The United Nations, children’s rights and juvenile justice

Authored by: John Muncie

Youth Justice Handbook

Print publication date:  October  2009
Online publication date:  February  2014

Print ISBN: 9781843927174
eBook ISBN: 9781315820064
Adobe ISBN: 9781317821755


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In 1989 the United Nations resolved to recognize specific children’s rights worldwide. The 1989 Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) came into force in September 1990 and was ratified by the UK, for example, in 1991. The child is defined as anyone under the age of 18 years. The CRC (Article 2) entitles every child, ‘without regard to race, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national, ethnic or social origin, property, disability, birth or other status’, to have resort to 40 specific rights. In particular it advocates special protection for ‘children in conflict with the law’. The most pertinent articles of the CRC (United Nations 1989), specifically for juvenile justice policy and practice, are as follows:

In all actions concerning children … the best interests of the child shall be a primary consideration (Article 3).

State Parties recognize the rights of the child to freedom of association and to freedom of peaceful assembly (Article 15).

No child shall be subjected to arbitrary or unlawful interference with his or her privacy, family, home or correspondence (Article 16).

No child shall be subjected to torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment (Article 37a).

No child shall be deprived of his or her liberty unlawfully or arbitrarily. The arrest, detention or imprisonment of a child shall be in conformity with the law and shall be used only as a measure of last resort and for the shortest appropriate period of time (Article 37b).

Every child deprived of liberty shall be treated with humanity and respect for the inherent dignity of the human person, and in a manner which takes into account the needs of persons of his or her age. In particular, every child deprived of liberty shall be separated from adults unless it is considered in the child’s best interest not to do so (Article 37c).

Every child deprived of his or her liberty shall have the right to prompt access to legal and other appropriate assistance, as well as the right to challenge the legality of the deprivation of his or her liberty before a court or other competent, independent and impartial authority, and to a prompt decision on any such action (Article 37d).

States Parties recognize the right of every child alleged as, accused of, or recognized as having infringed the penal law to be treated in a manner consistent with the promotion of the child’s sense of dignity and worth, which reinforces the child’s respect for the human rights and fundamental freedoms of others and which takes into account the child’s age and the desirability of promoting the child’s reintegration and the child’s assuming a constructive role in society (Article 40(1)).

States Parties shall seek to promote the establishment of laws, procedures, authorities and institutions specifically applicable to children alleged as, accused of, or recognized as having infringed the penal law, and, in particular: (a) The establishment of a minimum age below which children shall be presumed not to have the capacity to infringe the penal law; (b) Whenever appropriate and desirable, measures for dealing with such children without resorting to judicial proceedings, providing that human rights and legal safeguards are fully respected (Article 40(3)).

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