With young suicide bombers taking their lives in the cause of a misguided interpretation of what some see as jihad, it would be easy for non Muslims to think that Islam does not value children, childhood and consequently the rights of children. However, this could not be further from the truth.
It was narrated from the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) in the saheeh hadeeth: “Fear Allah and treat your children fairly.” (Narrated by al-Bukhaari, 2447; Muslim, 1623)(1). Also The Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) said, according to a hadeeth narrated by ‘Abd-Allaah ibn ‘Umar, “… and your child has rights over you.” Muslim, 1159.(2)
Human Rights are moral and legal rights that are set to protect human dignity(3. They apply to everyone regardless of color, race, gender, age, language, and the place of birth. Another way of expressing these human rights principles is to say that they are inalienable, indivisible and are universal. Also, they are inter-related and inter dependent. 1948 is a globally symbolic year for Human rights as nations celebrated the birth and their adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Its articles became legal obligation on all states that ratified it. However, since 1948 The Universal Declaration of Human Rights has been interpreted in terms of treaties, covenants and other international conventions. Among most important international conventions is The Convention of the Right of the Child (CRC).(4)
Who is a Child?
According to the definition given by Convention of the Right of the Child, “Child is any one less than 18 years of age unless, under the law applicable to the Child, majority is attained early “(5). However, the committee on the rights of the child has encouraged state parties to reverse the age of majority if it is less than 18years. Contrary to the Convention of the Rights of the Child who favors age of 18 but still leaves ample room for countries to decide, the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child describes child as: “any human being below age of 18 years.”(6) The Convention of the Rights of the Child employs national and international law as instrument for protecting the Rights of Children while the African Charter and Welfare of the Child mandates that countries set age of majority at no less than 18 years.
Why talk of special rights for the child?
Human rights are applicable to every human being including children, so why is it necessary to give more attention and concern to children’s rights? Well the answer to this is simple and self explanatory. Children are vulnerable and subject to exploitation. The first 18 years of a child’s life is a period of transformation where child re-shapes their relationship with people around them including those responsible for their well being. In this transitional period of a child’s life, they must be safeguarded, in order to become fully independent and productive adults, from the dangers of violence, sexual exploitation, militarization, child labour. These dangers become more explicit in children with disabilities and those with parents and guardians. It is on these assumptions that children need special rights to accommodate their basic needs and to help them reach their maximum potential.
National and international instrumental protection of the Child
Although a lot of effort has been and continues to be made to protect children from any exploitative situations, there are still many challenges ahead in order to safeguard children’s rights globally. These efforts come in form of international agreements, treaties, and conventions. United Nations and regional human rights bodies play major role in delivering Rights of the Child. In the following I will touch briefly on the historical background of the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), one of the most universally accepted documents on children’s Rights. In 1978, in light of the United Nations-sponsored International Year of the Child, a draft text was proposed for the Convention on Rights of the Child. The draft was founded around Universal Declaration articles and those of the International Covenant on Civil and political Rights. The International Covenant on Economic and Cultural Rights had also had great impact on drafting the CRC. In November 1998 the UN assembly adopted the text of the Convention on the Rights of the Child with many countries ratifying the Convention than any other Human rights instrument. The CRC became legally binding in September 1990(7). By ratifying the Convention, Countries commit themselves responsibility to take care of well being of the children and their protection. However, the commitment to ensure protection of the Child did not stop at this junction; it further went in search of greater specific protection against child labor and Militarization. Convention 182 which prohibits and is concerned with eliminating all forms of child labor was adopted by General Conference of the International Labour Organisation (ILO) in June 1999 and entered into force in November 2000.(8)
Since adoption of the CRC, many countries incorporated code principles of the CRC into national legislation as part of law reform efforts.
There are two exceptional principles in the CRC articles, often called Optional Protocols. They were drafted in line with the needs of those states which committed to stronger protection for the Child, especially where children are more at risk such as in the case of involvement in armed conflict. An illustration of this is the fact that the Optional Protocol on the involvement of children in armed conflict requires states to prohibit the conscription of anyone under the age of 18 years, to adopt all feasible measures to ensure that voluntarily recruited soldiers under the age of 18 do not fight, and to criminalize the recruitment of children under 18 by rebel groups. The other Optional Protocol, the Sale of the child, child prostitution, and child pornography was drafted to strengthen protection against these forms of exploitation which occur even at present, despite the global prohibition.(10)
How the CRC works
Consisting of 18 highly experienced persons, the committee on Rights of the Child, a monitoring body of CRC meets in Geneva, Switzerland, three times a year for period of four weeks for each session. It is committee’s job to follow up the implementation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child and its two optional Protocols. It encourages state parties to submit an initial report of the progress in fulfilling of their obligation for child protection within two years. Then the Committee holds a private meeting with UNICEF and other concerned agencies to debate issues to put forward to the state under review. The committee engages direct dialogue with the States in question or under review through the use of non confrontational methods . The committee does not deal with individual complaints. However, people and individuals can raise violations of human rights of the children through NGOs and other international mechanisms such as regional Human Rights bodies in Africa, Europe and America.(11)
International Agencies who had finger prints on the child protection
The Save Children
Followed the First World War, the humiliated misery events of dying and starving Children in Austria and Eastern Europe prompted Eglantyne jebb to step in for helping children of those countries ignoring blaming voices that accused her for saving children of the “Enemy”. Eglantyne established The Save the Children Fund and delivered its first food support to the starving children over there. (12)
Eglantyne also participated in drafting of the Geneva Declaration on the Rights of the Child in 1928. The Declaration was adopted by the League of Nations. It included children’s rights in moral and spiritual development, free from any form of exploitation and natural growth of the child.
UNICEF emerged after Second World War with an international consensus that all children should be taken care of regardless of what side of the Second World War their countries were in.
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR)
In 1948 Nations agreed on adopting Universal Declaration of Human Rights, its articles enshrine “the motherhood and childhood are entitled to special care and protection’ and referring to the family as “natural and fundamental group unit of society”(14)
Some Rights of our children
Right to access to basic needs (Economic Rights)
According to the UNICEF “Children are hardest hit by Poverty because it strikes at the very roots of their potential for development- their growing bodies and minds.”(15) Moreover, UNICEF’s reports indicate that 1 in every 3 children in developing countries live without adequate shelter, and 1 in every 5 has no access to clean water plus 1 in every 7 has no access to health services.(16) In the light of this report and other similar available information, it seems that poverty is the root cause of many problems that children are facing today. It is obligation on the states, parents and companies to work together collectively to tackle problems rising from poverty and implementing policies that reduce all forms of poverty, especially those that hamper the development of the future of entire nations.
Right to Education
Article 26(1, 2) of Universal Declaration of Human Rights 1948, states boldly that: Everyone has the right to education. Education shall be free, at least in the elementary and fundamental stages. Elementary education shall be compulsory. Technical and professional education shall be made generally available and higher education shall be equally accessible to all on the basis of merit.
Education shall be directed to the full development of the human personality and to the strengthening of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. It shall promote understanding, tolerance and friendship among all nations, racial or religious groups, and shall further the activities of the United Nations for the maintenance of peace.(17)
Although this basic right for children is enshrined in international law, approximately, according to UNESCO, 72 million children in the world do not attend school thereby limiting their capacities. Despite ratifying the treaty and promising to stick by it, many nations in the developing world have no or extremely inadequate education system which is free for all children to access. This occurs for many reasons, but the results are the same: Children lose out on many vital stages of their emotional and academic development and hence hampering their adulthood and their life chances.
Right to Health
The Right to health and survival are among the most fundamental rights warranted to children under the Convention on the Rights of the Child. However, hundreds of millions of children are denied this basic right as they are not getting the protection they need to keep healthy. Lack of free healthcare and health facilities and information endanger the precious lives of children in most of the developing world.
To conclude, it is important for States parties to bring the Convention on the Rights of the Child to life and implement the laws that promotes rights of the Child and provides children with the support and public services they are entitled to. The harsh experiences of childhood are against human rights. All children should be treated equally.
(1) Narrated by al-Bukhaari, 2447; Muslim, 1623. Saheeh Bukhaari and Muslim
(2) Muslim, 1159, Saheeh Muslim.
(3) More discussion on Moral and legal rights, look at Maurice Cranston’s Book ( What are Human Rights?, chps 1,2)
(4) Ronald Dworkin, Taking Rights seriously, Gerald Duckworth & Co. Ltd 1977.
(5) The Convention on the Rights of the Child, Article1, http://www2.ohchr.org/english/law/crc.htm#art2
(6) African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the child Article 2, http://www.africa-union.org/child/home.htm
(7) Louise Arbour, 18 Candles, The Convention on the Rights of the Child, Institute international des droits de l’enfant (IDE)
(8) International Labour Organization, http://www.ilo.org/global/about-the-ilo/WCMS_082367/lang--en/index.htm February 12, 2008 (English Version)
(9) The Convention on the Rights of the child , articles, 2,6, and 12
(11) Committee on the Rights of the Child, http://www2.ohchr.org/english/bodies/crc/
(12) Clare Mulley , The Woman who saved the children, March2010
(13) UNICEF, http://www.unicef.org/crc/index_using.html, 15 May 2008
(15) UNICEF, Implementation Handbook for the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
(16) UNICEF Report (2000)
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