Children's rights

Children’s rights: some notions

Because of their specific characteristics, children are often in a vulnerable position and need extra protection. Moreover, every child also has a specific number of human rights, such as the right to birth registration and the right to basic education. For these reasons, specific instruments have been developed to clarify children’s rights.

Belgium advocates the promotion and protection of children’s rights worldwide. In doing so, it emphasises an approach which views children as independent actors.

International and regional instruments

The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child is a basic convention in this field, listing the various rights of children. In the Convention, children are defined as all persons less than 18 years of age.

The Convention lays down the following four basic principles:

  • non-discrimination;
  • the interests of the child;
  • the right to life and development;
  • the right to participation.

This is the most ratified convention on human rights. All UN member states, except for the United States and Somalia, have ratified it. However, everyday reality shows that children’s rights are still frequently violated in various parts of the world. 

The Convention has two optional protocols which work out particular themes in more detail:

  • the Optional Protocol on the involvement of children in armed conflict (see the page about children and armed conflict);
  • the Optional Protocol on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography.

Various Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) also directly concern the position of children.

Within the Council of Europe a wide range of instruments have been developed in the field of children’s rights, including the following:

  • the European Convention on the adoption of children;
  • the Convention on the protection of children against sexual exploitation and sexual abuse;
  • the Convention on personal relationships in respect of children.

Belgium has ratified the two latter conventions. The ratification procedure for the European Convention on the adoption of children is in progress as it is very recent and was signed by Belgium on 1 December 2008.

Action by Belgium and the European Union

The promotion and protection of children’s rights have for a long time been among the priorities of Belgium and the European Union. A number of activities are indicated below.

For several years, the Member States of the European Union and the countries of Latin America have been initiators of a resolution on children’s rights adopted by the UN General Assembly. This resolution covers many subjects (‘omnibus resolution’) and highlights the interconnectedness of the different rights of children.

Each year, the UN Human RightsCouncil also adopts a resolution which emphasises that the effective implementation of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child is crucial to improving the specific situation of children’s rights. This resolution has been actively supported by Belgium. 

The situation concerning children’s rights is also regularly discussed in bilateral contacts with third countries. Children’s rights are also a theme covering the whole scope of Belgian development cooperation.

European Union guidelines

These guidelines are documents adopted by the EU which describe the various ways in which the EU’s priorities in the field of human rights are to be implemented in relation to non-Member States.

In 2007, the European Union also adopted Guidelines on the promotion and protection of the rights of the child. These guidelines supplement the more specific guidelines on children and armed conflict.

The aims of these guidelines include the following:

  • reminding non-Member States of the legal commitments they have undertaken regarding children’s rights such as ratification of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child;
  • better disseminating the general principles of children’s rights and the various relevant standards;
  • enhancing the coherence of the activities of the Member States and improving the EU’s general external policy on children’s rights. 

In order to achieve these objectives, children’s rights are regularly on the agenda in political dialogue, and regular action is also taken. Sound cooperation with other international players such as UNICEF is also of great importance.

 EU Guidelines on the promotion and protection of the rights of the child (PDF, 141.16 KB)

UN Committee on the rights of the child (with indication of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child) 


 Belgian development cooperation: documents concerning children’s rights (PDF, 99.87 KB)