Questions Parents Ask

The Preamble to the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) refers to the family as the fundamental group of society and the natural environment for the growth and well-being of all its members and particularly children. There are abundant references to the family in at last 19 articles of the CRC. A useful way to review the centrality of the family in the CRC is through this analogy provided by Dr. Bob Jacobs:

Imagine a savings account or a trust fund created for a child by a third party but held in trust by the child's parent or guardian. The rational is that the asset belongs to the child and is intended to benefit the child but because the child is not mature enough to direct the account, that job falls to the responsible adult. The parent or guardian is a "fiduciary", a steward of the child's wealth. In a similar fashion, the CRC looks at parents as the stewards of their children's rights.

What is the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC)?
The Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), adopted by the United Nations in 1989, spells out the basic human rights to which children everywhere are entitled: the right to survival; the right to the development of their full physical and mental potential; the right to protection from influences that are harmful to their development; and the right to participation in family, cultural and social life.

The CRC protects these rights by setting minimum standards that governments must meet in providing health care, education and legal and social services to children in their countries.

Why is a document describing children's rights necessary?
Although many nations have laws relating to children's welfare and rights, the reality is that too many nations do not live up to their own minimum standards in these areas. More than one in five children now live in poverty. Children also suffer from homelessness, abuse, neglect, preventable diseases, unequal access to education and justice systems that do not recognize their special needs; children of minority groups are often particularly affected. These are problems that occur in both industrialized and developing countries.

How does the CRC define a child?
The CRC defines a "child" as any human being below the age of 18, unless the laws of a particular country set the legal age for adulthood as younger than 18.

Does the CRC take responsibility for children away from their parents and give more authority to governments?
On the contrary, the CRC upholds the primary importance of parent's role and refers repeatedly throughout the document. It says that governments must respect the responsibility of parents for providing appropriate guidance to their children, including guidance as to how children shall exercise their rights. And it places on governments the responsibility to protect and assist families in fulfilling their essential role as nurturers of children.

Article 12 says that children have the right to express their views in all matters affecting them. Does this mean that children can now tell their parents what to do?
No, the intent of this article is to encourage adults to listen to the opinions of children and involve them in decision-making – not to give children authority over adults. Article 12 (specify) does not interfere with parent's rights and responsibility to express their views on matters affecting their children.

Will the Convention on the Rights of the Child affect the way that parents pass on religious and moral teachings to their children?
The CRC respects the rights and duties of parents in providing religious and moral guidance to their children. Religious groups around the world have expressed support for the CRC which indicates that it in no way prevents parents from bringing up their children within a religious tradition.

At the same time, the CRC recognizes that as children mature and are able to form their own views, some may question certain religious practices or cultural traditions. The CRC supports children's right to examine their beliefs, but it also states that their right to express their beliefs implies respect for the rights and freedoms of others.

In other words, the Convention encourages respect for others along with children's rights?
Yes, the CRC is explicit about the fact that young people not only have rights, but also the responsibility to respect the rights of others, especially of their parents. It states that one of the aims of education should be the development of respect for the child's parents and their values and culture. Rather than creating conflict between the rights of parents and the rights of children, the CRC encourages an atmosphere conducive to dialogue and mutual respect.

The issue of respect for others appears in several articles. For example, the CRC states that children have the right to freedom of expression and the right to meet with other or to form associations. But it stipulates that in exercising these rights, they must also respect the rights, freedoms and reputation of others.

Can children still be expected to help their parents with chores?
The CRC protects children from economic exploitation and from work that is hazardous to their health or interferes with their education. It was never intended to regulate smaller details of home life and there is nothing in the CRC that prohibits parents from expecting their children to help out at home in ways that are safe and appropriate to their age.

What does the Convention on the Rights of the Child say about the way parents discipline their children?
The CRC makes it clear that children shall be protected from all forms of mental or physical violence or maltreatment. Thus, any forms of discipline involving such violence are unacceptable. In most countries, laws are already in place that define what sorts of punishments are considered excessive or abusive. It is up to each country to review these laws in light of the CRC.

The CRC does not specify what discipline techniques parents should use, but it strongly supports parents in providing guidance and direction to their children. There are ways to discipline children that are non-violent, are appropriate to the child's level of development and take the best interests of the child into consideration. Such forms of discipline are effective in helping children learn about family and social expectations for their behavior.

Will the Convention on the Rights of the Child affect authority and discipline in schools?
The CRC places a high value on education, devoting two articles to this issue. And common sense would indicate that schools must be run in an orderly way if children are to benefit from them. But order need not be imposed through the use of violence.

The CRC specifies that any form of school discipline should take into account the child's human dignity. Therefore, governments must ensure that school administrators review their discipline policies and eliminate any discipline practices involving physical or mental violence, abuse and neglect.

The CRC does not address such issues as school uniforms, dress codes, the singing of the national anthem or prayer in schools. It is up to governments and school officials in each country to determine whether, in the context of their society and existing laws, such matters infringe upon other rights protected by the CRC.

Doesn't the Convention on the Rights of the Child raise issues that children are too young to understand?
Children's interest in rights issues and the way in which parents handle those issues, will vary depending on the age of the child. Helping children to understand their rights does not mean pushing them to make choices with consequences they are too young to handle. The CRC encourages parents to deal with rights issues with their children "in a manner consistent with the evolving capacities of the child" (Article 5).

Parents, who are intuitively aware of their child's level of development, will do this naturally. The issues they discuss, the way in which they answer questions, or the discipline methods they use will differ depending on whether the child is 3, 9, or 16 years of age.

When parents help their children to understand both rights and responsibilities and to respect the rights of others, they lay the foundation for responsible adulthood. They prepare their children, as the preamble to the CRC says, to live "in the spirit of the ideals proclaimed in the Charter of the United Nations and in particular in the spirit of peace, dignity, tolerance, freedom, equality and solidarity."