article 2)
  2. Best interest of the child (Article 3)
  3. Right to life survival and development (Article 6)
  4. Right to be heard (Article 12)

The Convention also contains a number of agreements to add further, unique rights for children that are optional for countries – they are called “Optional Protocols”. They include:

  1. The Optional Protocol on the involvement of children in armed conflict
    This requires governments to increase the minimum age that children can join the armed forces from 15 years and to ensure that members of their armed forces under the age of 18 do not take a direct part in armed conflict.
  2. The Optional Protocol to the Convention on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography
    This provides detailed requirements for governments to end the sexual exploitation and abuse of children. It also protects children from being sold for non-sexual purposes, such as other forms of forced labour, illegal adoption and organ donation.
  3. The Optional Protocol on a communications procedure
    This allows children to submit a complaint to the United Nations when their rights have been violated and their own country’s legal system were not able to offer a solution.

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