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Protecting children’s rights

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Protecting children’s rights is a top priority for Germany both at international level and within the framework of the European Union (EU). 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

The Federal Government is committed, at international level too, to improving the protection of children, and particularly of children in armed conflict. To this end, Germany works closely with the EU, NATO and various UN mechanisms. Further, the Federal Government supports a number of projects designed to improve the situation of children worldwide with the aim of enabling them to live a normal life. The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) is a major partner for the German Government in implementing children’s rights worldwide.

Children’s rights in the UN

The Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), which has been in force since 20 September 1990, has been ratified by almost all the countries in the world. 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. The Convention on the Rights of the Child has been applicable in Germany since 1992.

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 adherence to the Convention and deals with complaints by individuals.

Protection from sexual exploitation and trafficking

The year 2000 saw the adoption of an Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child which defined child trafficking, child prostitution and child pornography 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. The Optional Protocol has been in force in Germany since 15 August 2009.

Prohibition of the recruitment of minors (child soldiers)

A further Optional Protocol adopted that same year (and in force in Germany since 13 December 2004) 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.

Individual complaints procedure

A third Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on a complaints procedure entered into force in 2014; Germany was the first European state and third state in the world to ratify it, as early as 28 February 2013, thereby pushing for the rapid enforcement of children’s rights. The procedure enables children and young people to bring individual complaints against any State Party to the Protocol if they believe their rights anchored in the Convention or the other two Optional Protocols have been violated. The prerequisite is that the State against which the complaint is brought must have ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child or the related Optional Protocols.

United Nations Special Representative

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

Within the United Nations framework, the Federal Government is committed to the protection of children and so works closely with various mechanisms for this purpose. Even before the entry into force of the Convention on the Rights of the Child in March 1990, a mandate was established for a Special Rapporteur on the Sale of Children, Child Prostitution and Child Pornography. Germany cooperates actively with other Special Representatives: the Special Representative on Violence Against Children and the Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict.

Fifth and sixth periodic report under the Convention on the Rights of the Child

With the entry into force of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, and pursuant to Article 44, Germany undertook to submit regular reports to the Committee on the Rights of the Child on the implementation of children’s rights and the progress made on this. The fifth and sixth periodic Report (in German), providing information about the most important developments with regard to strengthening children’s rights in Germany since 2014, was adopted by the federal cabinet in February 2019 and submitted to the Committee on the Rights of the Child in early April 2019.

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. Now again a non-permanent member of the Security Council, Germany is committed to keeping the protection of children in armed conflict high on the international agenda and to driving forward on the issue.

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

Children’s rights in the EU

Guidelines for the Promotion and Protection of the Rights of the Child were drawn up during the German EU Council Presidency in 2007 and updated in 2017. With these Guidelines, 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. The Working Party on Human Rights (COHOM) of the Council of the EU is responsible for implementing and monitoring adherence to the Guidelines. The Guidelines are supplemented by additional Guidelines on Children and Armed Conflict adopted in 2003 and revised in 2008 and by the EU Agenda for the Rights of the Child adopted in 2011.

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