Every child is born with the same inalienable right to a healthy start in life, an education, and a safe, secure childhood – all the basic opportunities that translate into a productive and prosperous adulthood. But around the world, millions of children are denied their rights and deprived of everything they need to grow up healthy and strong – because of their place of birth or their family of origin; because of their race, ethnicity, or gender; or because they live in poverty or with a disability.

The defines a "child" as a person below the age of 18, unless the relevant laws recognize an earlier age of majority. This was intentional, as it was hoped that the Convention would provide protection and rights to as large an age-group as possible.

The UN agency for children

The protection, health, and welfare of children has been a focus of the United Nations since the time of the creation of the Organization in 1945.

The destruction of Europe during World War Two, and the aftermath made the children of Europe vulnerable.  (ICEF) was created by the UN Relief Rehabilitation Administration to help affected children. On 11 December 1946, a resolution of the United Nations General Assembly brought the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) into being.

In 1953,  became a permanent part of the UN and began a successful global campaign against yaws, a disfiguring disease affecting millions of children, and one that can be cured with penicillin.

Following more than a decade of focus on child health issues, UNICEF expanded its interests to address the needs of the whole child. Thus began an abiding concern with education, starting with support for teacher training and classroom equipment in newly independent countries.

In 1965, the organization was awarded the Nobel 探花精选 Prize “for the Promotion of brotherhood among nations.” Today, UNICEF works in more than 190 countries and territories, focusing special effort on reaching the most vulnerable and excluded children.

Over the course of more than , UNICEF has consistently recommitted itself to advancing the ,  while  adapting its mission to meet the evolving needs of children around the world.

The State of the World's Children

(SOWC) is an annual report published by the United Nations Children's Fund, it closely examines a key issue affecting children. This comprehensive report is fortified with pertinent data and statistics.

Each edition of the SOWC examines a key issue affecting children. These have ranged from children with disabilities, conflict and war, child labour, urbanization, early childhood development, and much more, making it the most comprehensive analysis of global trends that impact children. The latest edition, titled , evaluates the urgent measures required to uphold the rights of all children to the protection offered by vaccines.

The topics and recommendations provided in the SOWC also guide UNICEF’s priorities, helping us design, calibrate and implement country programmes effectively and with an eye on the needs of the world's children.

The Rights of Children

Millions of children die every year from malnutrition and disease. Countless others become victims of war, natural disasters, HIV/AIDS, and extreme forms of violence, exploitation, and abuse. Millions of children, especially girls, do not have access to quality education. The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), as well as (OHCHR) and other UN agencies, strive to sustain global commitment to the , which embodies universal ethical principles and international legal standards of behavior towards children. UNICEF supports programs providing education, counseling, and care to children working in very hazardous or abusive conditions and vigorously advocates against the violation of their rights.

Declaration of the Rights of the Child

In 1959, the UN General Assembly adopted the , which defines children’s rights to protection, education, health care, shelter, and good nutrition.

The Declaration served as a foundational document in the development of international law related to children's rights. It has influenced national legislation and policies around the world, guiding efforts to protect and promote the rights of children in diverse contexts. It is considered a precursor to the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

Convention on the Rights of the Child

In 1989, world leaders made a historic commitment to the world’s children by adopting the United Nations . The Convention explains who children are, all their rights, and the responsibilities of governments. All the rights are connected, they are all equally important and they cannot be taken away from children. 

The Convention is the most rapidly and widely ratified international human rights treaty in history. The Convention changed the way children are viewed and treated – i.e., as human beings with a distinct set of rights instead of as passive objects of care and charity. The unprecedented acceptance of the Convention clearly shows a wide global commitment to advancing children’s rights.

Much has been accomplished since the adoption of the Convention, from declining infant mortality to rising school enrolment, but much remains to be done.

The General Assembly in 2000 adopted two Optional Protocols to the Convention: one ; the other . A third Optional Protocol, adopted by the Assembly in 2011, entered into force in 2014. It provides a .

The Committee on the Rights of the Child

, established under the Convention, is a body of 18 independent experts that meets regularly to monitor the progress made by states parties in fulfilling their obligations under the Convention and its first two Optional Protocols. It makes recommendations to governments on ways to meet those obligations. The Committee also issues its interpretation of the Convention’s provisions in the form of general comments.

Children and armed conflict

More than twenty years ago, the world united to condemn and mobilize against the use of children in armed conflict. Since then, thousands of children have been released as a result of  mandated by the UN Security Council and other actions aimed at ending and preventing recruitment and use of children by armed forces and groups. However, serious challenges for the protection of children affected by armed conflict remain.

In 2022, more than two thirds of the world’s children were living in a conflict-ridden country. More than one in six were living less than 50 km away from where the actual fighting took place, a 2.8% increase from the year before. Millions of children, many of whom are unaccompanied or separated from their families are being displaced by armed conflict. These children are at a high risk of grave violations in and around camps, and other areas of refuge. Action is urgently required to alleviate the plight of children displaced by armed conflict and the Secretary-General encourages Member States to respect the rights of displaced and refugee children and to provide them with necessary support services. 

The recruitment and use of children by armed forces and armed groups remains one of the most prevalent grave violations against children during armed conflict. In 2022, 7,622 children were found to have been recruited and used by parties to conflict. In 2023, children continued to be recruited and used, whether as spies or cooks, in combat roles, or as human shields. Whatever their roles, children used by parties to conflict are exposed to unspeakable cruelty, with serious implications for their physical and psychological well-being.

Since the establishment of the 28 years ago, more than 200,000 children have been released from armed groups and armed forces, including through the work of the United Nations.

Violence against children

The right of children to protection from violence is enshrined in the Convention on the Rights of the Child and yet still one billion children experience some form of emotional, physical or sexual violence every year; and one child dies from violence every seven minutes.

Violence against children knows no boundaries of culture, class or education. It takes place against children in institutions, in schools, and at home. Peer violence is also a concern, as is the growth in cyberbullying. Children exposed to violence live in isolation, loneliness and fear, not knowing where to turn for help, especially when the perpetrator is someone close. Children’s gender, disability, poverty, nationality or religious origin may all increase the risk of violence with the youngest being especially vulnerable as they are less able to speak up and seek support.

In 2006, the  provided a set of recommendations on how to end violence against children; and the Secretary-General appointed a  to ensure their effective follow-up and to monitor implementation.

There has been some real progress: many states now have legislation to prohibit physical, mental and sexual violence and support victims; campaigns are raising awareness of the negative impact of violence; and bullying, sexual violence and harmful practices against children are being tackled. We also have more  on the scale and nature of violence against children.

These are significant developments but much more needs to be done. The inclusion of a specific target (16.2) in the 2030 Agenda has shown the world’s commitment to end to all forms of violence against children. We must work urgently to ensure that noble vision becomes a reality for every child.

Children and the Sustainable Development Goals

For 15 years, the  were a guiding force on many issues affecting the lives of children, young people and their families. Over this time, tremendous progress was made in reducing preventable child deaths, getting more children into schools, reducing extreme poverty and ensuring more people have access to safe water and nutritious food.

However, progress has been uneven and many of the most pressing issues for the world -- including addressing inequalities, promoting inclusive economic growth, protecting children from violence and combating climate change -- were not adequately covered in the MDGs.

With the adoption of the new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in September of 2015, world leaders have committed to ending poverty by 2030. But unless accelerated efforts are made:

  •  before reaching their fifth birthday between 2019 and 2030. 
  • Children in sub-Saharan Africa will be 16 times more likely to die before their fifth birthday than children in high-income countries.
  • Nine out of 10 children living in extreme poverty will live in sub-Saharan Africa.
  • More than 60 million primary school-aged children will be out of school – roughly the same number as are out of school today. More than half will be from sub-Saharan Africa.
  • More than 150 million additional girls will marry before their 18th birthday by 2030.

These vast inequities and dangers do more than violate the rights and imperil the futures of individual children. They perpetuate intergenerational cycles of disadvantage and inequality that undermine the stability of societies and even the security of nations everywhere. 

United Nations Conferences on Children

The year 1990 was historic in the life of the United Nations and its commitment to the well-being of children, as the first UN conference on children, the World Summit for Children, took place in New York. The Summit, convened by UNICEF, brought together an unprecedented number of heads of state to rally around the cause of children and adopt the Declaration on the Survival, Protection and Development of Children.

Five years later, at the Fourth World Conference on Women, held in Beijing, China, world leaders renewed their commitment to the rights of women and girls.

In 2002, a special session of the United Nations General Assembly – the first dedicated exclusively to children – reviewed progress on the goals set by the 1990 World Summit for Children.

Children and the UN system

From the focus on education of the  (UNESCO), to the efforts of the (ILO) to abolish child labor, to the Children and Youth Programme of the  (UNRWA), to the school feeding and health initiatives supported by the  (WFP), to disease-eradication campaigns by the  (WHO), the UN system is there for children.

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