Children’s rights: a long-term job


32 years after the adoption by the United Nations General Assembly of a text guaranteeing the rights of the child, they are still struggling to be respected in the world today. NGOs and associations, including Aide et Action, are mobilizing today to make children’s voices heard and to ensure that their rights become a priority.

On November 20, 1989, the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) was unanimously adopted at the United Nations General Assembly, the first binding text to make² children under 18 in their own right, bearers of fundamental rights, both social, economic, civil, cultural and political. Thirty-two years later, on the occasion of the World Children’s Day 2021 (20 November), it is clear that, even if significant progress has been made, particularly in the area of child health, the rights of the child are still hardly applied in the world.

A binding text and yet….

1 in 6 children now live in extreme poverty[1]

12 million girls are married every year[2]

258 million children are deprived of education[3]

These alarming figures, which are still at risk of worsening due to the economic and social consequences linked to the COVID-19 pandemic, clearly show that a huge gap remains between the legal framework that promotes the rights of the child in many countries and the reality, quite different. The rights of the child may well be proclaimed universal, they are far from being respected, including in developed countries. The situation is extremely urgent: if nothing is done in national and international policies by 2030, more than 70 million children in the world could die before their fifth birthday.

But how can we still explain today that the rights of the child are struggling to be implemented? First reason: the CRC may be a binding text, the fact remains that not respecting it does not expose you to any sanction. The Committee on the Rights of the Child, in charge of ensuring its proper application, analyzes the situation of children’s rights in countries that have ratified the CRC approximately every 5 years. But when rights are violated, the Committee has absolutely no sanctioning power and countries are not compelled to implement its recommendations. Second reason, perhaps more worrying, children, despite existing texts, are still very rarely considered as subjects of rights.

Subjects of rights who ignore each other

Poverty, disease, successive economic, political, migratory, environmental or health crises hit children hard and deprive them, like many adults, of access to their most basic rights. But unlike adults, children suffer more than they act. Their best interests are rarely taken into account. They are poorly informed of their rights, deprived of the means to defend and enforce them, effectively silenced and kept in limbo. All over the world, they face a lot of discrimination and are often not included in decision-making on issues that concern them.

The participation of children is, however, a right which conditions all other rights and is the basis of the best interests of the child. All children must be able to express themselves, be informed of their rights, have access to justice, to care, to be heard and to be consulted in all decisions that concern them. Only such participation enables the child to have a role, to no longer be an object of law but to fully become a subject of law. Yet even today,  children are very rarely consulted, let alone involved in the development of public policies that directly affect them.

Mobilize and raise awareness of children’s rights: the role of NGOs and Aide et Action

Faced with such findings, many associations and NGOs, including Aide et Action, are making children’s rights a priority in their actions on the ground and in their advocacy. As part of our development projects, we ensure that the rights of the child are fully respected, starting with the participation of children. Aide et Action projects are no longer offered to children but developed with them, they become actors of the project. The establishment of school governments, for example, where children elect representatives of their ages so that they can speak out loud and clear about their problems and find solutions to them, allows children to become aware of themselves and to be agents of change in their own social context.

[1] World Bank, 2020

[2] Unicef 2018

[3] Unesco 2018