Child Rights: History, Facts & How To Protect Them

Child Rights: History, Facts & How To Protect Them

"Our vision for every child is a life in all its fullness."

Despite much progress in recent decades, millions of children are still living without their basic rights. Now more than ever, children’s lives are being touched by violence, conflict and the impacts of climate change. 

Globally, an estimated 800 million children live in fragile and conflict-affected areas where child rights are often denied and childhoods are stolen by abuse, exploitation and slavery. 

Happy child who has child rights

At World Vision, we believe that every child deserves a childhood in all its fullness, surrounded by protective families and communities, free from violence and with the opportunity to thrive as other children do.

Poverty, exploitation and violence are not inevitable. Many of the problems that children face are a consequence of exploitative practices and education gaps in both developed and developing communities.

In a protective environment where children’s rights are respected, the world’s most vulnerable children can flourish and reach their highest potential. We are committed to pursuing these rights so children can enjoy a full childhood.

What are child rights?

Put simply, child rights are the human rights of children. Every child, regardless of their age, race, gender, wealth or birthplace, has rights.

These rights are enshrined in international law in the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC). It recognises all children must be treated fairly, equally and with dignity. The child rights convention laws are non-discriminatory and are always in the best interests of the child.

A child is recognised and described by the United Nations (UN) children’s rights convention as every human being below the age of 18 years unless under the law applicable to the child, adulthood is attained earlier.

Cambodia Loas school children who have child rights

The UN’s child rights state that children are entitled to special protection and assistance because they are considered vulnerable. According to the CRC, all children should grow up in the spirit of peace, dignity, tolerance, freedom, equality and solidarity, and all nations have a responsibility to provide these rights by the law of the UN.

World Vision advocates the clear framework established by the UN children’s rights convention, which secures protection for children and respect for their rights, as well as the calls for governments and parents to take action to ensure child rights are protected, respected and fulfilled. It is up to all of us to ensure we do all we can to protect the most vulnerable in our communities.

When children’s rights are protected, children stand a much better chance of growing up in a society that allows them to thrive.

adults forming a circle with children to emphasise the importance of child rights in the community

teachers in a classroom teaching children of their rights

At World Vision, we see children as agents of transformation. When we partner with communities on community-led projects – powered by people like you – we can help protect them from abuse, forced labour and conflict. We help them to build a brighter future for themselves and the next generation of children to come.

We have a responsibility for the children who participate in our programs. We teach children about their rights, equipping them with the skills to speak up for themselves and educating their communities about what is and what isn’t acceptable behaviour towards children.

We push for policy change at a local, national and global level so that we can impact the largest number of children possible through our work.

A history of children’s rights

Following the devastating aftermath of the world wars of the 20th century and their psychological and physical impact on children, the United Nations (UN) decided that the human rights of children required special protection.

After World War I, the League of Nations (which would later become the UN) drafted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which included the rights to life, food, shelter, education, freedom of speech and religion, justice and peace.

Recognising that children were especially vulnerable, the UN agreed to adopt the Declaration of Geneva on Children’s Rights. This declaration was short with only five statements, but it outlined a list of responsibilities towards children who were considered vulnerable.

After the Second World War, the United Nations General Assembly accepted the Declaration of the Rights of the Child. This declaration paved the way for the adoption of the Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1989, which became the first legally binding international text to protect children’s rights.

The Convention on the Rights of the Child is the most widely ratified human rights treaty in history. It sets out the rights of children in 54 articles and is guided by four beliefs:

  1. Children should not suffer discrimination (Article 2).
  2. In all decisions affecting children, their best interests should be the main concern (Article 3).
  3. Children have the right to survive and develop healthily (Article 6).
  4. Children have the right to have their views taken into account in matters that affect them (Article 12).

The Convention on the Rights of the Child

Article 1 – A child means every human being below the age of 18.

Article 2 – States parties must ensure all rights apply to children regardless of their age, race, religion, gender, wealth or birthplace.

Article 3 – All signatories to the convention must work towards actions in the best interests of the child.

Article 4 – Governments must make these rights available to all children.

Article 5 – Governments and parents must ensure children are equipped with the knowledge to understand their rights. 

Article 6 – All children have an inherent right to life.

Article 7 – Governments should respect a child’s right to a name and nationality.

Article 8 – Governments must respect a child’s right to their own identity.

Article 9 – Children should not be removed from their parents unless for their own good.

Article 10 – Families living in different countries should be able to move between them so children can have direct contact with both parents.

Article 11 – Governments must take all measures to combat the illegal removal of children from their country.

Article 12 – Children have the right to express their views freely in all matters affecting them.

Article 13 – Children have the right to freedom of expression and can seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds.

Article 14 – Governments should respect the right of children to have freedom of thought, conscience and religion.

Article 15 – Children have the right to freedom of association.

Article 16 – Children have the right to privacy.

Article 17 – Governments should ensure children have access to information and material from a diversity of national and international sources, especially those aimed at the promotion of his or her social, spiritual and moral wellbeing and health.

Article 18 – Both parents have common responsibilities for the upbringing and development of the child, with the best interests of the child their basic concern.

Article 19 – Governments should ensure children are protected from all forms of physical and mental violence, injury or abuse, neglect and exploitation.

Article 20 – Children who cannot be cared for by their own parents should be looked after by people who respect their religion, culture and language.

Article 21 – When a child is adopted, their best interests should be the utmost priority.

Article 22 – Children who enter a country as refugees should have the same rights as children born in that country.

Article 23 – Children with any kind of disability must have special care and support.

Article 24 - Children have the right to enjoy the highest attainable standard of health. Governments should work towards the development of healthcare and diminish disease and child mortality.

Article 25 – Children placed in care have the right to have their situation reviewed by their local authorities regularly.

Article 26 – Governments should provide the right resources for children if they need to benefit from social security.

Article 27 – All children have the right to a standard of living adequate for their physical, mental, spiritual, moral and social development.

Article 28 – All children have the right to an education.

Article 29 – Education should help the development of a child’s personality, talents and mental and physical abilities so they can reach their full potential.

Article 30 – Children have the right to practise their own religion or language.

Article 31 – All children have the right to rest and leisure, to engage in play and recreational activities and to participate freely in cultural life and the arts.

Article 32 – Governments must protect children from economic exploitation or performing work that can interfere with their education or could be harmful to their development.

Article 33 – Governments must take all appropriate legislative, administrative, social and educational measures to protect children from the illicit use of drugs and prevent use of children in the production and trafficking of such substances.

Article 34 – Governments must protect children from sexual abuse and exploitation.

Article 35 – Governments must protect children from being abducted, sold or trafficked.

Article 36 – Children must be protected from all forms of exploitation that can harm their welfare.

Article 37 – No child shall be subjected to torture or other cruel treatment or punishment; no child shall be deprived of his or her liberty unlawfully or arbitrarily. The arrest, detention or imprisonment of a child shall only be used as a last report and for the shortest appropriate period of time.

Article 38 – Governments should take all feasible measures to ensure that children under the age of 15 don't take direct part in armed conflicts.

Article 39 – Governments should take all appropriate measures to promote physical and psychological recovery and social reintegration of children exposed to neglect, exploitation or abuse. 

Article 40 – Children accused of breaking the law should receive legal help.

Article 41 – If the laws of a country protect a child better than the articles of the convention, then the laws should be followed.

Article 42 – Governments should make this convention widely known to adults and children.

Article 43-54 – These articles contain methods for institutions, organisations and individuals to ensure respect for child rights.

World Children's Day

In 2019, the world marked the 30th anniversary of the Convention on the Rights of the Child on World Children’s Day, 20 November. World Children’s Day is an opportunity to raise awareness on child rights, inspire a recommitment from governments and communities to realise those rights, promote accountability and spur people to act.

In alignment with the UN Sustainable Development Goals, full realisation of the CRC would result in a world where no-one – no child – is left behind.
World Vision works in more than 90 countries to improve child wellbeing and is committed to the objectives of the CRC. 

Child rights around the world

In an ideal world, signatories to the convention would apply each article to their own country’s educational, health, legal and social services. Unfortunately, this is not the case.

Across the globe, hundreds of millions of children are being denied their dignity, freedom, future and childhood when their rights are not protected by these signatories.

The International Labour Organization (ILO), estimates that 218 million children are working as child labourers around the world. These children are refused the opportunity to go to school, play with friends or receive the right nutrition and care for a healthy and fulfilled life. Instead, they are forced to work long hours for little reward.

Many children are being exploited through mentally and physically dangerous work that involves hazardous workplaces and exploitative acts such as slavery, drug trafficking, prostitution and armed conflict. These environments negatively impact a child’s wellbeing and development and can deny the child’s rights to survival, protection and education.

hand clenches a cage, highlighting the importance of child rights awareness

stripped of child rights, this child has suffered exploitation at a young age

loss of rights have forced many children into becoming child soldiers

child soldier sitting down, stripped of her rights as a child


million children

are in forced labour


billion children

globally are affected by some type of violence each year

2 in 5


in the least developed countries marry before reaching the age of 18


million children

live in conflict-affected areas

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In Brazil, over 2 million children aged 5-14 years are in the workforce

1 in 3 children in Papua New Guinea do not finish school

1 in 7 Somalian children under the age of five are seriously malnourished

In Laos and Cambodia, more than a third of Grade 1 students don’t reach Grade 5

In India, there are more than 12 million child labourers, though others estimate there are 60 million

The denial of child rights

In December 2019, British supermarket chain Tesco suspended a Chinese supplier of charity Christmas cards after a six-year-old customer found a message in one of the cards saying they were produced using forced labour.

A US human rights group has filed a legal complaint against tech giants including Apple and Microsoft for being complicit in the deaths of children in the Democratic Republic of the Congo forced to mine cobalt, a metal found in mobile phones and computers.

Low-cost consumer goods bought and sold around the world often come at a terribly high price for young children forced to work in mines, factories and sweatshops to produce them.

In 2013, Rana Plaza – a five-story garment factory in Bangladesh – collapsed and killed 1,134 people. Many of those were children. Approximately 2,500 injured people were rescued from the building alive. The garment factory was infamous for making cheap clothes using child labour, as well as beating staff, ignoring fire safety rules and threatening members of trade unions with murder.

Such tragedies demonstrate the importance of transparency along the manufacturers' supply chains and how crucial it is for both suppliers and buyers, like us, to make a stand against child labour for good.

The impact of child protection

At World Vision, we believe we have the power to protect children from all forms of violence, through a holistic programming approach that prioritises their economic, social, cultural, civil and political rights.

Protecting, respecting and fulfilling children’s rights is possible when we can educate children, families, government institutions and organisations and provide the right support for them to overcome child rights challenges.

By providing education and resources to communities in need, we have the power to impact the environment in which vulnerable children live, and give them back their childhood.

In Bangladesh, it’s usual for girls to be married early. Even some as young as 10 are forced to wed. For these little girls, marriage means getting cut off from your family or no longer having an opportunity to go to school.

Girls like Bithi, as young as 15, spend their days working behind sewing machines, making pants which will be sold to shops in high-income countries like Australia, Canada and the US. Every day, Bithi and her child colleagues help sew a minimum of 480 pairs of designer jeans which they themselves would never be able to afford.

15 year old Bithi lacks child rights, and is forced to spend her days sewing jeans for high income countries


Bithi is one of the thousands of Bangladeshi children who work in garment factories in poor conditions, where their child rights are denied. With no bright future in sight, Bithi’s mother – whose husband was bedridden – was struggling to raise six children on her own and couldn’t make ends meet. She did what her parents did to her – sent her oldest daughter to work in the garment factory at the age of 12.

Bithi’s mother also had a man in mind for an arranged marriage, a very common practice in Bangladesh that robs children of their childhood.

Bithi walking with her family


Bithi working inside a garment factory in poor conditions


World Vision’s child protection programs, such as the Street Children Project in Bangladesh, provide girls and families like Bithi’s with an opportunity to learn about the dangers of early marriage and child labour.

When Ruma, 16, was told that her father had an arranged marriage planned for her, she took action. In a World Vision-supported life skills class, Ruma learned about the dangers that come with early marriage and how she can respond to some of the challenges she would face in her life.

She spoke with her mother and educated her about the dangers and consequences of early marriage and, with her mother behind her every step of the way, she was able to avoid that fate.

By the power of this knowledge, I have saved myself from early marriage.

- Ruma, Bangladesh

Children's rights in Australia

The violation of children’s rights is not just an issue in poor, developing nations. Even high-income countries like Australia, Canada and the US fail to uphold the human rights of all children. While less prevalent, many children in developed countries still experience poverty, abuse or loss of liberty.

Despite economic growth, three million people still live in poverty in Australia. Over 731,000 of those are children, which means that one in six children are currently living in poverty. In the US, over 16 percent of children live in poverty, and in Canada, it’s over 14 percent.

These may seem like surprising statistics for developed countries, but unfortunately this can occur when there is a lack of government support for all citizens to have adequate living standards. Without this support, vulnerable citizens experience a denial of fundamental human rights.

The Australian Government has even been found to have violated the rights of children. The Convention on the Rights of the Child states that “any detention only be done as a last resort and for the shortest possible time”, yet thousands of children have been detained as part of youth justice policies at a state level, or by the Federal Government through immigration detention.

The 2017 Royal Commission into the Detention and Protection of Children in the Northern Territory found that youth justice policies and practices around the use of restraints and isolation may have contravened several UN conventions and covenants on human rights or the rights of the child.

Protecting human rights is the responsibility of both governments and individuals. And World Vision calls for the Australian Government to embody that responsibility in its actions at home and its advocacy abroad.

Protecting child rights

Protecting children from all forms of violence is central to World Vision’s work. All children deserve to experience life in all its fullness, and we strive to ensure that the most vulnerable children enjoy a proper childhood. Only when children feel safe in their homes and communities are they able to flourish and realise their potential.

Christine's story

When Christine was 11, her father had plans for her to marry. But she had dreams of a different future. She loved to learn and wanted to pursue an education.

Christine’s family of 10 lived near a World Vision program area in West Pokot, Kenya. Among World Vision’s priorities in this area are the eradication of child marriage and female genital mutilation, which affect many local young girls.

Christine decided to run away to avoid marriage, and when World Vision discovered her desperate situation, we worked with local leaders to give her the help she needed. With sponsorship support, Christine continued her education at Morpus Primary School where World Vision had established a rescue centre for girls escaping child marriage.

Christine thrived in this environment, passing her Kenya Certificate of Primary Education. She then attended St Elizabeth Secondary School as a member of the inaugural class.

Christine from Kenya became a victim of child marriage at the young age of 11


She has since graduated from St Elizabeth and, with the help of World Vision, has completed a mentorship program designed to prepare students for university life so she can continue her studies.

“We learned so much in this program,” Christine said. “I will transfer all of these skills to college … I consider myself as a life skills educator and will teach my friends the life skills that I have learned so that they make good decisions,” she said.

Christine now attends Eldoret Technical College and is pursuing a certificate course in nursing. She has a bright future ahead of her, a future full of promise, and she hopes one day that she can help the sick and poor in her own community in Kenya.

She is forever grateful for the help of World Vision and our supporters. If it wasn’t for supporters like you, Christine may not have had her child rights upheld in order for her to live a fulfilled life outside of child marriage. Our child protection programs help once vulnerable children become stronger.

Why World Vision’s child rights programs work

World Vision is a global leader in empowering families and their communities to protect children’s rights. Our unique community engagement model, developed over 70 years and tailored to the context of each community, enables us to address the complex root causes of problems that rob children of their childhood.

We engage all those who have a responsibility to protect children, starting with families and faith communities and extending to teachers, schools, local and traditional leaders, hospitals, police, government agencies, and law courts.

Our work focuses on improving laws and accountability, increasing social services and associated social supports, catalysing behaviour and attitude change, and strengthening child resilience.

Our impact on child rights

  • In the last five years, World Vision has informed over 1,837,878 children and adults about the risks of exploitation, abuse, traffickers’ ploys and how to keep children from harm.
  • In Cambodia alone, we have provided more than 1,500 child survivors of sexual exploitation and abuse with shelter and recovery care to heal and return to family and community life.
  • In the last two years, 10,000 child workers in exploitative conditions have been trained in 95 community-based Worker Rights Centres.
  • Since 2010, World Vision has equipped 30,669 local leaders, parents, teachers and police officers with the knowledge to recognise, report and respond to crimes against children, fostering community-wide protection schemes and impacting the lives of countless children.

Our programs


Partner with World Vision for children's rights

We believe that every child deserves a childhood free from violence – to grow and live life in all its fullness, surrounded by protective, caring families and communities. All children should have the opportunity to reach their full potential.

Share our vision and together we can provide the most vulnerable children with a protective environment to thrive.

You have an opportunity now to help children escape abuse and face life without fear, discovering their true potential and ability to become agents of change for their communities.

Partner with us to create an environment where children can live without fear of trafficking, early marriage and exploitation. You’ll be a part of a team helping to transform the lives of thousands of children so they can unlock their full potential free from abuse and fear.

school children in a safe environment with access to education


When you sponsor a child through our child sponsorship program, you’re joining a community of generous Australians committed to bringing lasting change to children living in poverty. As a child sponsor, you will help support vulnerable families and improve the long-term wellbeing of children.

You’ll see the impact of your donation through timely updates on your child’s progress with specific and measurable outcomes. You’ll see how your support helps prepare and equip your sponsored child’s community to continue its own development into the future.

Sponsoring a child is rewarding. You can make sure children have rights.


Child sponsorship is the most effective and rewarding way to protect children's rights and give them better futures.

Or, if you’re not looking for a one-on-one connection with a child and their community, you can donate to our Child Rescue program. Every day, Child Rescue donors help exploited children who are out of the reach of our child sponsorship programs.

These vulnerable children have fallen through the cracks and require urgent support to protect them from dangerous situations.

With your help, we can protect children from human trafficking, slavery and child labour. We can bring them back into the community, support them and, ultimately, give them back their childhood.

Donate now