Children's rights are the human rights of children with particular attention to the rights of special protection and care afforded to the young, including their right to association with both biological parents, human identity as well as the basic needs for food, universal state-paid education, health care and criminal laws appropriate for the age and development of the child. Interpretations of children's rights range from allowing children the capacity for autonomous action to the enforcement of children being physically, mentally and emotionally free from abuse. Other definitions include the rights to care and nurturing.
"A child is any human being below the age of eighteen years, unless under the law applicable to the child, majority is attained earlier. According to Cornell University, a child is a person, not a subperson, and the parent has absolute interest and possession of the child. The term "child" does not necessarily mean minor but can include adult children as well as adult nondependent children. There are no definitions of other terms used to describe young people such as "adolescents", "teenagers," or "youth" in international law.
As minors by law children do not have autonomy or the right to make decisions on their own for themselves. Instead their adult caregivers, including parents, social workers, teachers, youth workers and others, are vested with that authority depending on the circumstance the child is in. As applied to children these legal apparatuses are termed as "repressive state apparatuses", a concept which was originally coined by Louis Althusser.
Research has found that because of these legal structures children themselves feel powerless and with little control over their own lives, and believe that the power of this structure, as opposed to their age or developmental ability, causes them to be vulnerable. Structures such as government policy have been found to mask the ways adults abuse and exploit children, resulting in child poverty, lack of educational opportunities, and child labor. Research has also identified children as a minority group towards whom society needs to reconsider the way it behaves.
Children’s rights law is defined as the point where the law intersects with a child’s life. That includes juvenile delinquency, due process for children involved in the criminal justice system, appropriate representation, and effective rehabilitative services; care and protection for children in state care; ensuring education for all children regardless of their origin, race, gender, disabilities, or abilities, and; health care and advocacy.
In a similar fashion, the Child Rights Information Network, or CRIN for short, categorizes rights into two groups:
Amnesty International openly advocates four particular children's rights, including the end to juvenile incarceration without parole, an end to the recruitment of military use of children, ending the death penalty for people under 21, and raising awareness of human rights in the classroom. Human Rights Watch, an international advocacy organization, includes child labor, juvenile justice, orphans and abandoned children, refugees, street children and corporal punishment.
Scholarly study generally focuses children's rights by identifying individual rights. The following rights "allow children to grow up healthy and free":
A Canadian organization identifies several other issues affecting children's rights, including fetal rights, infanticide, child abandonment, child identity rights, paternity fraud, paternity testing, age of consent, shaken baby syndrome, genital mutilation, bullying, corporal punishment, parental alienation, children's rights in family law, youth suicide, anorexia nervosa, ADHD, smoking, and childhood pregnancy. Other issues affecting children's rights include the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography.
"In the majority of jurisdictions, for instance, children are not allowed to vote, to marry, to buy alcohol, to have sex, or to engage in paid employment. Within the youth rights movement, it is believed that the key difference between children's rights and youth rights is that children's rights supporters generally advocate the establishment and enforcement of protection for children and youths, while youth rights (a far smaller movement) generally advocates the expansion of freedom for children and/or youths and of rights such as suffrage.
Parents affect the lives of children in a unique way, and as such their role in children's rights has to be distinguished in a particular way. Particular issues in the child-parent relationship include child neglect, child abuse, freedom of choice, corporal punishment and child custody. There have been theories offered that provide parents with rights-based practices that resolve the tension between "commonsense parenting" and children's rights. The issue is particularly relevant in legal proceedings affect the potential emancipation of minors, and in cases where children sue their parents.
A child's rights to a relationship with both their parents is increasingly recognized as an important factor for determining the best interests of the child in divorce and child custody proceedings. Some governments have enacted laws creating a rebuttable presumption that shared parenting is in the best interests of children.
The 1796 publication of Thomas Spence's The Rights of Infants is among the earliest English-language assertions of the rights of children. Throughout the 1900s children's rights activists organized for homeless children's rights and public education. The 1927 publication of The Child's Right to Respect by Janusz Korczak strengthened the literature surrounding the field, and today dozens of international organizations are working around the world to promote children's rights.
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights is seen as a basis for all international legal standards for children's rights today. There are several conventions and laws that addressing children's rights around the world. A number of current and historical documents affect those rights, including the 1923 Declaration of the Rights of the Child, endorsed by the League of Nations and adopted by the United Nations in 1946. It later served as the basis for the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
The United Nations' 1989 Convention on the Rights of the Child, or CRC, is the first legally binding international instrument to incorporate the full range of human rights—civil, cultural, economic, political and social rights. Its implementation is monitored by the Committee on the Rights of the Child. National governments that ratify it commit themselves to protecting and ensuring children's rights, and agree to hold themselves accountable for this commitment before the international community. The CRC, along with international criminal accountability mechanisms such as the International Criminal Court, the Yugoslavia and Rwanda Tribunals, and the Special Court for Sierra Leone, is said to have significantly increased the profile of children's rights worldwide.
Many countries around the world have children's rights ombudspeople or children's commissioners whose official, governmental duty is to represent the interests of the public by investigating and addressing complaints reported by individual citizens regarding children's rights. Children's ombudspeople can also work for a corporation, a newspaper, an NGO, or even for the general public.
There are other concerns in the United States regarding children's rights. The American Academy of Adoption Attorneys is concerned with children's rights to a safe, supportive and stable family structure. Their position on children's rights in adoption cases states that, "children have a constitutionally based liberty interest in the protection of their established families, rights which are at least equal to, and we believe outweigh, the rights of others who would claim a 'possessory' interest in these children. Other issues raised in American children's rights advocacy include children's rights to inheritance in same-sex marriages and particular rights for youth.