UN General Assembly and child rights

Summary: A guide to how th General Assembly works and how children's rights are included on the agenda.

español - français




What is the GA?

The General Assembly was set up in 1945 under the Charter of the United Nations. It is one of the six principal organs of the United Nations, and is the main deliberative organ. Comprising all 192 Members of the United Nations, it provides a forum for discussion and has been called the closest thing to a world parliament.

The presidency changes every session.


What does it do?

The functions and powers of the General Assembly are set out in the United Nations Charter. The main functions are:

  • To consider and make recommendations on maintaining international peace and security,
  • To discuss any question relating to international peace and security and, except where a dispute or situation is currently being discussed by the Security Council, to make recommendations on it;
  • To discuss, with the same exception, and make recommendations on any questions within the scope of the Charter or affecting the powers and functions of any organ of the United Nations;
  • To initiate studies and make recommendations to promote international political cooperation, the development of international law, the realisation of human rights and fundamental freedoms and international collaboration in the economic, social, humanitarian, cultural, educational and health fields;
  • To make recommendations for the peaceful settlement of any situation that might impair friendly relations among nations;
  • To receive and consider reports from the Security Council and other United Nations organs;
  • To consider and approve the United Nations budget and establish the financial assessments of Member States;
  • To elect the non-permanent members of the Security Council and the members of other United Nations councils and organs and, on the recommendation of the Security Council, to appoint the Secretary-General.

The work of the United Nations derives largely from the decisions of the General Assembly.


What has it got to do with child rights?

The work of the United Nations originates at the General Assembly. On 20 November 1989, the governments represented at the General Assembly agreed to adopt the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child into international law. It came into force in September 1990 and was ratified more quickly and by more governments (all except Somalia and the US) than any other human rights instrument.

Two Optional Protocols to the Convention on the Rights of the Child were also adopted: The Optional Protocol on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography, dated 18 January 2002 (A/RES/54/263, dated 25 May 2000) and the The Optional Protocol on the involvement of children in armed conflict Adopted (A/RES/54/263, dated 25 May 2000). The new Optional Protocol establishing a communications procedure under the CRC and its two substantive Optional Protocols will be adopted by the General Assembly in its 66th session.

The GA has adopted other Conventions incorporating child rights. Examples include, most recently, in December 2006, the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Article 7 refers specifically to children with disabilities. The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women also explicitly takes into account the rights of children in a number of provisions.

In order to follow up and monitor the implementation of the CRC, once a year the General Assembly adopts resolutions on ways to meet CRC’s objectives. To make those Resolutions, the GA pursues recommendations and conclusions made by the Committee on the Rights of the Child.

The Human Rights Council , which was created as a result of a General Assembly resolution, and acts as a subsidiary body of the GA, also submits reports to the GA. The GA then adopts an omnibus resolution from the reports submitted by both the Human Rights Council and the Committee on the Rights of the Child. Read the 2006 GA Resolution on the Rights of the Child.

From 8 to 10 May 2002, more than 7,000 people participated in one of the most important international conference on children, the Special Session of the UN General Assembly on Children, at which the nations of the world committed themselves to a series of goals to improve the situation of children and young people.

Read CRIN's introduction to the UN General Assembly Special Session on Children

The event resulted in an outcome document called A World Fit for Children.

Read the child-friendly version here

Read UNICEF’s suggestions for implementing the Session’s findings

Read about the NGO follow-up to the Special Session on Children

An event was held in New York from 11 - 12 December 2007 to evaluate progress in implementing the action plan set out in ‘A World Fit For Children.’ Find out more

The General Assembly president may make statements on children. For example, orphaned children

In November 2001 the UN General Assembly requested the Secretary-General to conduct an in-depth study on violence against children. This request followed a recommendation for such a study from the Committee on the Rights of the Child. The UN Study on Violence Against Children was conduced by independent expert Professor Paulo Pinheiro. On 11 October 2006, the UN General Assembly considered the study's findings and recommendations, and in November 2006 adopted resolution A/C.3/61/L.16 on the Rights of the Child, submitted to the Third Committee.

The violence study was modelled on the groundbreaking 1996 Study on Children and Armed Conflict conducted by Mrs. Graça Machel. And in On 22 December 2003, the General Assembly requested the Secretary-General to conduct an in-depth study on all forms of violence against women

The mandates of Special Representatives and Independent Experts (what are these?) may be established by the General Assembly – and they make statements to the GA and submit reports. For example, read the Statement to the General Assembly Third Committee by Ms Coomaraswamy, Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflicts

How does it work?

Each of the 192 Member States of the United Nations has one seat in the General Assembly, and each also has one vote. The current UN membership is available here.

Most General Assembly resolutions, while symbolic of the sense of the international community, are not legally enforceable (binding). However, in some areas, such as the United Nations budget, the General Assembly does have authority to make final decisions.

The General Assembly meets in regular, special (eg the Special Session on children) and emergency special sessions. Special and emergency special sessions may be convened only in accordance with the Rules of Procedure of the General Assembly (Document symbol A/520/Rev.16). The regular session commences in September, suspends its work in late December and reconvenes as required in the following year

The work of the General Assembly is conducted in the plenary (what does this word mean?) and the six main committees. The official languages of the General Assembly are Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Russian and Spanish. More information about the General Assembly and its documentation as well as the main committees can be found at: http://www.un.org/Depts/dhl/resguide/gasess.htm.

Read about the Programme of the GA, the Agenda and the rules of procedure

Webcasts of GA meetings are available here

Voting in the General Assembly on important questions – recommendations on peace and security; election of members to organs; admission, suspension, and expulsion of members; budgetary matters – is by a two-thirds majority of those present and voting. Other questions are decided by majority vote


Who reports to the GA?

Aside from his annual report on the work of the Organisation (e.g., A/61/1), the Secretary-General reports to the Assembly on many issues called for by resolutions.

A number of subsidiary bodies e.g.Committee on the Rights of the Child, Human Rights Committee, Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women) are required to report annually (sometimes biannually) on their activities.

The reports often contain resolutions/decisions adopted by the subsidiary body and may, in some instances, forward draft resolutions or decisions which are being recommended to the Assembly for adoption. The full text of recent reports can be retrieved through UNBISnet as well as the Official Document System of the United Nations (ODS). From the 55th session onwards, the full text is also posted at the UN Documentation Centre.

There are six main committees of the General Assembly, and each submit a separate report to the plenary on every agenda item allocated to them: the First Committee reports on disarmament and international security; the Second Committee on economic and financial matters; the Third Committee on social, humanitarian and cultural matters; the Fourth Committee on political and decolonisation matters; the Fifth Committee on administrative and budgetary matters; and the Sixth Committee reports on legal matters.

Where can I find GA resolutions?

The full text of resolutions (1946 onwards) can be retrieved through UNBISnet, the Official Document System of the United Nations (ODS) and is also posted at: http://www.un.org/documents/resga.htm. Background information about resolutions adopted by the General Assembly and access to them can be found at: http://www.un.org/Depts/dhl/resguide/gares.htm.


    Please note that these reports are hosted by CRIN as a resource for Child Rights campaigners, researchers and other interested parties. Unless otherwise stated, they are not the work of CRIN and their inclusion in our database does not necessarily signify endorsement or agreement with their content by CRIN.