The Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) is a United Nations legally binding treaty that incorporates respect for all children's needs, including their civil, cultural, economic, political, and social rights.1 The CRC includes basic humanitarian law and defining principles concerning children. The 54 articles of the CRC and its two Optional Protocols are based on four core principles: non-discrimination; the best interests of the child; the right to life, survival, and development; and respect for the views of the child.2
The 1945 United Nations Charter declared the need for the nations to respect all people's basic human rights and fundamental freedoms. Three years later in 1948, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was adopted and thus an international moral code was established. Over the next decade several more official Declarations on the Rights of the Child were agreed upon, however, none of these carried the weight of international law.
As the UN moved from “Declarations” into legally binding “Covenant” or “Convention” treaties, they have adopted six treaties which further outlined specific human rights and held governments accountable for the “respect for, protection of and realization of the rights of individuals in their country.”3 The first two of these, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), were adopted in 1976. These treaties took the morally binding principles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and quantified them into legally binding principles on specific topics for the international community. Other treaties on torture, discrimination, women, and children were begun as well.
The first draft of the CRC was submitted in 1978 just before the UN International Year of the Child.4 A UN committee then began the process of correlating this draft with the Declaration of Human Rights, the ICCPR, and the ICESCR. Over a decade later, on November 20, 1989, the Convention on the Rights of the Child was unanimously adopted and became binding as of September 1990. All nations have ratified this treaty except Somalia and the United States, though both of these nations have signed the treaty showing they are in agreement.
Since then, two Optional Protocols have been added concerning the protection of children from coercion to serve in armed conflict and the criminalization of the sale of children, child prostitution, and child pornography. Both of these were passed on May 25, 2000, and went into force early in 2002.5
One key point of the CRC is that children, age 17 years and younger, are considered people with their own rights. This definition means they are not considered to be the property of their parents nor the “hapless objects of charity.”6 Other points involve the right to life, education, health care, healthy lifestyle, parental guidance, religion, culture, free expression, and recreation. They are also protected from torture, cruelty, and degrading treatment.7 The Committee on the Rights of the Child reviews the required regular country reports concerning their compliance with the CRC, hears complaints, and investigates violations.8
The CRC Article 31 states that the child has the inherent right to “rest and leisure, to engage in play and recreational activities appropriate to the age of the child and to participate freely in cultural life and the arts.”9 This right to play is reinforced in the next article concerning child labor practices. Appropriate work for children to assist their families is allowed in Article 32 as long as it doesn't risk their health, education, or the right to relaxation and play. Thus the international community recognizes the importance of play for the optimal development of children and protects that right by law.