Guide for NGOs


Human rights are inherent to all human beings. Human rights Non Governmental Organisations (NGOs) dedicate their work to the protection of human rights and the end of rights abuses.

NGOs should also be mindful of the work environment they offer their employees. Their work practices should reflect the principles they promote.

Press for rights - not charity

A human rights organisation must ensure that all efforts, plans, policies and processes are based on rights and corresponding obligations established by international law. Children’s rights should therefore be at the core of their work.

Children are rights holders

NGOs monitor the actions of governments and pressure them to act according to human rights principles and norms. They have a responsibility to make rights a reality for children and move away from the concept of charity.

A rights based approach is founded on the fact that children are rights holders, but children are rarely thought of as having rights and are often viewed only as an extension of their parents’. Children shouldn’t be seen solely in relation to their parents or as beneficiaries of aid from charity, but rather as independent human beings with their own rights.

A right is a legal entitlement; not something that is provided by generous governments or philanthropists. Thus human rights put an obligation on States to respect, protect and fulfil them as legal entitlements recognised to every child.

Approaches based on charity or assistance are more instinctive, covering the immediate needs of children without addressing the underlying causes of the problem.

It is important to note here that children’s rights don’t have a hierarchy but are indivisible and interdependent.

For example, the CRC primarily recognises children’s health rights under article 24. But a rights based approach to health recognises that children’s rights under the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) are interrelated and cannot be viewed in isolation. For example, such an approach focuses on the health rights of children in relation to: the best interest of the child (article 3), the right to be heard (article 12), and the principle of non-discrimination (article 2). For more examples of this, scroll to the bottom of the page for our Rights Based Approaches Themes.

While certain issues such as child mortality, malnourishment and access to vaccinations are the focus of most advocacy efforts and are undeniably vital to a child’s survival and quality of life, other children’s rights such as children’s freedom of religion, children’s access to information and children’s access to justice have not drawn enough attention, probably because they are deemed too controversial. It is the role of NGOs to remind States of all measures they should take to address such neglected issues.

You can submit information to the UN or to a regional body on the state of children’s rights in your country. Read our guide to the UN and Regional mechanisms for a mapping of the different mechanisms and guidance on how to use them.


All human rights apply to children

Recognising children as inherent holders of rights - and embracing concepts of obligation, responsibility and accountability should be central to the work of all NGOs, not just those that are child focused. It is useful to remind ourselves that all human rights apply as much to children as they do to adults. Children are mentioned explicitly in many of the human rights instruments where the “special nature of childhood” requires a modification or adaptation of the standards or principles set out for adults. The CRC brings together children’s rights as articulated in other international instruments and also packages them more completely and with a set of ‘guiding principles’ that fundamentally shapes the way in which practitioners approach their work with children. The CRC’s guiding principles are those rights relevant to the interpretation and implementation of all other articles and rights:

  • The right to non-discrimination (article 2): No child should be treated unfairly on any basis. The Convention applies to all children, whatever their race, religion or abilities; whatever they think or say, whatever type of family they come from. Discrimination against children is one of the main reasons why their rights are violated.

  • Children's best interests (article 3): A child’s best interests must be a primary concern in all matters affecting them.

  • Right to life, survival and development (article 6): Children must be alive for their other rights to have meaning. Development is one of the main goals of many rights in the Convention, for example, one of the aims of education (article 29) is 'the development of the child's personality, talents and mental and physical abilities to their fullest potential.'

  • Right to be heard (article 12): This guarantees their status as individuals with rights instead of objects of pity. All children have the right to express their views freely. Their views should be taken into account according to their age and maturity (see article 5).


NGOs have a role to play with each actor in children’s rights: lawyers, judges, politicians, law enforcement personnel, health professionals, school teachers, children themselves and many others. For that reason, we added at the end of each user’s guide a section called ‘What should NGOs do?’ to advise on ways NGOs and the different professionals involved in children’s lives can work together to give children a life with respect, dignity and equality.

Scroll down to the Rights Based Approaches Themes pages for ideas on approaches to take regarding specific issues on children's rights.

Read our Child Rights fact sheet and visit our Introduction to Children’s Rights’ page.


Human rights in the workplace   

Rights at work

The work practices of human rights organisations should reflect the principles they promote. Organisations should offer a respectful work environment where everyone is treated with dignity and respect; thus providing a model of the societies they advocate for.

Article 6 of the International Covenant on Economic Social and Cultural Rights states that the right to work includes "the right of everyone to the opportunity to gain his living by work."

The right to work means that work opportunities should be open to the equal participation of everyone regardless of their gender, religion, social background, race, etc… Successful candidates should be hired based on their merit. NGOs should therefore give an equal opportunity for everyone to join the organisation, get promoted and develop their knowledge and capacities based on their ability to perform the job.

Certain behaviour such as bullying, harassment and any form of discrimination should never be tolerated. Policies should be developed to maintain a respectful work environment including fair procedures for dealing with complaints and a trusted person to act as a focal point for complaints. Employees should be free to form and/or join trade unions.

Visit the page of the Inclusive Labour Markets, Labour Relations and Working Conditions Branch of the International Labour Organisation.


Ethical work practices

Human rights organisations have a responsibility to act in an ethical way and be mindful of their impact on the environment.

Different means are available to ensure the organisation’s practices are transparent, accountable, honest, non-discriminatory and conducive to open communication with others.

You can, for example, work with financial companies that are ethically driven, use environmentally friendly technologies like Open Source (a software that can be freely used, changed, and shared by anyone) and solar powered web services, use recycled stationery, and minimise printing and energy consumption.

Here are examples of some of the guiding principles we, at CRIN, have identified for our work practices:

Web services powered by renewable energy: This represents a good environmentally friendly IT solution that can reduce the environmental impact of our work. Some are even entirely powered by renewable energy, not carbon offsetting, making this a genuinely renewable solution to IT needs.

Open Source: The term “open source” refers to software that can be freely redistributed, analysed and modified by anyone, and that is developed in an open and collaborative environment. Using Open Source software wherever possible helps promote low cost alternatives to expensive and exclusionary proprietary software licences.

Copyrights - Creative Commons licenses: Creative Commons licenses enable authors to publish their content more easily, to have a greater level of control over their distribution and to give others the opportunity to use their works in more creative ways than the traditional “all rights reserved” approach to copyright protection. Creative Commons licensing will allow you to ensure you are credited for the work you have done while guaranteeing free access to information and encouraging others to build on and develop your materials in creative ways.

Printing: You can encourage staff to minimise printing by using recycled paper, double sided printing, reusing old paper and envelopes.

Does your organisation have any other ethical work practices? Share them with us at [email protected].