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A street child is someone "for whom the street (in the widest sense of the word, including unoccupied dwellings, wasteland, etc.) has become his or her habitual abode and/or source of livelihood; and who is inadequately protected, supervised, or directed by responsible adults".[1]

India has an estimated one million or more street children in each of the following cities: New Delhi, Kolkata, and Mumbai.[2] Mainly because of family conflict, they come to live on the streets and take on the full responsibilities of caring for themselves, including working to provide for and protecting themselves. Though street children do sometimes band together for greater security, they are often exploited by employers and the police.[3][4]

Their many vulnerabilities require specific legislation and attention from the government and other organisations to improve their condition.[1]

Definition clarification[edit]

In the early years of research on street children, the term "street child" included any child that worked on the street. From research, however, different categories of children on the streets have been distinguished, while still recognizing that children's complex experiences are difficult to define.[1] Mark W. Lusk, a prominent researcher of street children, developed four categories of children on the street from his research: children who work on the street but return to their families at night, children who work on the street but whose family ties are dwindling, children who live and work with their families on the street, and children who work and live on their own on the street.[5]

The term "street child" has come to refer only to the last group. UNICEF defines a street child as, "...any girl or boy[6] ... for whom the street (in the widest sense of the word, including unoccupied dwellings, wasteland, etc.) has become his or her habitual abode and/or source of livelihood; and who is inadequately protected, supervised, or directed by responsible adults".[1] It is important to distinguish the group of children that live on their own on the streets because their lives vary greatly from those of children who simply work on the streets; they thus have different needs and require targeted attention.[4]

While 18 million children work on the streets of India,[7] it is estimated that only 5–20 percent of them are truly homeless and disconnected from their families.[4][5][8] Because the street children in India have unique vulnerabilities – the amount of time they spend on the street, their livelihood depending on the street, and their lack of protection and care from adults – they are a subgroup of the Indian population that deserve specific attention in order to ensure that their needs are known.[9] As the most vulnerable group of children in India according to UNICEF, they need to be understood as much as possible.[3]


It is difficult to obtain accurate data about them because of their floating character.[3] Street children usually have no proof of identification and move often.[10] Of the 50,000 people in India that are officially reported as leaving home annually, 45 percent are under 16; this number, though, is likely very low.[11] Various studies have formulated estimates of certain cities. In the late 1980s, for instance, it was estimated that there were at least 100,000 street children in both Kolkata and Bombay.[3] Overall, estimates for the total number of street children in India range from 400,000-800,000.[3]


Because it is difficult to obtain precise and accurate statistics about street children, information about their ages is approximate. Most of the street children in India are over 6, and the majority is over 8.[4] The mean age of street children in a National Institute of Urban Affairs study in 1989 was 13 years.[3] Another study in 1989 by UNICEF found that 72 percent of the street children studied were ages 6–12 and 13 percent were under 6 years of age.


The majority of street children in India are boys with little or no education.[3][4][8]


The street children in India choose to leave their families and homes for strategic reasons.[1] Three hypotheses have been put forth in an attempt to explain their choices: urban poverty, aberrant families, and urbanization.[5] Evidence can to some degree support all three of these hypotheses. In one study of 1,000 street children living in Bombay conducted in 1990, 39.1 percent of street children said they left home because of problems and fights with family, 20.9 percent said they left because of family poverty, and 3.6 percent said that they wanted to see the city.[11] The street children and children running away from home are connected. A child running away from home ends on the street in most situations. There is lot of data available on why children run away, revealing many reasons for doing so. Some reasons are simple, some complex. Some time the reasons are because of the child's behavior, and some times the causes are because of parents. A child not going to school or not doing home work and thus fearing beatings, is a very common cause. A child stealing money, fighting with siblings are reasons too.

This study illustrates the trend found by most researchers: most children leave their families to live on the street because of family problems.[4][5][8] Family problems include such things as death of a parent, alcoholism of father, strained relationships with stepparents, parent separation, abuse, and family violence.[5][8][12] Additionally, street children usually come from female-headed households.[3]

Most children who leave home to live on the streets come from slums or low cost housing, both which are areas of high illiteracy, drug use, and unemployment.[12] Children usually transfer their lives to the streets through a gradual process; they may at first only stay on the street a night or two. Gradually they will spend more time away from home until they do not return.[5]

Once on the streets, children sometimes find that their living conditions and physical and mental health is better than at home; however, this fact speaks to the poor conditions of their homes rather than good conditions in the street. Street conditions are far from child-friendly.[5] Once they leave home, many street children move around often because of the fear that their relatives will find them and force them to return home.[8] Sadly, many children are kidnapped and treated as slaves by the kidnappers. The kidnappers make them beg for money the whole day on the streets and enjoy themselves with the money they get from the children.

Economic activity[edit]


As street children must provide for themselves, work is a very important aspect of their lives.[3] Unfortunately, working conditions for street children are often very poor because they are confined to working in the informal sector, which is unregulated by the government.[4] In Bombay, 50,000 children are illegally employed by 11,750 hotels, restaurants, canteens, tea shops, and eating places.[11] Because of street children's lack of protection from a family and the law, employers often exploit them, making them virtual prisoners, sometimes withholding pay, and abusing them.[3] Employers that would not mistreat the children often will not hire them because they are seen as too great of a risk.[3]

Because of the low pay from employers, street children in India often choose to be self-employed or work multiple jobs.[3] In fact, the majority of them are self-employed.[4] One of the most common economic activities done by the children is scavenging for recyclable materials, such as plastic, paper, and metal.[8]

Other jobs include cleaning cars; petty vending, selling small items such as balloons or sweets; selling newspapers or flowers; begging; shining shoes; working in small hotels; working on construction sites; and working in roadside stalls or repair shops.[3][7] Street children, especially the older children, are also sometimes engaged in activities such as stealing, pick-pocketing, drug-peddling, and prostitution, though this is a small proportion.[3][7][8] Most of the street children work 8–10 hours total each day in their various economic activities.[3]


The earnings of street children fluctuate greatly, but they usually only make enough for subsistence.[3][4] Most street children in India earn between 200 ($4.00) and 830 rupees a month, with older children making more than younger children.[8] Self-employed children also typically make more than children who are employed under an employer.[3] The largest expense in a street child's budget is food, which often costs 5–10 rupees a day.[3] In order to cut down on food expenses, many children drink tea to dull hunger.[3]

The money street children earn that is not spent on food is usually quickly spent on other things because older children and police frequently steal their money.[4] This lack of ability to save causes severe financial insecurity.[8] While children occasionally send some of their earnings home to their families, they spend most of their extra money on entertainment.[3]

Many street children spend 300 rupees a month on movies, though older children also use their money to buy cigarettes, chewing tobacco, alcohol, and drugs.[8] Street children often spend very little on clothing because their employers often provide clothes for work or their families occasionally give them clothes if they know where they are living. Also, the boys among them do not mind wandering fully or partially naked in public because it adds to the people's sympathy for them.[3]


The education of street children in India is very poor and often nonexistent.[4] A study of street children in Bombay in 1989 found that 54.5 percent had never been enrolled in school and 66 percent of the children were illiterate.[4] A 2004 study of street children in Bombay revealed that circumstances were largely the same: 60 percent of the children had never attended school and approximately two-thirds were illiterate.[8]

Thirty percent had been to elementary school, while only 10 percent had been to middle or high school.[8] In fact, many children in the 2004 study said that one of the reasons they ran away from home is because they did not want to be forced to work and unable to attend school.[8] Obviously, however, the demands of living alone make it very unlikely that they will be able to obtain education through leaving.

Relationships and coping[edit]

The street children in India are especially vulnerable among low-income children because they do not have the support structures that other children normally have, namely families and the psychological and monetary support they offer.[13] Thus, street children adopt strategies to cope with the harsh realities of their lives. For many, these strategies include developing a tough exterior and strong independence to hide their vulnerability.[3] They live in survival-mode, constantly having to be aware of their surroundings and fight for their safety.[4] These circumstances lead children to engage in behaviors that children in families typically do not, such as creating a new identity, using aggression frequently, and valuing relationships based on what can be gained from them.[13]

While the majority of street children in India have been found to use positive coping mechanisms to deal with the stress of their lives, some choose maladaptive strategies, such as drinking alcohol, using drugs, and visiting prostitutes.[8] When questioned about their substance use, many street children in Bombay reported that the cause was frustration concerning living on the street or conflicts in their family which caused them to leave home.[8]

Fortunately, street children are not entirely on their own. Many form groups with other street children to protect themselves.[4] These groups normally have a leader and specific territory; unfortunately, though these groups bring safety to most, younger children are sometimes used by the leader to steal or do other illegal activities.[12] Street children in Bombay report relying on their friends for help when they are sick, money when they run out, and information about work when they need a job.[8] Street children spend much of their free time with their friends, often going with them to the movies.[8]

Among the most important deprivations faced by street children is the lack of a protective and guiding adult,[3] but some street children manage to find individuals to fulfill this role. Though most live on their own or with friends, some street children form connections with families that live on the streets or in slums and see these families as their substitute families.[8] Many of these children find a "mother-figure" that cares for them when they are ill and is interested in their well-being.[8]

Health and nutrition[edit]

Street children in India face additional vulnerability because of their lack of access to nutritious food, sanitation, and medical care.[8][11] Street children lack access to nutritious food because many are dependent on leftovers from small restaurants or hotels, food stalls, or garbage bins.[8] In a study of street children in Bombay in 1990, 62.5 percent of the children obtained food from hotels.[11]

Lack of sanitation in bathing, toilets, and water also contributes to poor health. In the same study of street children in Bombay, 29.6 percent of children reported bathing in the sea and 11.5 percent reported bathing in pipes, wells, or canals. Open air bathing of street children is in fact a very common sight in all parts of India. These children have to put their naked bodies on display for a very long time before, during and after bathing. As a result, they develop hardly any sense of modesty. They as well as the onlookers have a casual approach to this phenomenon. Street children also lack restroom facilities, demonstrated by the fact that 26.4 percent of the children used the roadside or railway line for their toilet. For water, the children reported asking restaurants or hotels for water (69.1 percent) or using pipes and water taps (15.6 percent).[11]

Most of the street children in India also lack access to medical care, which is especially detrimental during times of illness or injury.[8] The study of street children in Bombay found that 34.9 percent had an injury and 18.9 percent had a fever in the past three months.[11] Only about a third of the children received any help with their illness or injury, though some were able to receive help at a government clinic.[11]

Other studies have found that many illnesses are very prevalent among street children. A study conducted in 2002 on the street children in Kolkata found that six in every 554 street children from ages five to fourteen are HIV positive.[7] In Bangor Basti, 98 percent of children are estimated to have dental caries.[7] Additionally, most street children do not have winter clothing, leaving them more vulnerable to illness during the winter.[8]


Street children in India are frequently exposed to abuse and extortion.[4] Because they have no social status and no adults to protect them, street children identify being physically threatened and intimidated by adults as the one factor that contributes most to the misery of living on the streets.[3][4] The primary cause for this treatment is the views that the police and general public hold toward them: most scorn them and react to them with hostility.[5]

Abuse by the Indian police is often reported by street children.[3][4][10] Many street children have reported that police will beat them in order to coerce them into giving them a "cut" for working in certain areas.[3][4][10] Police often arrest street children under the Vagrancy Act, and, having no formal way to appeal their arrest, the children must bribe or work at the police station until their "debt" has been paid.[8] Under a government-sponsored programme called "Operation Beggar," street children in Bombay were rounded up and given into what was essentially indebted servitude.[5]

Many factors contribute to the police abuse of street children, including the police perceptions of the children, widespread corruption, a culture of police violence, the inadequacy and non-implementation of legal safeguards, and the level of impunity that the police enjoy.[10] Though the Juvenile Justice Act, which applies to all the states and Union Territories in India except Jammu and Kashmir, prohibits detaining neglected or delinquent juveniles in police lock-ups or jails, it is rarely enforced.[10]

One study that looked at the abuse of street children in Jaipur City, India in 2009 provided new insight into the abuse that street children in India suffer by studying the types and prevalence of abuse and how these things were related to other factors.[12] The street children in the study reported all five types of abuse: general abuse and neglect, health abuse, verbal abuse, physical abuse, psychological abuse, and sexual abuse. Verbal and psychological abuse were reported the most. Older children and children with higher incomes were abused more than younger children and children with lower incomes, respectively.[12]

Government involvement[edit]

Street children in India are "a manifestation of societal malfunctioning and an economic and social order that does not take timely preventative action".[4] Thus, many scholars believe that fixing the problems of street children depend on addressing the causal factors of their situations.[1][4] Additionally, as these causal factors are addressed, help for the immediate situation of street children must also be given.[4]

India has set in place various forms of public policy concerning street children over the past two decades, but they have largely been ineffective because they are uninformed by sociological, anthropological, and geographical research on street children, meaning they do not always correctly assess and address needs.[1]

Prior to 1997, the "Official Vocabulary" of post-independence India did not contain the term "street child", and street children were only helped because they were grouped with other children that worked on the streets.[4] For instance, the Coordination Committee for Vulnerable Children worked to give identity cards to children working on the streets in order to help protect them from police violence.[4] In the early 1990s, facing pressure from non-governmental organisations (NGOs), the Indian government created the "Scheme for Assistance to Street Children," which launched in February 1993.[7] Though many NGOs had meetings with the government to give feedback about the scheme and suggestions to improve it, none of these recommendations were included in the final draft, making it very difficult for NGOs to participate in it.[7]

Since their entrance into the policy arena and the Scheme was set in place, street children have been included in some other policies and programmes as well. The Indian Council of Child Welfare has included street children in their programmes, and in the 8th Five Year Plan a scheme for children in 6 metropolitan cities was set in place.[3] The Ministry of Labour has also included street children in their livelihood training programmes, though this has been met with minimal success because many street children do not have the education necessary to participate in the programmes.[13]


Scholars and agencies have suggested various strategies to help street children, many of which focus on the use of NGOs. A.B. Bose of UNICEF and Sarah Thomas de Benitez of the Consortium for Street Children suggest that the main responsibility of assistance should be given to NGOs, which should be backed financially by the government.[1][4] Because NGOs have the ability to be more flexible than the government, they are better able to meet the needs of street children in varied circumstances.[3]

The Human Rights Watch suggests that censuses of street children should be taken in various cities in order to help NGOs have accurate data about the street children population and plan programmes accordingly.[10] The Human Rights Watch also makes various legal suggestions for the protection of street children in their study of police abuse and killings of street children. These suggestions include the amendment of Sections 53 and 54 of the Code of Criminal Procedures to make a medical examination necessary when a street child is detained, ratifying the United Nations 1984 Convention Against Torture and Other Forms of Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, and to amend the Juvenile Justice Act in order to create a mechanism for complaints and prosecutions for abuse.[10]

In popular culture[edit]

Mira Nair's Academy Award-nominated film, Salaam Bombay! (1988), film about Mumbai's underbelly, prostitution and street children. It also used street children as actors.[14]

See also[edit]




Street children in Mumbai, India selling snacks and drinks to bus passengers
  1. ^ abcdefghThomas de Benítez, Sarah (2007). "State of the world's street children". Consortium for Street Children. Retrieved February 20, 2012. 
  2. ^Poonam R. Naik, Seema S. Bansode, Ratnenedra R. Shinde & Abhay S. Nirgude (2011). "Street children of Mumbai: demographic profile and substance abuse". Biomedical Research. 22 (4): 495–498. 
  3. ^ abcdefghijklmnopqrstuvwxyzaaabChatterjee, A. (1992). "India: The forgotten children of the cities". Florence, Italy: Unicef. Retrieved February 20, 2012. 
  4. ^ abcdefghijklmnopqrstuvwxBose, A.B. (1992). "The Disadvantaged Urban Child in India". Innocenti Occasional Papers, Urban Child Series. Retrieved February 20, 2012. 
  5. ^ abcdefghiAptekar, L. (1994). "Street children in the developing world: a review of their condition". Cross-Cultural Resources. 28: 195–244. doi:10.1177/106939719402800301. Retrieved February 20, 2012. 
  6. ^Bertel, Kristian (2008). "Boy begging in New Delhi". Kristian Bertel Photography. Retrieved December 10, 2016. 
  7. ^ abcdefgSingh, A.; Puroht, B. (2011). "Street Children as a Public Health Fiasco". Peace Review. 23: 102–109. doi:10.1080/10402659.2011.548270. Retrieved February 20, 2012. 
  8. ^ abcdefghijklmnopqrstuvwxKombarakaran, Francis A. (2004). "Street children of Bombay: their stresses and strategies of coping". Children and Youth Services Review. 26: 853–871. doi:10.1016/j.childyouth.2004.02.025. Retrieved February 20, 2012. 
  9. ^Panter-Brick, Catherine (2002). "Street Children, Human Rights, and Public Health: A Critique and Further Directions". Annual Review of Anthropology. 21: 147–171. doi:10.1146/annurev.anthro.31.040402.085359. JSTOR 4132875. 
  10. ^ abcdefg"Police Abuse and Killings of Street Children in India". Human Rights Watch Project. Human Rights Watch. November 1996. 
  11. ^ abcdefghPatel, Sheela (October 1990). "Street Children, hotel boys and children of pavement dwellers and construction workers in Bombay - how they meet their daily needs". Environment and Urbanization. 2 (2): 9–26. doi:10.1177/095624789000200203. Retrieved February 20, 2012. 
  12. ^ abcdeMathur, Meena; Prachi, R.; Monika, M. (2009). "Incidence, type and intensity of abuse in street children in India". Child Abuse & Neglect: 33907–913. doi:10.1016/j.chiabu.2009.01.003. Retrieved February 20, 2012. 
  13. ^ abc"Beyond Survival: Status of Livelihood Programmes for Street Youth in India". Railway Children. June 2008. Retrieved February 20, 2012. 
  14. ^K.M. Rakesh (May 1, 2012). "Salaam Bombay tea boy to TV help". The Telegraph (Kolkata). Retrieved 2014-06-15. 

Children's rights are the human rights of children with particular attention to the rights of special protection and care afforded to minors.[1] The 1989 Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) defines a child as "any human being below the age of eighteen years, unless under the law applicable to the child, majority is attained earlier."[2] Children's rights includes their right to association with both parents, human identity as well as the basic needs for physical protection, food, universal state-paid education, health care, and criminal laws appropriate for the age and development of the child, equal protection of the child's civil rights, and freedom from discrimination on the basis of the child's race, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, national origin, religion, disability, color, ethnicity, or other characteristics. Interpretations of children's rights range from allowing children the capacity for autonomous action to the enforcement of children being physically, mentally and emotionally free from abuse, though what constitutes "abuse" is a matter of debate. Other definitions include the rights to care and nurturing.[3] There are no definitions of other terms used to describe young people such as "adolescents", "teenagers", or "youth" in international law,[4] but the children's rights movement is considered distinct from the youth rights movement. The field of children's rights spans the fields of law, politics, religion, and morality.


[There] is a mass of human rights law, both treaty and 'soft law', both general and child-specific, which recognises the distinct status and particular requirements of children. [Children], owing to their particular vulnerability and their significance as the future generation, are entitled to special treatment generally, and, in situations of danger, to priority in the receipt of assistance and protection.

— Jenny Kuper, International law concerning child civilians in armed conflict (1997, Clarendon Press)

As minors by law, children do not have autonomy or the right to make decisions on their own for themselves in any known jurisdiction of the world. Instead their adult caregivers, including parents, social workers, teachers, youth workers, and others, are vested with that authority, depending on the circumstances.[5] Some believe that this state of affairs gives children insufficient control over their own lives and causes them to be vulnerable.[6]Louis Althusser has gone so far as to describe this legal machinery, as it applies to children, as "repressive state apparatuses".[7]

Structures such as government policy have been held by some commentators to mask the ways adults abuse and exploit children, resulting in child poverty, lack of educational opportunities, and child labour. On this view, children are to be regarded as a minority group towards whom society needs to reconsider the way it behaves.[8]

Researchers have identified children as needing to be recognized as participants in society whose rights and responsibilities need to be recognized at all ages.[9]

Historic definitions of children's rights

Sir William Blackstone (1765-9) recognized three parental duties to the child: maintenance, protection, and education.[10] In modern language, the child has a right to receive these from the parent.

The League of Nations adopted the Geneva Declaration of the Rights of the Child (1924), which enunciated the child's right to receive the requirements for normal development, the right of the hungry child to be fed, the right of the sick child to receive health care, the right of the backward child to be reclaimed, the right of orphans to shelter, and the right to protection from exploitation.[11]

The United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) in Article 25(2) recognized the need of motherhood and childhood to "special protection and assistance" and the right of all children to "social protection."[12]

The United Nations General Assembly adopted the United Nations Declaration of the Rights of the Child (1959), which enunciated ten principles for the protection of children's rights, including the universality of rights, the right to special protection, and the right to protection from discrimination, among other rights.[13]

Consensus on defining children's rights has become clearer in the last fifty years.[14] A 1973 publication by Hillary Clinton (then an attorney) stated that children's rights were a "slogan in need of a definition".[15] According to some researchers, the notion of children’s rights is still not well defined, with at least one proposing that there is no singularly accepted definition or theory of the rights held by children.[16]

Children’s rights law is defined as the point where the law intersects with a child's life. That includes juvenile delinquency, due process for children involved in the criminal justice system, appropriate representation, and effective rehabilitative services; care and protection for children in state care; ensuring education for all children regardless of their race, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, national origin, religion, disability, color, ethnicity, or other characteristics, and; health care and advocacy.[17]


Children have two types of human rights under international human rights law. They have the same fundamental general human rights as adults, although some human rights, such as the right to marry, are dormant until they are of age, Secondly, they have special human rights that are necessary to protect them during their minority.[18] General rights operative in childhood include the right to security of the person, to freedom from inhuman, cruel, or degrading treatment, and the right to special protection during childhood.[19] Particular human rights of children include, among other rights, the right to life, the right to a name, the right to express his views in matters concerning the child, the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion, the right to health care, the right to protection from economic and sexual exploitation, and the right to education.[2]

Children's rights are defined in numerous ways, including a wide spectrum of civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights. Rights tend to be of two general types: those advocating for children as autonomous persons under the law and those placing a claim on society for protection from harms perpetrated on children because of their dependency. These have been labeled as the right of empowerment and as the right to protection.[16]

United Nations educational guides for children classify the rights outlined in the Convention on the Rights of the Child as the "3 Ps": Provision, Protection, and Participation.[20] They may be elaborated as follows:

  • Provision: Children have the right to an adequate standard of living, health care, education and services, and to play and recreation. These include a balanced diet, a warm bed to sleep in, and access to schooling.
  • Protection: Children have the right to protection from abuse, neglect, exploitation and discrimination. This includes the right to safe places for children to play; constructive child rearing behavior, and acknowledgment of the evolving capacities of children.
  • Participation: Children have the right to participate in communities and have programs and services for themselves. This includes children's involvement in libraries and community programs, youth voice activities, and involving children as decision-makers.[21]

In a similar fashion, the Child Rights International Network (CRIN) categorizes rights into two groups:[22][23]

  • Economic, social and cultural rights, related to the conditions necessary to meet basic human needs such as food, shelter, education, health care, and gainful employment. Included are rights to education, adequate housing, food, water, the highest attainable standard of health, the right to work and rights at work, as well as the cultural rights of minorities and indigenous peoples.
  • Environmental, cultural and developmental rights, which are sometimes called "third generation rights," and including the right to live in safe and healthy environments and that groups of people have the right to cultural, political, and economic development.

Amnesty International openly advocates four particular children's rights, including the end to juvenile incarceration without parole, an end to the recruitment of military use of children, ending the death penalty for people under 21, and raising awareness of human rights in the classroom.[1]Human Rights Watch, an international advocacy organization, includes child labor, juvenile justice, orphans and abandoned children, refugees, street children and corporal punishment.

Scholarly study generally focuses children's rights by identifying individual rights. The following rights "allow children to grow up healthy and free":[according to whom?][24]

Physical rights

A report by the Committee on Social Affairs, Health, and Sustainable Development of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe identified several areas the Committee was concerned about, including procedures such as "female genital mutilation, the circumcision of young boys for religious reasons, early childhood medical interventions in the case of intersex children and the submission to or coercion of children into piercings, tattoos or plastic surgery".[25] The Assembly adopted a non-binding resolution in 2013 that calls on its 47 member-states to take numerous actions to promote the physical integrity of children.[26]

Article 19 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child enjoins parties to "take all appropriate legislative, administrative, social and educational measures to protect the child from all forms of physical or mental violence, injury or abuse, neglect or negligent treatment, maltreatment or exploitation".[27] The Committee on the Rights of the Child interprets article 19 as prohibiting corporal punishment, commenting on the "obligation of all States Party to move quickly to prohibit and eliminate all corporal punishment."[28] The United Nations Human Rights Committee has also interpreted Article 7 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights prohibiting "cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment" to extend to children, including corporal punishment of children.[29]

Newell (1993) argued that "...pressure for protection of children's physical integrity should be an integral part of pressure for all children's rights."[30]

The Committee on Bioethics of the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) (1997), citing the Convention on the Rights of the Child (1989), asserts that "every child should have the opportunity to grow and develop free from preventable illness or injury."[31]

Other issues

Other issues affecting children's rights include the military use of children, sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography.

Difference between children's rights and youth rights

Main article: Youth rights

"In the majority of jurisdictions, for instance, children are not allowed to vote, to marry, to buy alcohol, to have sex, or to engage in paid employment."[32] Within the youth rights movement, it is believed that the key difference between children's rights and youth rights is that children's rights supporters generally advocate the establishment and enforcement of protection for children and youths, while youth rights (a far smaller movement) generally advocates the expansion of freedom for children and/or youths and of rights such as suffrage.

Parental powers

See also: Parents' rights movement

Parent are given sufficient powers to fulfill their duties to the child.[10]

Parents affect the lives of children in a unique way, and as such their role in children's rights has to be distinguished in a particular way. Particular issues in the child-parent relationship include child neglect, child abuse, freedom of choice, corporal punishment and child custody.[33][34] There have been theories offered that provide parents with rights-based practices that resolve the tension between "commonsense parenting" and children's rights.[35] The issue is particularly relevant in legal proceedings that affect the potential emancipation of minors, and in cases where children sue their parents.[36]

A child's rights to a relationship with both their parents is increasingly recognized as an important factor for determining the best interests of the child in divorce and child custody proceedings. Some governments have enacted laws creating a rebuttable presumption that shared parenting is in the best interests of children.[37]

Limitations of parental powers

Parents do not have absolute power over their children. Parents are subject to criminal laws against abandonment, abuse, and neglect of children. International human rights law provides that manifestation of one's religion may be limited in the interests of public safety, for the protection of public order, health or morals, or for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.[19][38]

Courts have placed other limits on parental powers and acts. The United States Supreme Court, in the case of Prince v. Massachusetts, ruled that a parent's religion does not permit a child to be placed at risk.[39] The Lords of Appeal in Ordinary ruled, in the case of Gillick v West Norfolk and Wisbech Area Health Authority and another, that parental rights diminish with the increasing age and competency of the child, but do not vanish completely until the child reaches majority. Parental rights are derived from the parent's duties to the child. In the absence of duty, no parental right exists.[40][41] The Supreme Court of Canada ruled, in the case of E. (Mrs.) v. Eve, that parents may not grant surrogate consent for non-therapeutic sterilization.[42] The Supreme Court of Canada has ruled, in the case of B. (R.) v. Children's Aid Society of Metropolitan Toronto:

"While children undeniably benefit from the Charter, most notably in its protection of their rights to life and to the security of their person, they are unable to assert these rights, and our society accordingly presumes that parents will exercise their freedom of choice in a manner that does not offend the rights of their children."[43]

Adler (2013) argues that parents are not empowered to grant surrogate consent for non-therapeutic circumcision of children.[41]


Main article: Children's rights movement

See also: Timeline of children's rights in the United Kingdom and Timeline of children's rights in the United States

The 1796 publication of Thomas Spence's Rights of Infants is among the earliest English-language assertions of the rights of children. Throughout the 20th century, children's rights activists organized for homeless children's rights and public education. The 1927 publication of The Child's Right to Respect by Janusz Korczak strengthened the literature surrounding the field, and today dozens of international organizations are working around the world to promote children's rights. In the UK the formation of a community of educationalists, teachers, youth justice workers, politicians and cultural contributors called the New Ideals in Education Conferences[44] (1914–37) stood for the value of 'liberating the child' and helped to define the 'good' primary school in England until the 80s.[45] Their conferences inspired the UNESCO organisation, the New Education Fellowship.

A.S. Neill's 1915 book A Dominie's Log (1915), a diary of a headteacher changing his school to one based on the liberation and happiness of the child, can be seen as a cultural product that celebrates the heroes of this movement.[citation needed]


The opposition to children's rights long predates any current trend in society, with recorded statements against the rights of children dating to the 13th century and earlier.[46] Opponents to children's rights believe that young people need to be protected from the adultcentric world, including the decisions and responsibilities of that world.[47] In a dominantly adult society, childhood is idealized as a time of innocence, a time free of responsibility and conflict, and a time dominated by play.[48] The majority of opposition stems from concerns related to national sovereignty, states' rights, the parent-child relationship.[49] Financial constraints and the "undercurrent of traditional values in opposition to children's rights" are cited, as well.[50] The concept of children's rights has received little attention in the United States.[51]

International human rights law

Further information: International child abduction

Main article: Declaration of the Rights of the Child

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights is seen as a basis for all international legal standards for children's rights today. There are several conventions and laws that address children's rights around the world. A number of current and historical documents affect those rights, including the Declaration of the Rights of the Child,[11] drafted by Eglantyne Jebb in 1923, endorsed by the League of Nations in 1924 and reaffirmed in 1934. A slightly expanded version was adopted by the United Nations in 1946, followed by a much expanded version adopted by the General Assembly in 1959. It later served as the basis for the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights

The United Nations adopted the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) in 1966. The ICCPR is a multilateral international covenant that has been ratified or acceded to by nearly all nations on Earth. Nations which have become state-parties to the Covenant are required to honor and enforce the rights enunciated by the Covenant. The treaty came into effect on 23 March 1976. The rights codified by the ICCPR are universal, so they apply to everyone without exception and this includes children. Although children have all rights, some rights such as the right to marry and the right to vote come into effect only after the child reaches maturity.[19]

Some general rights applicable to children include:

  • the right to life
  • the right to security of person
  • the right to freedom from torture
  • the right to freedom from cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment
  • the right to be separated from adults when charged with a crime, the right to speedy adjudication, and the right to be accorded treatment appropriate to their age[19]

Article 24 codifies the right of the child to special protection due to his minority, the right to a name, and the right to a nationality.[19]

Convention on the Rights of the Child

Main article: Convention on the Rights of the Child

The United Nations' 1989 Convention on the Rights of the Child, or CRC, is the first legally binding international instrument to incorporate the full range of human rights—civil, cultural, economic, political and social rights. Its implementation is monitored by the Committee on the Rights of the Child. National governments that ratify it commit themselves to protecting and ensuring children's rights, and agree to hold themselves accountable for this commitment before the international community.[52] The CRC is the most widely ratified human rights treaty with 196 ratifications; the United States is the only country not to have ratified it.[53]

The CRC is based on four core principles: the principle of non-discrimination; the best interests of the child; the right to life, survival and development; and considering the views of the child in decisions that affect them, according to their age and maturity.[54] The CRC, along with international criminal accountability mechanisms such as the International Criminal Court, the Yugoslavia and Rwanda Tribunals, and the Special Court for Sierra Leone, is said to have significantly increased the profile of children's rights worldwide.[55]

Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action

The Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action urges, at Section II para 47, all nations to undertake measures to the maximum extent of their available resources, with the support of international cooperation, to achieve the goals in the World Summit Plan of Action. And calls on States to integrate the Convention on the Rights of the Child into their national action plans. By means of these national action plans and through international efforts, particular priority should be placed on reducing infant and maternal mortality rates, reducing malnutrition and illiteracy rates and providing access to safe drinking water and basic education. Whenever so called for, national plans of action should be devised to combat devastating emergencies resulting from natural disasters and armed conflicts and the equally grave problem of children in extreme poverty. Further, para 48 urges all states, with the support of international cooperation, to address the acute problem of children under especially difficult circumstances. Exploitation and abuse of children should be actively combated, including by addressing their root causes. Effective measures are required against female infanticide, harmful child labour, sale of children and organs, child prostitution, child pornography, and other forms of sexual abuse.[56] This influenced the adoptions of Optional Protocol on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict and Optional Protocol on the Sale of Children, Child Prostitution and Child Pornography.


A variety of enforcement organizations and mechanisms exist to ensure children's rights. They include the Child Rights Caucus for the United Nations General Assembly Special Session on Children. It was set up to promote full implementation and compliance with the Convention on the Rights of the Child, and to ensure that child rights were given priority during the UN General Assembly Special Session on Children and its Preparatory process. The United Nations Human Rights Council was created "with the hope that it could be more objective, credible and efficient in denouncing human rights violations worldwide than the highly politicized Commission on Human Rights." The NGO Group for the Convention on the Rights of the Child is a coalition of international non-governmental organisations originally formed in 1983 to facilitate the implementation of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child.

National law

Many countries around the world have children's rights ombudspeople or children's commissioners whose official, governmental duty is to represent the interests of the public by investigating and addressing complaints reported by individual citizens regarding children's rights. Children's ombudspeople can also work for a corporation, a newspaper, an NGO, or even for the general public.

United States law

Further information: Timeline of children's rights in the United States, International child abduction in the United States, and Child labor laws in the United States

The United States has signed but not ratified the CRC. As a result, children's rights have not been systematically implemented in the U.S.

Children are generally afforded the basic rights embodied by the Constitution, as enshrined by the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution. The Equal Protection Clause of that amendment is to apply to children, born within a marriage or not, but excludes children not yet born.[57] This was reinforced by the landmark US Supreme Court decision of In re Gault (1967). In this trial 15-year-old Gerald Gault of Arizona was taken into custody by local police after being accused of making an obscene telephone call. He was detained and committed to the Arizona State Industrial School until he reached the age of 21 for making an obscene phone call to an adult neighbor. In an 8–1 decision, the Court ruled that in hearings which could result in commitment to an institution, people under the age of 18 have the right to notice and counsel, to question witnesses, and to protection against self-incrimination. The Court found that the procedures used in Gault's hearing met none of these requirements.[58]

The United States Supreme Court ruled in the case of Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District (1969) that students in school have Constitutional rights.[59]

The United States Supreme Court has ruled in the case of Roper v. Simmons that persons may not be executed for crimes committed when below the age of eighteen. It ruled that such executions are cruel and unusual punishment, so they are a violation of the Eighth Amendment to the United States Constitution.[60]

There are other concerns in the United States regarding children's rights. The American Academy of Adoption Attorneys is concerned with children's rights to a safe, supportive and stable family structure. Their position on children's rights in adoption cases states that, "children have a constitutionally based liberty interest in the protection of their established families, rights which are at least equal to, and we believe outweigh, the rights of others who would claim a 'possessory' interest in these children." Other issues raised in American children's rights advocacy include children's rights to inheritance in same-sex marriages and particular rights for youth.

German law

A report filed by the President of the INGO Conference of the Council of Europe, Annelise Oeschger finds that children and their parents are subject to United Nations, European Union and UNICEFhuman rights violations. Of particular concern is the German (and Austrian) agency, Jugendamt (German: Youth office) that often unfairly allows for unchecked government control of the parent-child relationship, which have resulted in harm including torture, degrading, cruel treatment and has led to children's death. The problem is complicated by the nearly "unlimited power" of the Jugendamt officers, with no processes to review or resolve inappropriate or harmful treatment. By German law, Jugendamt officers are protected against prosecution. Jugendamt (JA) officers span of control is seen in cases that go to family court where experts testimony may be overturned by lesser educated or experienced JA officers; In more than 90% of the cases the JA officer's recommendation is accepted by family court. Officers have also disregarded family court decisions, such as when to return children to their parents, without repercussions. Germany has not recognized related child-welfare decisions made by the European Parliamentary Court that have sought to protect or resolve children and parental rights violations.[61]

See also

Global children's rights


Main article: List of articles related to children's rights

Further information: List of articles related to youth rights

Children's rights organizations

Further information: List of children's rights organizations by country

Further information: Category:Children's rights organizations


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  38. ^European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms as amended by Protocols No. 11 and No. 14. Adopted at Rome, 4 XL 1950.
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  58. ^In re Gault, 387 U.S. 1 (1967).
  59. ^Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District , 393 U.S. 503 (1969)
  60. ^Roper v. Simmons, 543 U. S. 551 (2005).
  61. ^League for Children's Rights Individual UPR Submission: Germany. February 2009. Submitted by Bündnis RECHTE für KINDER e.V. and supported by President of the INGO Conference of the Council of Europe, Annelise Oeschger. Retrieved December 27, 2011.

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