UN Convention on the Rights of the Child Turns 30

Published:  Fri 19 Jul 2019

Ahead of the 30th birthday of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child this November, the IWF offers a few reflections on its vital impact on children, and the challenges it faces in the digital age. 

As the most ratified human rights treaty in the world, the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) has shaped the lives of billions of children. It has been adopted by 196 countries and several non-state entities, including the Sudan People’s Liberation Army. The convention has been instrumental in helping to establish a global standard for the rights and protection of children, allowing children to flourish regardless of where they were born. 

The UNCRC comprises 54 articles which set out the comprehensive rights of the child, and how governments and adults must work together to ensure these rights are protected and available. The Committee on the Rights of the Child then oversees the implementation of the convention. Over the past three decades, the committee has successfully mobilised international pressure to bring about the reform of legislation and the advancement of children’s rights in countries across the globe, ranging from Canada to Ghana, the UK to Iran. 

The convention remains critical to building a world that ensures children are protected, able to grow up secure and reach their full potential as citizens. Its priorities still define debate today, most recently evidenced by the Information Commissioner’s Office consultation on the Age Appropriate Design code, which placed the best interests of the child at the centre of its proposal, whilst the Scottish Government is currently consulting on incorporating the UNCRC into domestic law. 

A Changing Environment 

Whilst it is difficult to overstate the positive impact of the UNCRC, the convention was not created with the digital world in mind. The nature of childhood has changed beyond recognition over the past 30 years as the internet has weaved into almost every aspect of our lives. This online environment has brought a wealth of opportunities and benefits, but it has also opened the door to unprecedented risks and dangers. The pace of technical development over the past 30 years has exceeded any expectation, and the challenges that we face today of live streaming, grooming and virtual reality are a far cry from those that dominated the discussion in 1989. 

The internet transcends carefully drawn national borders, and the problem of online child sexual abuse is not confined to a single country. The National Crime Agency estimates that there are nearly three million accounts registered on the worst child sexual abuse sites on the dark web, with around 140,000 accounts registered within the UK. This is a global problem that demands a global solution, and it is critical that initiatives such as the UNCRC remain relevant to the current and future challenges children face.

Moving Forward

The UNCRC is evolving. The UN has recently closed a consultation on releasing a General Comment on the implementation of the convention in today’s digital environment, noting the pace of technical change of previous decades. This represents the first step towards producing principled, evidence-based guidance for nations to shape the interpretation and implementation of the convention in our modern times, and to ensure that all actors meet their responsibilities. We were delighted to see the UK’s response noting the important work of the IWF as a model of best practice, acknowledging the importance of creating a collaborative, multi-stakeholder approach that works constructively with international partners and industry. 

The IWF is committed to protecting children, regardless of where they have been born or where they reside; every child has a right to a childhood free from sexual abuse and exploitation. We are determined to build a world where all children are free from this abuse. We will continue to take an international approach, to encourage the sharing of best practice and work with partners all over the world to eradicate this scourge on society. The 30th birthday later this year of the Convention on Child’s Rights provides a great opportunity to remind the world on how precious childhood is and how important it is to value the lives of children. We will be continuing to play our part as we do day in day out in removing the abhorrent sexual abuse images of children from the internet.

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