The nineteenth century
The 19th century marked the start of children’s rights. The child began to be considered as a being in need of protection. For the first time in Europe, laws were passed governing child labor. Different legal texts progressively encouraged or made education obligatory for young children, and society recognized the fact that the child could not be dealt with in the same way as an adult.
The Twentieth century
Since the start of the 20th century, the international community has made great efforts in protecting the rights of children, including improving the situation of children’s living environment and promoting their healthy growth. The history of children’s rights therefore accelerated in the 20th century.
In 1919, the League of Nations created a committee, the International Save the Children Union, for the protection of children in Geneva, Switzerland, becoming the frontrunner as an international organization in protecting children’s rights.
In 1923, the Union mentioned above adopted a declaration on children’s rights, which was regarded as an early document elaborating on children’s rights.
In September 26, 1924, the League of Nations General Assembly endorsed the above declaration, known as the Geneva Declaration of the Rights of the Child, where it stated that all men and women from all countries should acknowledge that human beings are obliged to offer the best for the child. It also first raised the concept of “the rights of the child”.
In December 1946, UNICEF was created to provide emergency relief for children affected by World War II. Later on, it extended to the areas of survival, development and protection of children.
In 1948, the United Nations (the “UN”) adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, acknowledging that “…. childhood are entitled to special care and assistance. All children, whether born in or out of wedlock, shall enjoy the same social protection.”
In November 1949, Women’s International Democratic Federation convened its congress in Moscow, putting forward the idea of protection of the right to life, the right to security and the right to education for children all over the world. It also officially decided to celebrate Children’s Day on June 1 every year.
In April 1950, the Federation mentioned above passed a resolution, calling for the celebration of Children’s Day under the proposal of protecting children from warfare, slashing military budgets and improving children’s health and education.
On December 14, 1954, the UN General Assembly passed a resolution, encouraging all countries to institute Children’s Day, and to celebrate this festival each year in each country’s own way.
On November 20, 1959, the UN General Assembly adopted the Declaration of the Rights of the Child, a more expanded version, which stipulates that children from each country shall enjoy all the rights set forth in the Declaration. However, such Declaration was not legally binding.
In 1973, International Labour Organization adopted the Convention concerning Minimum Age for Admission to Employment, which stipulates that the minimum age for admission to any type of employment or work which by its nature or the circumstances in which it is carried out is likely to jeopardies the health, safety or morals of young persons shall not be less than 18 years.
In 1978, the UN General Assembly adopted a resolution to establish a drafting committee for the Convention on the Rights of the Child, in order to create a legal document with binding force that fully provides the rights of the child.
The UN General Assembly decided the year of 1979 to be International Year of the Child. Celebration was held worldwide. Promises made to the children were affirmed.
On November 20, 1989, the UN General Assembly adopted the Convention on the Rights of the Child (the “CRC”), legally binding to States Parties. It is the UN’s most important international treaty on the rights of the child with most States Parties. Under the CRC, the rights of the child include almost all the rights enjoyed by adults, primarily falling into the following four categories. First, the right to life. Second, the right to development. Third, the right to security. Fourth, right to participation.
On September 2, 1990, the CRC came into force. It is the most widely and rapidly ratified international human rights treaty in history.
In September 1990, the UN held the World Summit for Children at its headquarter, New York. The Summit adopted the World Declaration on the Survival, Protection and Development of Children. The Declaration brought up ten proposals on protecting children and improving children’s living situation.
In 1998, the UN Security Council for the first time held a public debate on the issue of children and conflicts, which reflected the concerns of the international community for the impact of warfare on children.
In June 1999, International Labour Organization adopted the Elimination of Worst Forms of Child Labour Convention. It stipulates that member States must eliminate the worst forms of child labor which comprise the use of children to carry out dangerous activities, in armed conflicts, for prostitutions, and trafficking of drugs and guns.
The Twenty-first century
As the world realized the scale of challenges children face, and agreed to work toward a unified solution, we saw the international community begin to highlight the impact of inequity on children, and to challenge systemic inequity around the world. Will the 21th century move towards a more effective application of children’s rights? To answer this question, we have to keep the promises we made to the children in different conventions and many occasions. What were not easy promises to keep in the past are even more difficult today, and so the leadership is unprecedently important when it turns to the protection of the rights of the child. It is a leadership not only of governments but one broad enough to include all those in every country of every region who have embraced the cause of children as their own.
In May 2000, the UN adopted optional protocols to the CRC on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflicts, and the Sale of Children, Child Prostitution and Child Pornography, in its efforts to promote the protection of children from increasingly rampant criminal activities.
In 2002, the UN General Assembly held a landmark special session for children – the first dedicated exclusively to children with child delegates – reviewed progress on the goals set by the 1990 World Summit for Children, and encouraged the world to make promises in protecting the rights of the child.
In May 2002, A World Fit for Children was agreed to as a consensus document at the UN General Assembly Special Session for Children. It articulates the principles and goals in four main areas of protection of the rights of the child and improvement of children’s living situation including health care, education, protection and AIDS prevention.
In 2005, UNICEF held the UN Youth Assembly for the first time at the same time with Group 8 Summit, where young people from all over the globe gathered to discuss how they could make suggestions to leaders on the issues related to their generation, such as poverty elimination and education.
In December 2007, the UN General Assembly Special Session on Children reviewed the execution of A World Fit for Children, urging governments and the international community to live up to their promises and to achieve its strategic goals.
In August 4, 2009, the UN Security Council adopted the Resolution 1882 on strengthening the protection of children affected by the armed conflict. According to the Resolution, the UN Security Council would expand the concept of criminal acts targeted against children to sexual offense, killing and maiming of children, from the original scope of the recruitment and use of child soldiers.
On November 6, 2010, governments from 28 countries across Asia and the Pacific committed themselves to improving the rights of children in the world’s most populous region by increasing cooperation on issues critical to children’s survival, development and protection. The unanimous adoption of the Beijing Declaration on South-South Cooperation for Child Rights in the Asia Pacific Region came at the conclusion of the meeting held in Beijing.