In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Children's Rights

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Interdisciplinary and Theoretical Perspectives
  • Sources of International Child Law
  • Reference Works

International Law Children's Rights
Trevor Buck
  • LAST REVIEWED: 30 March 2017
  • LAST MODIFIED: 30 March 2017
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199796953-0148


The foundation of modern international legal concern with the rights of children was established by the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) in 1989. For the first time, this convention set out a comprehensive code of children’s rights in international human rights law. Earlier aspirational and nonbinding instruments had appeared under the auspices of the League of Nations in 1924 and the United Nations in 1959. A distinctive feature of the CRC is the influence of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), both in its drafting and in the monitoring processes of implementation. The study of children’s rights is not confined to the traditional boundaries of international law, but instead crosses a number of disciplinary categories, (see Interdisciplinary and Theoretical Perspectives). In addition, the jurisprudence of children’s rights has emerged from a number of superior and constitutional courts, which have increasingly acknowledged and analyzed the provisions of the CRC over the last thirty years. In the United Kingdom and elsewhere, the case of Gillick v. West Norfolk and Wisbech Area Health Authority (cited under Sources of International Child Law) still has a totemic place in children’s rights discourse. Children’s rights are frequently raised within wider family law and cultural contexts. The general international law debate on universality and cultural relativism (see heading with this name the Oxford Bibliographies article “Human Rights”) is placed in sharp relief by children’s rights instruments and their implementation. In particular, there are perceived divergences between Islamic and international human rights law in relation to some child rights debates (see heading with this name in the Oxford Bibliographies article “Islamic Law and Human Rights”), for example around competing notions of adoption. In keeping with many other areas of human rights law, much of the literature has generated comments on the gap between the rhetoric of the CRC text and its implementation in domestic law regimes. There is now a vast literature covering these and other aspects of children’s rights. This entry aims to pinpoint the location of children’s rights specifically within the wider framework of international law. In addition to the United Nations, there are also a number of other international bodies that have produced various treaties and soft law instruments and initiatives relating to particular aspects of children’s rights (See the Oxford Bibliographies article “Soft Law”). For example, the International Labour Organization (ILO) is now the leading international body in the realm of child labor issues. The Hague Conference on Private International Law has also built an increasingly strong international voice on some child law issues. At present, there are four principal Hague Conventions in this area, covering intercountry adoption, international child abduction, child support, and the protection of children. This article reviews the first two subject areas of the Hague Conference’s activities, as they have, to date, received more public attention and commentary.

General Overviews

The study of children’s rights in international law is variously referred to as “international law on the rights of the child” in Van Bueren 1998 or “international child law” in Buck 2014. General overviews of this field tend to focus, unsurprisingly, on the CRC itself. There are also works available, like Sloth-Nielsen 2008, that attempt to cover children’s rights in specific national or regional jurisdictions, such as in Africa. In the United Kingdom, for example, which has not yet incorporated the CRC into its internal law, the leading practitioner work is Macdonald 2011, which examines the domestic law regime along with generous referencing to the CRC framework. Archard 2015 is a valuable resource that links a philosophical account of children’s rights with practical issues. Bainham and Gilmore 2013 is the leading academic textbook in the United Kingdom. A wider comparative perspective on litigating children’s rights across various national jurisdictions is provided in Liefaard and Doek 2014. There is an increasing number of edited collections containing critical analyses of contemporary debates in the field; Invernizzi and Williams 2011 is a good example. The boundaries of the field remain porous, and discrete literatures in some of the subfields (e.g., child labor, child prostitution and pornography, child soldiers, child abduction) have expanded rapidly over the past thirty years.

  • Archard, David. Children: Rights and Childhood. 3d ed. London: Routledge, 2015.

    The first edition (1993) was regarded as the first book to provide a detailed philosophical examination of children’s rights. This edition has been revised, and the section on children’s rights has been restructured to expose the linkages of theoretical considerations with practical issues. It also contains a new chapter analyzing the CRC.

  • Bainham, Andrew, and Stephen Gilmore. Children: The Modern Law. 4th rev. ed. Bristol, England: Family Law/Jordan Publishing, 2013.

    It is difficult to find a more authoritative and comprehensive textbook of UK child law than this work. It is written in a lucid and engaging way and provides good coverage and analysis of case law developments, in addition to referencing academic commentary and the wider context of debates in the field.

  • Buck, Trevor. International Child Law. 3d ed. Abingdon, UK, and New York: Routledge, 2014.

    This textbook provides an introduction to the field aimed at undergraduate and postgraduate students and child law professionals. It contains a substantial chapter on the CRC, and other chapters cover international law in contexts relating to some of the key subfields.

  • Invernizzi, Antonella, and Jane Williams, eds. The Human Rights of Children: From Visions to Implementation. Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2011.

    This volume comprises a rich collection of essays containing a range of perspectives. Of particular note are Kilkelly’s “Using the Convention on the Rights of the Child in Law and Policy: Two Ways to Improve Compliance,” and Stalford and Drywood’s “Using the CRC to Inform EU Law and Policy-Making.”

  • Liefaard, Ton, and Jaap E. Doek, eds. Litigating the Rights of the Child: The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child in Domestic and International Jurisprudence. Dordrecht, The Netherlands: Springer, 2014.

    This volume examines the impact of the CRC on national and international jurisprudence. There are separate chapters on South Africa, India, England and Wales, the United States, the Netherlands, Belgium, France, Serbia, and Algeria. It explores the role of the CRC along with analyses of regional courts and other human rights treaty bodies.

  • MacDonald, Alistair. The Rights of the Child, Law and Practice. Bristol, England: Family Law/Jordan Publishing, 2011.

    The author is now a High Court judge assigned to the Family Division in the United Kingdom. This is the leading practitioner work in the field. It contains a particularly insightful and full account of relevant case law in the context of UK and European Union regulation and appropriate referencing of the CRC framework.

  • Sloth-Nielsen, Julia, ed. Children’s Rights in Africa: A Legal Perspective. Aldershot, UK: Ashgate, 2008.

    An excellent edited collection covering a range of children’s rights issues in the African context. A good introduction for students to international law relating to child soldiers is found in Mezmur’s chapter, “Children at Both Ends of the Gun: Child Soldiers in Africa” (pp. 199–218).

  • Van Bueren, Geraldine. The International Law on the Rights of the Child. The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff, 1998.

    This work was very much the first in the field and draws upon the author’s own experience to analyze the formal international law relating to the child, in addition to an examination of international children’s social movements and other international fora along with some comparative material detailing some of the theoretical and practical challenges posed by children’s rights.

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