Realising the Promise of the CRC on the 25th Anniversary
On 20 November 1989, the United Nations adopted the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), a landmark agreement that laid the foundation for children’s rights around the globe. Today, the CRC is the most widely ratified human rights treaty in history; 190 UN Member States have committed to upholding its crucial rights and protections on a range of issues central to children’s health and development.
But 25 years later, how much progress have countries made toward realising the promise of the CRC? What would a 21st century approach to increased transparency and accountability look like? What tools have governments and policymakers used to translate international agreements into national action?
A Modern Approach to Transparency and Accountability
A modernised monitoring mechanism that permits straightforward comparison of child rights policies across countries and over time could hold the answers to all three of these questions. While the current CRC monitoring system collects valuable, in-depth information about countries’ progress every five years, a complementary monitoring system that provides directly comparable, up-to-date data on countries’ actions—and harnesses new technologies to make this information readily accessible and easy-to-understand—could significantly strengthen the CRC’s impact.
The WORLD Policy Analysis Center has developed a comprehensive quantitative data set examining over 1,000 indicators on social, economic, educational, and health laws and policies in all 193 UN Member States. At the CRC’s 25th anniversary, we use this database of national actions to evaluate progress through 2014 toward embedding the CRC’s principles in national laws and policies—and identify critical gaps that remain. To demonstrate the feasibility and merit of this approach, we highlight key findings from these data in the areas of education, child labour, and child marriage.
Right to Education
Article 28 of the CRC ensures children’s right to education. The majority of countries (90 percent) that have ratified the CRC have made primary school free and compulsory, facilitating nearly universal primary enrolment and gender parity in most regions. However, many States parties impose barriers to students completing their education: 14 percent charge tuition fees in the first year of secondary school, while 24 percent do so before the end of secondary school. Gender gaps in secondary enrolment rates persist in many regions. But can countries afford to do better? The short answer is yes: at least a third of the countries that charge tuition fees in secondary school spend less than 4 percent of their gross domestic product (GDP) on education—firmly below the global average. Despite their CRC commitments, these countries are not investing enough in their children’s education.
Article 32 of the CRC declares that children should be protected from hazardous work. Yet according to the International Labour Organization, over half of the world’s 168 million child labourers work in dangerous conditions that jeopardize their health and safety. One reason is that 26 percent of States parties permit children under 18 to engage in hazardous work. Moreover, once legal exceptions that allow children to work at younger ages are considered, only 53 percent of States parties legally protect children from hazardous work in all circumstances. Implementation is essential, but a necessary first step to protecting child labourers is eliminating exceptions that legalise the employment of children in dangerous settings.
While the CRC does not explicitly address child marriage, multiple articles address the practice’s harmful consequences. The CRC also protects children from discrimination based on gender. While 88 percent of States parties have set a minimum age of marriage for girls at 18 years or older, most countries create exceptions for parental consent or under customary or religious law. Accounting for these exceptions, 15 percent of States parties legally allow girls as young as 13 years old to be married and 30 percent legally allow girls to be married at 15. In 32 percent of countries there is a gender disparity in the minimum age of marriage with parental consent. To ensure equal opportunities for girls, States parties must remove exceptions to minimum age laws and guarantee girls equivalent legal protection as boys.
Realising the CRC’s Promise
These are but a few examples of the types of data and comparative analyses that can emerge from a complementary monitoring system derived from already available sources: laws, constitutions, and public policies. To accelerate change to fully protect the world’s children, we need to utilise technology to provide actionable real-time information on issues such as these. Everyone should have access to information on their country’s policies via their cell phone. Policymakers should have the tools they need to make informed policy decisions and be held accountable for their actions. Civil society should know which countries are leaders and which are lagging behind to target advocacy efforts. Researchers should have access to quantitatively comparable data that allow them to rigorously analyse the effectiveness of individual policies in improving outcomes. The global community has made important progress toward fulfilling the promises of the CRC over the past 25 years, but significant challenges remain. The future of millions of children depends on how fast the world acts.
Tools for civil society, policymakers, and researchers seeking to improve children’s lives around the world are available now at worldpolicyforum.org:
- Resource bank around the CRC 25th Anniversary
- Interactive maps
- Public use datasets