DCI – Childrens Rights 1

Defence for Children International

United Nations Convention on the Rights of

the Child

From Declaration to Convention

The entry into force of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child on

2 September 1990 marked the culmination of nearly 70 years of efforts designed

to ensure that the international community give proper recognition to the

special needs and vulnerability of children as human beings.

The first expression of international concern about the situation of

children came in 1923, when the Council of the newly-established

non-governmental organisation “Save the Children International Union”

adopted a five-point declaration of the rights of the child, known as the

Declaration of Geneva, which was endorsed the following year by the Fifth

Assembly of the League of Nations. In 1948, the General Assembly of the United

Nations approved a slightly expanded version of that text, and went on to adopt

a new Declaration, containing ten basic principles of child welfare and

protection, in 1959.

The 1959 Declaration — which, it can be noted, has not been

superceded, but only supplemented, by the 1989 Convention — served as the

springboard for the initiative to draft the Convention on the Rights of the

Child. The Government of Poland proposed this exercise to the UN Commission on

Human Rights in 1978, presenting an initial text based essentially on that

Declaration. The hope was that it could thereby be adopted rapidly during 1979,

the International Year of the Child, as a lasting symbol of that Year. The

Commission, however, felt that this text needed in-depth review, and set up a

special Working Group the following year which carried out this task at annual

meetings throughout the Eighties. The Working Group managed to come to consensus

on the final version in time for the UN General Assembly to adopt it on 20

November 1989, the thirtieth anniversary of the promulgation of the Declaration.

Although the Convention has been variously heralded or criticised as

being a “revolutionary” document, it should be seen more as a major

landmark in a continuing process of experience-gathering and reflexion over

several decades — in the sphere of human rights in general as well as in

regard to children’s issues. For however progressive the provisions of the

Convention may be, they are essentially the logical outcome of what is now a

well-tried formula in the development of international standards: the setting

out of basic principles, the gradual introduction of some of these into binding

and non-binding international texts of wider scope, and finally their

formulation in a coherent and special binding instrument.

More Than a Catalogue of


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