Rights of the Child

Every child, regardless of background, has the right to be treated with respect and be heard. The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child was adopted in 1989. According to the Convention, the best interests of the child must be the primary consideration in all measures concerning children.

The Convention on the Rights of the Child
The Convention defines children as every person under the age of 18 years, provided the child does not come of age earlier under the law that applies to the child. The Convention contains civil and political rights, as well as economic, social and cultural rights. The Convention on the Rights of the Child contains four core principles that govern the interpretation of the Convention's other articles: 

• Prohibition of discrimination (Article 2)
• Making the best interests of the child the primary consideration (Article 3)
• The right to life, survival and development (Article 6)
• The right of the child to express his or her views freely and be heard (Article 12)

The core principles mean that every child, without exception, has the right to enjoy his or her rights; that the best interests of the child must be respected in all decisions relating to the child; that not just the child's survival but also his or her development must be secured to the best of society's ability; and that the views of the child must be heard and respected. These principles relate to each other and together form an attitude towards children that may be referred to as the Convention's approach to children.

What does the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child contain?
The Convention on the Rights of the Child contains civil and political rights, as well as economic, social and cultural rights. Some rights, such as the freedom of expression, the freedom of religion, the freedom of association, the right to education, the right to an adequate standard of living and the best possible state of health, are governed both by the Convention on the Rights of the Child and other central human rights conventions. But the Convention on the Rights of the Child also contains a number of rights specific to children, including the child's right to have personal contact with its parents, the right to care for a child deprived of its family environment, and the right to free education.

Optional Protocols
The Convention on the Rights of the Child also has three Optional Protocols. The first Protocol concerns the involvement of children in armed conflict, requiring that States take all feasible measures they can to prevent children, individuals under the age of 18, from taking a direct part in hostilities. It raises the minimum age for compulsory recruitment from 15, as stated in the Convention on the Rights of the Child, to 18 years of age. The second Protocol concerns the sexual exploitation of children, trafficking in children and child prostitution, as well as child pornography. Sweden has ratified both of these Optional Protocols.

The third Protocol is a complaints mechanism, approved by the UN General Assembly on 2 November 2011 and opened for signature on 28 February 2012. Sweden has contributed constructively to the work of drafting the third Optional Protocol on a complaints mechanism and is currently preparing the issue for decision.

The rights of the child in other international agreements
Most human rights concern both children and adults. But there are conventions other than the Convention on the Rights of the Child which contain provisions specifically relating to children. One is the ILO Convention No 182 concerning the prohibition and immediate action for the elimination of the worst forms of child labour. Similarly the European Convention on Human Rights contains provisions that are particularly important for children, including Article 8, which governs the right to respect for private and family life. The rights of the child are also expressed in the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

The Treaty of Lisbon, which entered into force on 1 December 2009, also considers the rights of the child. Article 3 of the Treaty on European Union states that one of the aims of the EU is to promote the protection of the rights of the child. The Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union, which contains a particular article on the rights of the child, has become legally binding through the Treaty of Lisbon.

Monitoring compliance of the rights
The Convention on the Rights of the Child also contains regulations on how the Convention is to be implemented and how the implementation is to be followed up and monitored. An international Committee on the Rights of the Child has been established in the UN under Article 43 in the Convention on the Rights of the Child. The Committee is tasked with following up and monitoring States' implementation of the Convention's regulations. 

The Committee on the Rights of the Child is an independent expert body. States are to submit a report every five years on the progress that has been made to realise the rights as stated in the Convention. The report is followed by a hearing involving representatives of the Government. The Committee also gathers information for the hearing from other actors, such as the Ombudsman for Children in Sweden, non-governmental organisations and the UN's own bodies. Individuals can also submit information to the Committee. Following the hearing, the Committee compiles its recommendations on how the State can improve its work to live up to the Convention. 

In September 2012, the Government will submit its fifth report on measures and progress to strengthen the rights of the child to the Committee on the Rights of the Child. The Government wants to strengthen coordination and dialogue with relevant actors ahead of the report. To this end, the Ombudsman for Children in Sweden has been instructed to submit a report to the Government as input for Sweden's report.  

The Convention on the Rights of the Child internationally
The Convention on the Rights of the Child has been ratified by every country in the world except for Somalia and the United States, and is thereby in principle a universal document (valid in all countries). But much remains to be done before the Convention can be said to apply in practice worldwide. The rights of children are violated every day. Sweden will therefore continue its efforts to strengthen the rights and improve the living conditions of children. This is taking place through both bilateral and multilateral development cooperation. Sweden draws attention particularly to the widespread violations in some areas of the rights of girls and takes a proactive role to improve the living circumstances of children with disabilities and the situation for children in armed conflict.

Advice to decision-makers from children and young people
- Write and speak so children and young people understand. 
- Spread positive role models of how children and young people have been able to be involved and exercise greater influence. 
- Do not immediately rule out what children and young people say. 
- Show that you are listening by communicating decisions taken to children and young people. 
- When things do not work out as children and young people suggest, decision-makers must explain why. 
- Show appreciation and respect when children and young people take the time to share their views. Serve a snack! (From the 2006 annual report by the Ombudsman for Children in Sweden, entitled Röster som räknas [Voices that count].)