Like adults, children and young people have human rights. In addition to the rights that are laid out in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, children and young people under the age of 18 have additional rights. These rights recognise that children have special needs that must be met to help them survive and develop to their full potential. Children also have the right to special protection because of their vulnerability to exploitation and abuse.
The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child lays out the special rights granted to children and sets out the specific ways these rights should be ensured for them. The Convention recognises that children have the same human rights as adults, while also needing special protection so they can develop to their full potential.
The Convention is the most widely ratified human rights treaty in the world. Australia ratified the Convention in December 1990. By ratifying – in other words formally approving – the Convention, Australia has a duty to ensure that all children in Australia enjoy the rights set out in the Convention.
The four fundamental principles that guide how the Convention should be interpreted and put into practice are:
- the best interests of the child should be a primary consideration
- the right to survival and development
- the right of all children to express their views freely on all matters affecting them
- the right of all children to enjoy all the rights of the Convention without discrimination of any kind.
To make sure that countries are upholding their responsibilities to children under the Convention, the United Nations also created the Committee on the Rights of the Child. The Committee is a group of 18 independent experts that, every five years, reviews the performance of each country that has signed the Convention. The Committee makes recommendations on how countries can improve children’s rights and writes documents called General Comments to explain specific rights in more detail and provide advice on how these rights can be upheld.
The Commissioner for Children and Young People plays an important role in ensuring that children and young people living in Tasmania can enjoy all their rights. The Commissioner holds governments and other decision-makers accountable for ensuring they meet their obligations to children and young people under the Convention and other international agreements. The Commissioner does this by
- advocating for the rights and interests of children and young people aged under 18
- promoting children’s participation in decisions that affect them
- promoting awareness of and respect for the rights of children and young people
- undertaking research about children’s rights
- reviewing and monitoring laws, policies and programs to ensure they protect and uphold children and young people’s rights.