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Protecting children’s rights

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Children are in a special life situation and are particularly vulnerable in many ways. For this reason, they need special protection.


Boy in Afghanistan
Boy in Afghanistan© picture-alliance/dpa

Protecting children’s rights is a top priority for Germany both at international level and within the framework of the European Union (EU). Guidelines for the Promotion and Protection of the Rights of the Child were drawn up during the German EU Council Presidency in 2007. In this way, the EU committed itself unreservedly to promoting and protecting all rights of the child as laid down in central international and European human rights conventions and in relevant political undertakings.

One core element is the elaboration of national strategies to implement the guidelines in ten pilot countries. The EU is currently revising and updating the guidelines in order to improve the protection of children and to make it even more efficient.

Children’s rights in the UN

The Convention on the Rights of the Child of 20 November 1989 (PDF, 2 MB) has been in force since 20 September 1990. It has been ratified by almost all the countries in the world. No other international treaty has achieved such universal validity. Comprehensive universal children’s rights are enshrined in the Convention. The four fundamental rights of the child set out in the Convention are the right to life and health, the right to development, the ban on discrimination and protection of children’s interests, and the right to be involved and have a say in all decisions affecting their lives.

Girl in the Bolivian Andes
Girl in the Bolivian Andes© Ute Grabowsky/photothek.de

The UN treaty body established by the Convention, the Committee on the Rights of the Child, monitors the Convention’s implementation and deals with complaints by individuals. In practice, this means that if any country violates a right enshrined in the Convention on the Rights of the Child or one of its two Optional Protocols, children and adolescents can take their complaint directly to the Committee on the Rights of the Child, provided that their complaint has not been upheld by their own country’s legal system.

The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) is the German Government’s most important partner in implementing children’s rights worldwide.

Protection from sexual exploitation and trafficking

Prior to the entry into force of the Convention on the Rights of the Child in March 1990, the UN Commission on Human Rights established a mandate for a Special Rapporteur on the Sale of Children, Child Prostitution and Child Pornography. In 2000, an Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child defined these three violations of children’s rights as criminal offences under international law and stipulated that the States Parties must prosecute such offences, thus creating a further basis in international law to combat the sexual exploitation of children.

Prohibition of the recruitment of minors (child soldiers)

Syrian children in a refugee camp in the Beqaa Valley in Lebanon
Syrian children in a refugee camp in the Beqaa Valley in Lebanon© Thomas Trutschel/photothek.de

A further Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child also adopted in 2000 concerns the protection of children in armed conflicts. It raises the minimum age for participation in armed conflicts from 15 to 18 and prohibits the forced recruitment of young people under the age of 18. The German instrument of ratification was deposited with the Secretary-General of the United Nations on 13 December 2004.

Violence against children in armed conflicts – a case for the Security Council

The UN Security Council has determined that violence against children in armed conflicts poses a threat to peace and security (Resolution 1314 of August 2000) and has dealt with this topic on a regular basis since then. A special Security Council Working Group on Children and Armed Conflict was set up in 2005. Germany chaired this group during its membership of the Security Council in 2011/2012.

Find out more about the UN Security Council's endeavours to protect children in armed conflicts

EU Guidelines on Children and Armed Conflict

The EU adopted Guidelines on Children and Armed Conflicts in December 2003 in an attempt to structure its fight against the use of children in armed conflicts more effectively. It updated these guidelines in 2008. The guidelines are being implemented in 19 priority countries.

UN Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Violence against Children

As UN Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Violence against Children, Marta Santos Pais of Portugal works worldwide to prevent and eliminate all forms of violence against children. Her appointment in 2009 was the outcome of a study on violence against children commissioned by the UN General Assembly that called for urgent action to prevent violence against children. The German Government works closely with the Special Representative and also funds her work through voluntary contributions.