Child Rights: A summary of the Universal Rights of Children

Children Holding Hands

Definition of Terms

  1. Human rights

Human rights refers to a set of freedoms and basic rights that a person is entitled to as a human being, and not even the government may interfere with the exercise of such rights.

  1. Child Abuse

Child abuse is defined as an injury caused to a child either physically, sexually, mentally or psychologically. Children may be abused by strangers, parents, or other adults in the community.

  1. Child Neglect

Child neglect is a situation in which the people responsible for a child’s wellbeing fails to provide adequate care, either physically or emotionally; thus depriving them of their rights in one way or another.

  1. Child Labor

Child labor refers to a situation in which a child works in under difficult circumstances in exchange for payment. It includes instances of child exploitation, harmful work, hazardous work environment, and work that prevents a child from going to school.

  1. Need

A need is something that someone cannot do without. For instance, food, shelter, water and clothing are basic goods that people cannot do without.

  1. Ratification

Ratification means validating something through formal confirmation, i.e. confirming that something is valid.

Types of human needs

There two major types of human needs: physiological needs and psychological needs.

Psychological needs are conditions that determine orientation, control, pleasure, self-esteem, and attachment. Abraham Maslow identified various psychological needs such as esteem needs, feeling of prestige and accomplishment, love, and sense of belonging. These sets of needs are met only after meeting the physiological needs.

Physiological needs are the basic needs that are required for proper body functioning such as food, water, warmth, and rest. They are the most basic needs because people cannot survive without them.

United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC)

The UNCRC is a UN organization that deals with the promotion and protection of children’s rights through international law and policies. The agency was founded in 1989. Kenya ratified the Convention on the Right of the Child in 1990.

Countries that have ratified the UNCRC are required to report to the Convention 2 years after ratifying and after every five years subsequently. The report is required to represent the needs of all stakeholders. In case there is a conflict between members of the civil society, it is necessary to provide a supplementary report to be handed over to the Committee as the conflict is being resolved.

Kenya failed to send a report in 2 years after ratification in 1990 as required under the convention. Furthermore, Kenya failed to submit a report after 5 years (1997) as also required. However, the country delivered a combined report in 1998. Following the ratification of the UNCRC, Kenya made quick step to create policies to protect children’s rights. The first step was the enactment of the Children’s Act of 2001.

The children’s Act 2001


The date of assent: 31st December 2001 Date of commencement: 1st March, 2002

The enactment of Children’s Act of 2001 gives effect to the obligations of Kenya under the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) and the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Children (ACRWC).

It is an Act of Parliament to make provision for parental responsibility, fostering, adoption, custody, maintenance, guardianship, care and protection of children, to make provision for the administration of children’s institutions.

Provides for the rights of the child and seeks to enhance the welfare of the child Merges the provision of other laws that affect children: adoption Act;

Guardianship of the Infants, Children and Young Persons

Rights: right is what a human being deserves or entitlement is by law or heritage. They are those things that are important for the well-being of every human being. A right is not something that someone gives you; it is something that nobody can take away. They are God given.

The Four Broad Categories of Children’s Rights

The UNCRC created the concept of children’s rights in 1989 as an international standard for children’s wellbeing. Children’s rights are provided in 54 articles of the convention, and they are broadly categorized into four.

  1. Right to Life and Survival

Children have a right to life. The key right to life and survival are further grouped into several categories. Each of this categories includes certain needs that children must be accorded in order to live and survive.

Right to Medical Care

The right to medical care requires children to have access to treatment when they fall sick. Under this category, children are also provided the right to immunization and vaccination against diseases such as Tuberculosis (TB), measles, diphtheria, whooping cough and polio.

Right to Nutrition

For children to grow healthy, they have the right to access a balanced diet, including the following food categories: carbohydrates, vitamins, fats and oil, and proteins.

Right to Shelter

Under the UNCRC, children should have access to well-ventilated houses. The house also needs to be spacious, and the family should feel secure in the house.

Right to Clothing

Clothing is a basic need that all children should be provided with. The clothes need to be warm, decent and not too tight.

  1. The Right to Development

Children also have the right to develop mentally, physically, spiritually, and emotionally. For children to develop normally, they should have access to the following rights under the category of development:

  • Right to Education: education gives children the knowledge, skills, experience, and readiness to work and interact effectively with others.
  • Right to play and leisure: play and leisure are important elements of development for children. They should get the chance to play and have fun to enhance good physical and mental development.
  • Right to Parental Care: Parents should take care of their children because children require parental presence for support, learning and development.
  • Right to access to information
  • Right to social security: health insurance, cash disbursements, poverty eradication, and safety.
  1. The Right to Protection

Children have the right to be protected against:

  • Sexual harassment
  • Exploitation
  • Discrimination
  • Drug abuse
  • Disaster
  • Parental neglect and physical abuse
  • Refugee situation
  1. The Right to Participation

The children’s rights to participation include:

  • Free association
  • Right to thought and opinion
  • Right to contribution – through poems, school functions, songs, community activities, etc.

The Underlying Principles for the Rights and Welfare of Children

What is the rationale for the protection of children’s rights? Why should we care about children’s rights? The United Nations came up with the concept of the rights of the child due to various reasons. Here is a list of guiding principles for the protection of the child’s rights:

  • Serving the best interest of the child
  • Raising children in an environment free of discrimination
  • Participation, leisure and recreation of the child
  • Survival and development
  • Respect for the views of children

Duties and Responsibilities of the Child

Every child has certain rights and responsibilities towards the family and the society. Responsibilities refer to tasks that must be performed such as doing homework, washing clothes, etc.

  • Work towards family unity
  • Respect parents and other elders
  • Be responsible citizens
  • Preserve and strengthen cultural values

Rights versus Responsibilities

Rights must be accompanied by responsibilities. If the child is given a right, he or she has to perform certain duties for complete exercise of their rights. The relationship between rights and responsibilities are shown in the table below.

Right Examples of Responsibilities
Right to Nutrition To eat a balanced diet, preserve food, help in preparing the food, and wash utensils.
Right to Shelter Clean the house, open the windows for good ventilation, arrange the house, decorate the house, & repair broken items in the house.
The Right to Medical Care Take medicine only as prescribed by the doctor; and visit the doctor on appointment
The Right to Clothing Children should take care of their clothing; repair torn clothes; wash their clothes; and keep them safe.
The Right to Education Obey the teachers; keep time; work hard in school; not missing classes; completing assignments on time.
The Right to Parental Care Loving and respecting parents; loving siblings; being disciplined
Right to Participation Respect the thoughts and opinions of others

Use appropriate language with contributing ideas

Do not use abusive words

Give others a chance to express themselves

Life Skills Associated with Child Right

  • Self-awareness
  • Self-esteem
  • Empathy
  • Negotiations
  • Assertiveness
  • Decision-making
  • Critical thinking
  • Creative thinking
  • Effective communication

Values Associated with Child Right

  • Humility
  • Cooperation
  • Respect
  • Tolerance
  • Love
  • Responsibility
  • Honesty
  • Simplicity

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