Rights of children

Children's rights have earned increased attention across the UN spectrum. Both the United Nations Human Rights Council and the General Assembly of the United Nations have adopted resolutions on the rights of the child.

The Convention on the Rights of the Child defines a child as a “human being below the age of 18, unless national laws recognize an earlier age of majority”.

Canada ratified the Convention in 1991 and is also a party to two of the three optional protocols :

Children in Canada also enjoy the rights protected in the six other principal human rights treaties that Canada has ratified.

International human rights standards are essential to protect the safety and security of children, which are why these rights are protected under international human rights conventions to which Canada is a party.

The Interdepartmental Working Group on Children's Rights, co-chaired by the Public Health Agency of Canada and the Department of Justice Canada, was created in 2007 to promote a whole-of-government approach to children's rights and to encourage linkages among departments with policies that affect children.

On this page:

Guiding principles

The Convention on the Rights of the Child is the most widely and rapidly ratified core human rights treaty in history.

This Convention, together with its three Optional Protocols, provides a solid foundation for the protection of children's rights worldwide. It covers the full range of civil and political rights, as well as economic, social and cultural rights of children.

The protection of this range of rights is reflected in the following the Convention guiding principles:

Definition of the child (Article 1)

This principle defines a child as a person below the age of 18, unless the laws of a particular country set a younger legal age for adulthood.

The Committee on the Rights of the Child, the monitoring body for the Convention, has encouraged States to review the age of majority if it is set below 18 and to increase the level of protection for all children under 18.

Non-discrimination (Article 2)

This principle states that no child should be treated unfairly on any basis. Children should not be discriminated against based on their race, religion or abilities; what they think or say; the type of family they come from; where they live, what language they speak, what their parents do, what gender they identify with, what their culture is, whether they have a disability or whether they are rich or poor.

Best interests of the child (Article 3)

This principle places the best interests of children as the primary concern in making decisions that may affect them. All adults, including those who are involved in making decisions related to budgets, policy and the law, should do what is best for children. When adults make decisions, they should think about how their decisions will affect children.

Right to life, survival and development (Article 6)

Children have the right to live. Governments should ensure that children survive and develop in healthy way.

Respect for the views of the child (Article 12)

This principle states that children have the right to say what they think should happen and have their opinions taken into account

This does not mean that children can tell their parents what to do. This Convention encourages adults to listen to the opinions of children and involve them in decision-making but does not give children authority over adults.

Note that Article 12 does not interfere with parents' right and responsibility to express their views on matters affecting their children. Moreover, the Convention recognizes that the level of a child's participation in decisions must be appropriate to the child's level of maturity. Children's ability to form and express their opinions develops with age and most adults will naturally give the views of teenagers greater weight than those of a preschooler, whether in family, legal or administrative decisions.

A brief history of children's rights in Canada

In 1990, Canada took the step of signing the Convention on the Rights of the Child to solidify its efforts to protect children. These efforts have included involvement in the 1990 World Summit for Children and work to establish the improvement of the health and rights of women and children around the world as Canada's top development priority.

Canada played a key role in the negotiations that led to the adoption and ratification of the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Optional Protocol on Children in Armed Conflict and the Optional Protocol on the Sale of Children, Child Prostitution and Child Pornography.

Additional information and resources

For more information on the Convention of the Rights of the Child, visit the following resources:

  • The Convention on the Rights of the Child in child-friendly language

    This colourful poster (PDF Version) from Unicef Canada explains all the articles of the Convention in plain and simple language.

  • National Child Day

    Held every year on November 20, this special commemorative day has been celebrated across Canada since 1993. The Public Health Agency of Canada leads the Government of Canada's activities related to National Child Day. The Agency's website provides information and resources that promote and support learning more about children's rights including a National Child Day Activity Kit.

International Children's Rights

The promotion and protection of human rights is an integral part of Canadian efforts abroad. It is because of the unique vulnerability of children that their rights are of priority concern within Canada's foreign and development policy.

Learn more about how Canada is working to improve children's rights worldwide.

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