An Assessment of Children's Rights
on the 10th Anniversary of the Convention
on the Rights of the Child




Human Rights Watch conducts regular, systematic investigations of human rights abuses in some seventy countries around the world. Our reputation for timely, reliable disclosures has made us an essential source of information for those concerned with human rights. We address the human rights practices of governments of all political stripes, of all geopolitical alignments, and of all ethnic and religious persuasions. Human Rights Watch defends freedom of thought and expression, due process and equal protection of the law, and a vigorous civil society; we document and denounce murders, disappearances, torture, arbitrary imprisonment, discrimination, and other abuses of internationally recognized human rights. Our goal is to hold governments accountable if they transgress the rights of their people.

The Children's Rights Division was created in 1994 to investigate abuses against children and work to end them. The issues we deal with include the use of children as soldiers, child labor, the torture of children, conditions in orphanages, refugee children, the procedures by which children are deprived of their liberty and conditions in which they are held, violence against children in schools, and police abuse of street children.


Every recognized country in the world, except for the United States and the collapsed state of Somalia, has ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child, pledging to uphold its protections for children. Today the convention stands as the single most widely ratified treaty in existence. Adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on November 20, 1989, the promises of this historic document include children's rights to life; to be free from discrimination; to be protected in armed conflicts; to be protected from torture or cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment; to be free from arbitrary deprivation of liberty; to special treatment within the justice system; and the rights to education, health care, an adequate standard of living, and freedom from economic exploitation and other abuse.

However, for countless children around the world, these promises have been broken. The armed conflicts that rage in all quarters of the world have produced appalling abuses of children's rights. Hundreds of thousands of children have been pressed into service as soldiers. Millions have become refugees--displaced from their homes, often separated from their families; their future and safety uncertain.

Children living outside war zones may also be subjected to routine violence. Street children on every continent endure harassment and physical abuse by police. Even schools, intended to promote the healthy development of children, may be the site of abuse against children. In some countries, the use of corporal punishment by teachers has resulted in injury and even death. In others, gay and lesbian students endure harassment and violence by their peers, while school authorities fail to intervene.

Millions of children have no access to education, work long hours under hazardous conditions, or languish in orphanages or detention centers where they endure inhumane conditions and daily assaults on their dignity, in violation of the rights guaranteed to them under the convention.

The decade since the adoption of the Convention on the Rights of the Child has been marked by some significant advances on behalf of children. Many countries have used the convention as the basis to revise domestic legislation and improve protections for children, or have appointed special ombudspersons or envoys for children. As the Committee on the Rights of the Child, the body that monitors compliance of states parties to the convention, has evaluated country reports under the convention, it has developed new standards of protection and pressed governments for specific reforms.

A 1996 United Nations report on the impact of armed conflict on children raised international concern about the plight of children in war, prompting varied initiatives to end the use of child soldiers and other war-time abuses. The number of children killed every year by antipersonnel mines has dropped in the wake of massive efforts to end the use of the weapon and the adoption of the 1997 Mine Ban Treaty. The adoption of the statute for the International Criminal Court holds out the hope of ending the impunity of those who recruit children under the age of fifteen in armed conflicts and target schools for attack.

However, the following pages illustrate the troubling extent to which the international community has failed children. The issues selected for attention here are not exhaustive, but represent those which have been the focus of Human Rights Watch investigation and advocacy over the past half-decade.

The tenth anniversary of the Convention on the Rights of the Child marks an important milestone. The rights of children are recognized as never before. But it also poses a challenge: for governments and civil society to take stronger action to implement its provisions, strengthen protections, and fulfill the promises made to the children of the world.

Related Website:

United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights
Contains Relevant International Human Rights Treaties


I've seen people get their hands cut off, a ten-year-old girl raped and then die, and so many men and women burned alive.... So many times I just cried inside my heart because I didn't dare cry out loud.
--fourteen-year-old girl, abducted in January 1999 by the Revolutionary United Front, a rebel group in Sierra Leone

In dozens of countries around the world, children have become direct participants in war. Denied a childhood and often subjected to horrific violence, some 300,000 children are serving as soldiers in current armed conflicts. These young combatants participate in all aspects of contemporary warfare. They wield AK-47s and M-16s on the front lines of combat, serve as human mine detectors, participate in suicide missions, carry supplies, and act as spies, messengers or lookouts.

Physically vulnerable and easily intimidated, children typically make obedient soldiers. Many are abducted or recruited by force, and often compelled to follow orders under threat of death. Others join armed groups out of desperation. As society breaks down during conflict, leaving children no access to school, driving them from their homes, or separating them from family members, many children perceive armed groups as their best chance for survival. Others seek escape from poverty or join military forces to avenge family members who have been killed.

Child soldiers are being used in more than thirty countries around the world. Human Rights Watch has interviewed child soldiers from countries including Angola, Colombia, Lebanon, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Sudan and Uganda. In Sierra Leone, thousands of children abducted by rebel forces witnessed and participated in horrible atrocities against civilians, including beheadings, amputations, rape, and burning people alive. Children forced to take part in atrocities were often given drugs to overcome their fear or reluctance to fight.

In Colombia, tens of thousands of children have been used as soldiers by all sides to the country's ongoing bloody conflict. Government-backed paramilitaries recruit children as young as eight, while guerrilla forces use children to collect intelligence, make and deploy mines, and serve as advance troops in ambush attacks.

In southern Lebanon, boys as young as twelve years of age have been subject to forced conscription by the South Lebanon Army (SLA), an Israeli auxiliary militia. When men and boys refuse to serve, flee the region to avoid conscription, or desert the SLA forces, their entire families may be expelled from the occupied zone.

Girls are also used as soldiers in many parts of the world. In addition to combat duties, girls are subject to sexual abuse and may be taken as "wives" by rebel leaders in Angola, Sierra Leone and Uganda. In Northern Uganda, Human Rights Watch interviewed girls who had been impregnated by rebel commanders, and then forced to strap their babies on their backs and take up arms against Ugandan security forces.

Under the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the definition of a child is any person under the age of eighteen, unless under the law applicable to the child majority is attained earlier. However, article 38, governing children and armed conflict, uses fifteen as the minimum age for recruitment and participation in hostilities. This low standard of protection is a glaring and troubling anomaly among the convention's other strong provisions.

Several years after the convention's adoption, a U.N. working group was created to draft an optional protocol to the convention, that would raise the minimum age for recruitment and participation in hostilities to eighteen. However, as the 10th anniversary of the convention's adoption arrives, agreement on the optional protocol still has not been reached, largely because of opposition by governments who continue to recruit minors.

The United States has emerged as the most vigorous opponent of establishing eighteen as the minimum age for military service, even though fewer than 3,000 members of its 1.3 million active duty force are minors. Other Western countries also recruit under-18's, most notably the United Kingdom, where approximately forty percent of its military forces joined when they were just sixteen or seventeen years of age.

In 1996, a U.N. study on the impact of armed conflict on children, conducted by Graça Machel of Mozambique, stressed the urgent need to stop the use of child soldiers and recommended the speedy conclusion of the optional protocol. The report raised international concern about the use of child soldiers and prompted the appointment of a special representative to the secretary general on children and armed conflict in 1997. That representative, Olara Otunnu, has secured commitments not to recruit children from several parties involved in armed conflict; monitoring and enforcement of these commitments, however, has been difficult.

Efforts to stop the use of child soldiers continue to grow. In 1998, the recruitment of children under the age of fifteen and their use in hostilities was identified as a war crime in the statute of the International Criminal Court. Once established, the court will have jurisdiction to prosecute those responsible for the use of child soldiers. The use of children as soldiers has also been recognized as a child labor issue. A new international treaty banning the worst forms of child labor, adopted in June of 1999 by the International Labour Organization, prohibits the forced recruitment of children for use in armed conflicts.

In 1998, the Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers was set up in order to campaign for a strong optional protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child which would prohibit any recruitment or use of children under the age of eighteen in armed conflict. Formed by six international nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), the coalition now works with national campaigns in more than thirty countries around the world, mobilizing political will and public pressure for an end to the use of children as soldiers. Its activities have included a series of high profile regional conferences focused on the use of children as soldiers in Africa, Latin America, and Europe.

Despite this growing momentum, efforts to stop the use of child soldiers have not yet reached fruition. The recruitment of child soldiers continues around the world, those responsible for their recruitment escape justice, and key governments continue to resist efforts to establish and enforce the prohibitions necessary to end the use of children as soldiers.


1) All governments and armed political groups should refrain from any recruitment of children under the age of eighteen, or their use in armed conflict.

2) Governments should support an optional protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child establishing eighteen as the minimum age for recruitment and participation in armed conflict. Governments should ratify ILO Convention 182 concerning the Prohibition and Immediate Action for the Elimination of the Worst Forms of Child Labour, and the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court.

3) Governments should prosecute those responsible for the recruitment and use of children as soldiers.

4) Governments and civil society should work together to establish programs to prevent recruitment and to ensure that former child soldiers receive the medical care, counseling, vocational training, and other services that they need to rejoin society and make new lives for themselves.


Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers

Impact of Armed Conflict on Children
Report of Graça Machel, Expert of the Secretary General of the United Nations

Swedish Save the Children database on children and war

U.S. Campaign to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers


On July 17, 1998, in Rome, delegates representing 160 countries voted by an overwhelming majority to establish a permanent International Criminal Court (ICC) to try persons charged with committing war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide. Upon its establishment, the court will provide a powerful deterrent to the conscription, enlistment, or use in hostilities of children under the age of fifteen years--conduct defined as a war crime in the ICC statute. The treaty also includes other important measures to protect children in armed conflict: it recognizes intentional attacks on educational institutions as a war crime, provides special arrangements for children as victims and witnesses, and exempts children below the age of eighteen from prosecution by the court.

The ICC treaty gives the court jurisdiction over the war crime of conscripting children under the age of fifteen years into national armed forces or armed groups, or using them to participate actively in hostilities. In drafting the treaty, the delegates agreed that the terms "using" and "participate" would prohibit not only children's direct participation in combat, but also their active participation in military activities linked to combat such as scouting, spying, sabotage, and the use of children as decoys, couriers, or at military checkpoints. Also prohibited would be the use of children in "direct" support functions such as carrying supplies to the front line.

Despite appeals by UNICEF and others to make the recruitment and participation in hostilities of children under the age of eighteen, rather than fifteen, a war crime, the ICC treaty reflects the lower standard set by the Protocols Additional to the Geneva Conventions. The protocols, which govern the treatment of civilians and prisoners of war during armed conflict, protect only children under the age of fifteen from recruitment or participation in hostilities. During the debates over the ICC treaty, several countries pointed out that their own armed forces allowed children under the age of eighteen to enlist voluntarily. As with the efforts to adopt an optional protocol to the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child, these countries proved unwilling to bring their domestic legislation and practice into compliance with a higher standard.

In other respects, the ICC treaty substantially advances international law relating to the protection of children in armed conflict and the prosecution of violence against children. The treaty's list of war crimes includes intentional attacks on educational institutions and schools among other civilian buildings, which have been frequently targeted in recruitment drives or as part of campaigns to terrorize civilian populations. In addition, the treaty acknowledges the need for judges with legal expertise on violence against women and children, and requires the appointment of prosecution advisors having such expertise. Because child victims or witnesses may be vulnerable to secondary traumatization, the treaty authorizes closed proceedings in their cases and the presentation of evidence "by electronic or other special means."

A major breakthrough at the Rome conference was the delegates' agreement that children under the age of eighteen would not appear before the court as defendants. Many states had previously supported setting an age of criminal responsibility below eighteen, or allowing the court discretion to try minors based on subjective criteria such as the defendant's maturity. Human Rights Watch and other NGOs successfully argued that the extraordinary nature and punitive function of the ICC was incompatible with the rehabilitative goals of international juvenile justice standards.

The ICC will come into existence once sixty countries have ratified the treaty, a process that could take several years. As of mid-September 1999, however, eighty-six countries had indicated their intent to ratify by signing the treaty, and four countries had already ratified it. The United States has indicated that it will oppose the treaty's ratification unless some form of veto power is reserved for the state of nationality of the accused--a condition that would leave the court unviable.

While the treaty that emerged from the Rome conference was weaker in some areas than most NGOs favored, it nevertheless represents a landmark achievement for the international community. The court, if successfully realized, could help end the impunity that often accompanies the commission of war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide. It could also strengthen national legal systems and greatly extend the protections for children in armed conflict. NGOs and other concerned associations can help realize the early establishment of the court by calling on their governments to ratify the treaty and by raising public awareness of the ICC.


1) Governments should ratify the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court.

2) Governments should modify their national legislation so as to adapt it to the ICC treaty provisions.


United Nations ICC website

Coalition for an International Criminal Court

Human Rights Watch ICC website


Refugee children suffer a form of double jeopardy. A denial of their human rights made them refugees in the first place; and as child refugees they are also frequently abused, as the most vulnerable category of an already vulnerable population.
-Dennis McNamara, former director, Division of International Protection, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees

Refugee children are among the most vulnerable children in the world. Not only have they suffered from war or other forms of persecution in their countries of origin which forced them to flee their homes, but many refugee children continue to suffer human rights abuses in countries of asylum. More than half of the world's refugee population are children, yet their rights and special protection needs as children are frequently neglected.

The human rights abuses that drive children into flight are only the first chapter of hardship for many refugee children. Even after traveling across an international border to seek refuge, they remain vulnerable to hazardous labor exploitation, physical abuse, denial of education, sexual violence and exploitation, cross-border attacks, militarization of refugee camps, and recruitment as child soldiers.

Article 22 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child grants special protection to refugee children. Refugee children who are not being cared for by their parents are entitled to further protections. Refugee children fleeing war are also entitled to special protection under article 38 of the convention, as children affected by armed conflict. Like all children, they are also entitled to all other rights granted under the convention including the rights to life, physical integrity, adequate food and medical care, education, and to be free from discrimination, exploitation, and abuse.

Separated children are particularly vulnerable. In the United States, Human Rights Watch found that unaccompanied children have been detained by the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service in detention facilities, where they may be confined for lengthy periods of time before being released to family members or appropriate guardians. Rarely understanding what was happening to them, children were often denied information about their detention and their right to be represented by an attorney in immigration proceedings in a language they understood. In some cases they were housed with juvenile offenders and subjected to a rigid and punitive environment.

In refugee camps in Guinea, Human Rights Watch found that Sierra Leonean girls as young as twelve may feel they have no choice but to work as child prostitutes in order to support themselves and, in some cases, their families. In addition, these girls have little or no access to education or health care.

Refugee children who live in dangerously located camps, frequently short distances from the border of their home country with a civil war just on the other side, are also vulnerable to cross-border armed raids, which can result in murder, mutilation, and abduction.

Refugee children are also at risk of being recruited and used as child soldiers. In Guinea, Sierra Leonean refugee children as young as seven risked being abducted by raiding rebel forces or being used by the government civil defense forces, known as Kamajors.

Many of these protection concerns, particularly various forms of hazardous labor exploitation such as child prostitution and child soldiering, are directly linked to a lack of food security. Despite the obvious safety risks involved, families sometimes send children back into the land they fled to forage for food. Human Rights Watch has interviewed Sierra Leonean refugee children in Guinea who encountered rebels while in searching for food, resulting in abduction, mutilation, or even the murder of others with them.

Special care and monitoring of separated refugee children is also needed, as they are particularly vulnerable to abuse. Separated refugee children are sometimes taken in by families along the way, while fleeing, or in refugee camps. While fostering of separated refugee children by families is welcome and needed, and preferable to placement in institutions, the care and delivery of assistance to these children must also be carefully monitored--so that separated children may be traced and reunited with their families, and so that if cases of neglect and abuse arise, effective interventions can occur quickly. While many are well cared for by their foster families, others might be neglected, physically or sexually abused, denied food, denied education, or exploited for hazardous forms of labor.

Despite the facts that refugee children have already suffered enormously and that they remain extremely vulnerable, their plight has largely been ignored by the international community. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), which is the primary actor responsible for the assistance and protection of refugee children, has used the Convention on the Rights of the Child as the basis for extensive policies and guidelines to protect refugee children. However, in cases such as Guinea, these policies are not implemented.

UNHCR also faces substantial political, financial, and logistical challenges in protecting the human rights of refugee children. The focus of international attention on recent refugee crises in Europe, as well as "donor fatigue" with respect to refugees in other parts of the world, have served to limit resources available for most refugee children.


1) UNHCR, other international agencies, and governments must make a sustained commitment to implement the programs and policies necessary to effectively protect and promote the rights of refugee children, including the rights to education, health and safety.

2) The international donor community should ensure that appropriate funding is allocated and earmarked for the protection of the rights of refugee children. Staff for humanitarian and U.N. agencies working with refugee children should be specially trained to address the special protection needs of children.

3) International agencies and governments should ensure that refugee camps are located in secure, accessible areas, to protect children from cross-border attacks and possible recruitment and use by armed groups.

4) When unaccompanied children are seeking refugee status, they should not be detained and should be given adequate legal representation.


United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees

Ref World -- a collection of full-text databases of refugee information resources

International Rescue Committee

Women's Commission for Refugee Women and Children


We didn't sleep at all last night. That's why we're sleeping now, during the day. Night is the most dangerous for us. The police come while we're sleeping and catch you off guard, and grab and hit you. They'll take you to Makadara court and then you'll be sent to remand [detention] for months. Last night there was a big roundup and we had to move so many times to avoid being caught. There was a large group of police in a big lorry, driving around, looking for kids. They're cleaning up the streets now to prepare for the Nairobi International Show [an annual international commerce and trade fair].
-Moses Mwangi, a street boy in Nairobi, Kenya

Attention to street children has focused largely on their pressing economic and social plight--poverty, lack of shelter, denial of education, AIDS, prostitution, and substance abuse. But with the exception of killings of street children in Brazil and Colombia, little attention has been paid to the constant police violence and abuse inflicted on these children, or their treatment within the justice system through which they regularly pass. Civil and political rights violations against street children have been largely overlooked, symptomatic of the larger failure to take seriously the full scope of children's rights (in particular articles 37 and 40) enshrined in the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

Viewed as "anti-social" or criminal elements, or a scourge on a city's tourist-filled streets and business districts, many police and ordinary citizens simply wish street children would disappear, by whatever means. Street children throughout the world are subjected to routine harassment and physical abuse by police, government, and private security forces, out to wipe the streets clean of a perceived social blight. Street children face extortion, theft, severe beatings, mutilation, sexual abuse, and even death.

Street children are charged with vague "offenses" such as vagrancy or loitering, or status offenses such as being "in need of protection or discipline," which effectively make children's poverty and homelessness, or status as children, a crime. They are often arbitrarily rounded up and detained simply because they are on the streets and appear to be homeless.

Some street children are arrested and jailed because of their involvement in small businesses deemed to be illegal, such as unlicensed hawking, or are accused of petty theft, drug-related crimes, or prostitution. Some are arrested as scapegoats, or in order to finger or catch others. Many police believe street children have information about crimes committed on their beat, or attribute crimes in the area to street children directly, imputing criminal associations and criminal activities to street children generally.

For whatever the alleged crime, from vagrancy to theft, street children face frequent roundups, being chased down by police and hauled off to jails. They are often held for excessive periods of time, for days and even weeks, under horrendous conditions, and usually mixed with adults. In jails they may be further beaten by police, or forced to pay bribes in order to be released. Girls are sometimes coerced into providing sexual services to police in exchange for release, or are raped. From jails, street children may be transferred eventually to long-term penal institutions, sometimes euphemistically called "homes" or "schools" where they may languish, out of sight, for years.

Few advocates, let alone lawyers or prosecutors, speak up for these children, and street children rarely have family members or other concerned adults able to intervene on their behalf.  Family members are often not informed of their children's arrest and detention in the first place. Contrary to popular belief, many street children actually have family members and homes to which they might return periodically, and are not orphans.

Human Rights Watch has attempted to highlight the serious nature of the human rights abuses committed against street children by law enforcement personnel in Brazil, Bulgaria, Colombia, Guatemala, India, Kenya, and Sudan, and on the gross lack of police accountability for abusive actions. Widespread impunity and the slowness of law enforcement bodies to investigate and prosecute cases of abuses against street children has allowed violence against street children to continue unchecked.

Establishing police accountability is further hampered by the fact that street children often have no alternative but to complain directly to police about police abuses. The threat of police reprisals acts as a serious deterrent to any child coming forward to testify or make a complaint against an officer. After witnessing and experiencing acts of brutality inflicted by law enforcement, it is no surprise that street children place little faith in the system to bring their tormentors to justice.

Even in Guatemala, where the NGO Casa Alianza has been singularly active in seeking police accountability for the rape, torture, and killing of street children, only a handful of prosecutions have resulted out of hundreds of criminal complaints filed. Frustrated with the failure of the national judicial system to address these cases, Casa Alianza and the Center for Justice and International Law brought a landmark case, involving the police killings of five street youth in 1990, to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, and subsequently to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, where the case is now pending. Still, violence against street children in Guatemala continues and the government is as slow as ever in responding to the abuse.

The example of Guatemala demonstrates that even where there are strong advocates willing and able to assist street children in seeking justice, without the commitment of governments, the judiciary, and most importantly law enforcement itself, the abuses will continue.


1) Governments should repeal the crimes of "vagrancy," loitering, and status offenses against children, wherever they exist.

2) Governments should undertake mass education campaigns to educate the public, and law enforcement officers, on the plight of street children and their need for special treatment and care, rather than punishment and elimination.

3) Governments should ensure that police officers who are specially trained in children's rights and in working with children, are delegated the responsibility of handling all police work involving children. Female police officers should be recruited, with the goal of reducing and eliminating sexual violence by police against street girls.

4) Governments should ensure that complaints regarding police ill-treatment of children are promptly and thoroughly investigated, and disciplinary and criminal proceedings ordered where appropriate. Complaints about abuses against street children should not be allowed to languish indefinitely but should be made a top priority of governments, to show their commitment to protecting the rights of all children to the fullest extent of the law.


Balay Sa Gugma Street Children Project, the Philippines

The Boys' Brigade - Streetwise, South Africa

Casa Alianza - Covenant House, Latin America

Catholic Action For Street Children, Accra, Ghana

OneWorld's Street Kids

Pangea: Streetchildren Worldwide Resource Library

Street Kids International

VNhelp Can Tho Street Children Program


In the adult prisons you have to pay money to get a place to sleep. Otherwise you sleep on the floor, in the garbage. And you have to pay for a mattress and blankets. Boys who are put in with the adults are often raped. This is very common. Zone 18 is the adult prison with the most minors, so it's the prison with the most rape. The guards don't pay any attention. In jail money runs everything.
--Vicente R., sent to Guatemala's Zone 18 detention center when he was sixteen

In the ten years since the adoption and near-universal ratification of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, a growing number of countries have modified their juvenile justice laws to guarantee children the rights set forth in the convention and in other international instruments.

This trend has been most evident in Latin America, where many countries have enacted reforms to bring their legislation into compliance with the convention. Brazil, one of the first to reform its national laws comprehensively in response to the convention, adopted its Children's and Adolescent's Statute in 1990. Ecuador and Peru passed Juveniles Acts in 1992, Mexico adopted its Law on the Treatment of Juvenile Offenders in 1991, El Salvador enacted a new juvenile justice law in 1995, and Nicaragua adopted a Children's Legal Code in 1998. Grounded in the principle that all children possess rights which must be respected by the state, these reform efforts represent a significant departure from earlier legislation directed exclusively at "minors" in "irregular situations" and in need of protection.

In other countries, reforms are under consideration but have not yet been enacted into law. And a large number of countries in the region and elsewhere in the world must still take action to bring their legislation into compliance with the convention.

Where they have taken place, legislative reforms are positive first steps toward greater recognition of the human rights of children. Even so, the gaps between law and practice are often vast. Many children are denied due process, detained under appalling conditions, subjected to violence at the hands of guards and police, and some are even put to death.

Far too often, children around the world are brought to trial and sentenced in ways that violate their rights under the convention (particularly article 40). Human Rights Watch has documented systemic failures to guarantee children legal representation and otherwise provide them with fair hearings in Brazil, Bulgaria, Guatemala, India, Jamaica, Kenya, Pakistan, Russia, and the U.S.. Of particular concern are sentences that violate the international principle that deprivation of liberty should be a measure of last resort and for the shortest appropriate period of time, and the use of torture or cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment.

In many cases, children are deprived of their liberty arbitrarily or indefinitely on the basis of vague legal provisions. In Kenya, Human Rights Watch found that street children were committed for years to juvenile correctional institutions after they were found "in need of protection or discipline" in summary proceedings with no legal representation. Similarly, in Paraguay and other countries in the Americas that have not brought their laws into conformity with the convention, children may be detained on the ill-defined basis that they are in a "state of danger."

In other instances, state authorities simply flout laws intended to protect the due process rights of juveniles. Our 1996 investigation of Bulgaria found that children were often detained in police lockups far longer than the legally permissible periods, without being formally charged, and without any judicial review. In India, we found that police regularly detained street children without charging them with any offense and failed to bring them before magistrates in the time period required under India's Juvenile Justice Act; beatings are a common feature of police treatment of children in detention. In a 1999 investigation of police practices in Russia, adolescents in various cities told Human Rights Watch that police routinely violated Russian law and international standards by interrogating them in the absence of attorneys.

In Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago, and elsewhere in the English-speaking Caribbean, juvenile court judges may impose sentences of flogging for certain crimes. In addition, children in detention in these countries may be subjected to corporal punishment as a method of discipline. Similarly, Pakistan's Hudood Ordinances permit judges to include whipping, usually between fifteen and thirty lashes, as part of children's sentences; in practice, however, that portion of the sentence appears to be routinely overturned on appeal. In Kenya too, corporal punishment by cane or rod is authorized by law as judicial sentences for children, and as disciplinary measures in correctional institutions for children.

Throughout the world, children are subjected to appalling conditions of confinement that violate international standards, in particular article 37 of the convention. Often held with adults and subjected to violence at the hands of guards and other inmates, children in confinement are frequently denied adequate food, medical and mental health care, education, and access to basic sanitary facilities. These children eventually return to society, meaning that the failure to prepare them for their return is shortsighted as well as cruel, carrying enormous social costs.

The practice of holding children in adult facilities is common in many parts of the world, and exposes children to abusive conditions--including physical and sexual abuse--far worse than those they would have experienced in juvenile facilities. It also violates the convention's requirement that children deprived of liberty shall be separated from adults. In Cambodia, for example, children are housed indiscriminately with adult inmates and reportedly sexually abused and subjected to other forms of physical and psychological violence at the hands of adults. In Guatemala, Human Rights Watch interviewed children commingled with adults who reported that adult detainees beat and raped them, forced them to give up their clothing, or compelled them to pay money in order to get a place to sleep.

In the United States, between 1992 and 1998, at least forty U.S. states adopted laws making it easier for children to be tried as adults; the U.S. Congress has considered adopting similar measures for juveniles charged with federal offenses. An increasing number of children in the United States now face trial as adults and the prospect of spending six months to a year in pre-trial detention in adult jails and prisons, even if ultimately found innocent. Human Rights Watch found that youth held in adult jails in the states of Colorado and Maryland were subjected to violence at the hands of other juveniles, and from adult inmates. They also often did not receive age-appropriate medical and mental health care, adequate recreation, or educational opportunities as required by state laws.

Some countries have taken positive steps to acknowledge and correct abusive conditions of confinement. The South African government initiated a program in November 1997 to keep children out of the country's prisons, although delays in implementing the program limited its effectiveness. In Bangladesh, the government has readily accepted the need for improvements in conditions of confinement for children in conflict with the law, in particular noting in its 1997 supplementary report to the Committee on the Rights of the Child that "Too many minors are held in jails and police stations alongside adult offenders." In Jamaica, following the July 1999 release of a Human Rights Watch report condemning the practice of detaining children in filthy and overcrowded police lockups, the government announced that it would move all detained children to juvenile facilities. And in the United States, Human Rights Watch reports prompted the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate conditions in juvenile detention centers in the states of Georgia and Louisiana, resulting in some improvements.

Article 37(a) of the convention unequivocally condemns the use of the death penalty on juvenile offenders, those who were under the age of eighteen at the time of their crimes. Nevertheless, six countries--Iran, Nigeria, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, the United States, and Yemen--are known to have executed juvenile offenders in the 1990s.

The ten executions of juvenile offenders in the United States during this period represent more than half the known worldwide total, making it the worldwide leader in executing juveniles. Five executions took place in the U.S. state of Texas; the states of Georgia, Louisiana, Missouri, Oklahoma, and Virginia each executed one juvenile offender in the same period. Sean Sellers, executed in Oklahoma in February 1999, was the first offender who was sixteen at the time of the crime to be put to death in the United States in forty years. Seventy juvenile offenders were on death row in the United States as of July 1, 1999.

In positive developments, the highest court of the U.S. state of Florida ruled that the imposition of the death penalty on sixteen-year-old offenders is cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the state constitution; and effective October 1, 1999, the state of Montana abolished the death penalty for those under eighteen at the time of their crimes. As a result, nineteen of the forty U.S. states that permit capital punishment now prohibit the execution of offenders who were sixteen years old and younger at the time of their crimes; fifteen of the remaining twenty-one states restrict that punishment to adult offenders.

Around the world, the law acknowledges the immorality and injustice of imposing death, a uniquely cruel and irreversible punishment, for crimes committed by children. Respect for the rights of children demands that this appalling practice be abolished once and for all.


1) All governments should ensure that children in conflict with the law are deprived of their liberty only as a last resort and for the shortest appropriate period of time.

2) Conditions of detention and incarceration should meet international standards. Children should never be detained with adults. They should be permitted regular contact with their family members, legal representatives, and others from the outside world and should be given access to education, health and mental health care, adequate food, and sanitary facilities.

3) Countries that retain the use of the death penalty should end the practice immediately and amend their legislation accordingly.


Center for Prisoners' Rights, Japan

Center for the Study of Reconciliation and Violence, South Africa

Children's Defense Fund, United States

Florida State University School of Criminology and Criminal Justice, United States

International Network on Juvenile Justice, Defence for Children International

National Children's and Youth Law Centre, Australia

Observatoire International des Prisons

Social Center for Criminal Justice Reform, Russia


You'll see a child lying on a cot staring at the ceiling, obviously in terrible need of love--I have heard the staff say in all innocence to me, "We told the mother 'don't bother to come to visit.' The child doesn't understand anyway."
-Sarah Philips, a longtime orphanage volunteer in Russia

Throughout the world, an unknown number of children, most likely in the hundreds of thousands, if not millions, are kept in orphanages and non-penal institutions. Many of these children have been condemned to live a grim existence, and are subjected to shocking and at times deadly levels of abuse and neglect.

Many children who end up in orphanages have at least one living parent but have been abandoned because their families are poor, jobless, ill, or in trouble with the law. In countries that have restrictive population control policies, or where cultural traditions value boys more highly than girls, babies--and girls in particular--may frequently be abandoned. In other cases, medical personnel pressure parents at birth to give up children born with disabilities, claiming that parents will be ostracized for raising a disabled child. For this reason, healthy children given up for financial or domestic reasons are often assumed to be "defective."

In Russia, children have been abandoned to the state at a rate of more than 100,000 per year. Human Rights Watch found in 1998 that children in Russian orphanages are exposed to appalling levels of cruelty and neglect. They may be beaten, locked in freezing rooms for days at a time, or sexually abused, and are often subjected to degrading treatment by staff.

Russian babies who are classified as disabled are segregated into separate rooms where they are changed and fed, but are bereft of stimulation and lacking in medical care, contrary to many protections in the Convention on the Rights of the Child. At age four, these and other children who are labeled retarded or "oligophrenic" ("small-brained") are sent to locked and isolated "psycho-neurological internats," which are little better than prisons. Considered "ineducable," children in these facilities may be restrained in cloth sacks, tethered to furniture, denied stimulation and are sometimes left to lie half-naked in their own filth. Orphans who survive to the age of eighteen move on to an adult internat, removed from public view.

Russian orphans who are not categorized as disabled grow up in institutions where they routinely suffer the infliction of cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment and punishment at the hands of staff. In the orphanages, children are physically punished not only by school staff, but by older children within the institutions, who are encouraged to beat up, bully, and intimidate younger ones. The use of cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment and punishment, including corporal punishment, public shaming, and isolation in freezing rooms are not uncommon. Children have no means of redress or complaint, to protest ill-treatment and abuse at the hands of staff and older children.

Shocking abuses have also been documented in Chinese orphanages, where infants have suffered staggering mortality rates. Deprived of adequate food and basic medical care, orphans admitted into welfare institutions in 1989 faced less than a 50 percent chance of surviving for more than one year. Many institutions appeared to operate as little more than assembly lines for the elimination of unwanted orphans (especially girls), with an annual turnover of admissions and deaths far exceeding the number of beds available. At some facilities, the rate of death reached 90 percent.

In Romania, Human Rights Watch found in 1990 that doctors who were forbidden to acquire medical information from outside the country carried out blood transfusions in a misguided attempt to improve the health of institutionalized orphans. Large numbers of children contracted HIV as a result. Children also suffered from inadequate food, housing, clothing, medical care, lack of stimulation or education, and neglect.

As these conditions have come to light, the international community has responded. The European Union has provided more than U.S. $77 million (Euro 75 million) to improve the plight of children in Romania's orphanages. Funds have been directed not only towards emergency food, clothing and medical care, but also toward creating and implementing policies to prevent child abandonment. The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) recently developed a program to channel U.S. $6 million to Russian organizations working to keep families together and further develop foster care and alternatives to institutional care for orphans and abandoned children. In China, staffing and medical care in orphanages have improved, and the government has worked to encourage adoption of abandoned children. Despite these encouraging developments, however, orphans and abandoned children continue to be institutionalized at alarming rates and too often fail to receive adequate care and protection.

Finally, while numerous international standards exist which protect the rights of children confined in penal or correctional institutions and settings, no comparable international standards exist to protect the rights of abandoned or orphaned children. Human Rights Watch advocates the use of alternatives to institutionalization of children wherever possible, including support for families or extended families, foster care, and placement in small residential care facilities as a measure of last resort.


1) Governments should work with NGOs to develop programs to discourage families from abandoning their children and to develop alternatives to institutionalization, by providing assistance to families with disabled or special needs children and appropriate opportunities for foster care and adoption.

2) Governments should ensure that children in non-penal institutions receive appropriate care, including adequate housing, medical care, stimulation, individual attention, education, food and clothing. Governments should work towards the development and establishment of clear national and international standards on the treatment, care, and protection of the rights of children confined in non-penal institutions.

3) Governments should immediately investigate reports of abuse or neglect of children in orphanages, and prosecute or discipline the individuals responsible. NGOs and professionals should be allowed unlimited access to monitor conditions.

4) Governments should ensure that children in custodial care are not diagnosed as retarded or disabled unless they have been observed and examined adequately over a period of time, and that children with disabilities receive the education and programs necessary to achieve their fullest individual development.


Centre for Europe's Children

Human Rights Watch - Russian orphanages report and action sheet

National Pediatric & Family HIV Resource Center

UNAIDS website - global source of HIV/AIDS information


I work in a house that has five family members. I'm the only servant. I'm very busy all day working, washing, cleaning and preparing food. The children in the family go to school, but I don't get to go. They can also watch television, but I'm not allowed. I'm not allowed to play with the children. I'm always working. I sleep on the floor in the dining room. I've never been home to visit since beginning this work. My parents came to visit me twice, and collected some money from the family, but I don't know how much.
-Salani Radnayaka, a ten-year-old girl working as a live-in domestic servant for a family in Colombo, Sri Lanka

The International Labor Organization (ILO) estimates that 250 million children between the ages of five and fourteen work in developing countries--at least 120 million full time. Sixty-one percent of these are in Asia, 32 percent in Africa, and 7 percent in Latin America. Most working children in rural areas are found in agriculture; urban children work in trade and services, with fewer in manufacturing, construction and domestic service. Only an estimated 5 percent of child laborers work in export industries.

Article 32 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child protects children from economic exploitation and work that is likely to be hazardous to the child's development, or to interfere with the child's education. It calls on states to take legislative and other measures, including sanctions and penalties, to guarantee this protection to children.

Those addressing the issue of child labor are sometimes divided on how to proceed and consider a range of different approaches. Some urge that child labor be eliminated quickly and aggressively, including through the use of trade sanctions when countries or industries fail to act decisively. Some call for reforming the conditions in which children work with a view toward gradual elimination. Some believe that work plays an important and positive role in children's lives and in their relations with their families, and seek reform, but not an end to child labor.

A simple approach of requiring employers to discharge all child workers can lead to devastating results for children removed from the workplace. Children discharged from work can find themselves on the street in prostitution or crime, or working in even worse conditions and for less pay. In tackling the issue of child labor, consideration of the immediate and direct consequences for working children and their families cannot be underestimated. The removal of children from the workforce can have devastating results for children if not accompanied with nuanced adjustment programs for their rehabilitation, education, and direct assistance.

The trade sanction approach--seeking boycotts of employers or governments who permit the use of child labor, or banning the importation of goods made with child labor--is extremely difficult to monitor. Employers' assurances that they have not used child labor in manufacturing workplaces around the world are meaningless without effective and independent monitoring mechanisms in place. And trade sanctions or boycotts narrowly targeted to particular export industries, even if effective, have small impact, as only about 5 percent of child laborers work in export industries.

Child labor includes a range of situations from the clearly hazardous and exploitative, four-year-old children tied to rug looms to keep them from running away, to the benign or positive, seventeen-year-olds helping out on the family farm or working after school to earn some pocket money. In many cases, as in the latter examples, children's work can be helpful to them and their families; money earned and the experience gained by children can be positive contributions to their development into responsible adults. This depends largely on the age of the child, the conditions in which the child works, and whether work prevents the child from going to school.

What is clear, and what the international community has agreed on, is that certain types of child labor are hazardous to the health, safety, and morals of children and should be banned. The ILO Convention concerning the Prohibition and Immediate Action for the Elimination of the Worst Forms of Child Labor (ILO Convention 182), adopted unanimously by the 174 member states of the ILO in June 1999, commits states who ratify it to take immediate steps to prohibit and eliminate "the worst forms of child labor," and to take effective measures to prevent children's engagement in it. The term child refers to anyone under the age of eighteen. Under the convention, the worst forms of child labor include the sale and trafficking of children, debt bondage, forced or compulsory labor (including the forced recruitment of children for use in armed conflict), using children for prostitution or production of pornography, using children for illegal activities, particularly drug trafficking, and other work which is likely to "harm the health, safety or morals of children."

Cognizant of the dangers of banning child labor without also providing children with alternatives to labor, the convention obligates states parties to ensure that children removed from the worst forms of child labor be given direct assistance to ensure their removal, rehabilitation, and social reintegration. Most importantly, the convention mandates that children removed from labor be ensured access to free basic education, and wherever possible and appropriate, vocational training.

Human Rights Watch has taken on the issue of child labor in areas where the rights abuses are clear and acute, and which fall within the new ILO Convention's definition of "worst forms of child labor." We have worked on bonded child laborers in India and Pakistan; the use of children as soldiers in armed conflicts around the world; and the employment of live-in domestic child servants in Sri Lanka. Throughout, Human Rights Watch has emphasized the importance of providing education and rehabilitation in assisting children removed from these worst forms of child labor to truly end the practice.

The importance of providing free and compulsory primary education cannot be underestimated in the fight to end the economic exploitation of children. The reasons are simple. Education opens up the whole future to a child, offering the chance for improved health, safety, and greater economic opportunity, and the full enjoyment of their rights.


1) Governments should immediately ratify and implement ILO Convention 182, on the worst forms of child labor.

2) In taking steps to eliminate abusive child labor practices, governments should pay special attention to the need to provide educational, vocational, and other appropriate forms of assistance to children removed from the workforce, and to their families.  Children removed from the workplace should never be treated as criminals, but as victims of abusive child labor practices.


Anti-Slavery International

Child Rights Information Network - Child Labour Desk

Child Workers in Asia

International Labor Organization


When they brought me here, it was in a taxi. I kept looking around, wondering what kind of work was going on in this area of this big city. Everywhere I looked, I saw curtained doorways and rooms. Men would go and come through these curtained entrances. People on the street would be calling out, "Two rupees, two rupees." I asked the other Nepali women if these were offices; it seemed the logical explanation. In two days I knew everything. I cried.
--Tara N., a Nepali woman who was trafficked into India at sixteen.

Children around the world are sexually abused and exploited in ways that can cause permanent physical and psychological harm. In some cases, police demand sexual services from street children, threatening them with arrest if they do not comply. In detention and correctional facilities children may be sexually abused by staff or are not protected from sexual abuse by other inmates. In refugee camps many children are exploited by adults or sometimes forced to sell their bodies for food. Children in orphanages may be abused by staff members or other children. In conflict areas children are kidnaped to serve as child soldiers and also as sexual servants for adult soldiers. Children working as domestics may be assaulted or raped by employers.

This grim picture is compounded by the use of children as prostitutes in countries throughout the world. An unknown but very large number of children are used for commercial sexual purposes every year, often ending up with their health destroyed, victims of HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases. Younger and younger children are sought with the expectation that clients will not be exposed to HIV. Prostituted children can be raped, beaten, sodomized, emotionally abused, tortured, and even killed by pimps, brothel owners, and customers. Some have been trafficked from one country to another; both boys and girls are trafficked. Moreover, child prostitutes are frequently treated as criminals by law enforcement and judicial authorities, rather than as children who are victims of sexual exploitation.

Articles 34 and 35 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child forbid sexual exploitation or trafficking of children, and the Committee on the Rights of the Child has devoted time and efforts to the issue, urging governments to crack down on the practice. Other international instruments in human rights, humanitarian law, refugee law, and labor standards protect children against sexual exploitation. In addition, a U.N. special rapporteur on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography investigates these issues.

A good deal of international attention has been focused on sexual exploitation and trafficking, particularly on the practice of sex tourism, which is a relatively small part of the problem. A World Congress against Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children was held in Stockholm in 1996, attended by representatives of governments, U.N. bodies, and nongovernmental organizations, from 125 countries. The congress issued a strong declaration against commercial sexual exploitation of children and an agenda for action; an international focal point on sexual exploitation of children was established in Geneva to coordinate reform efforts. A number of governments and NGOs are continuing their efforts to attack the problem. But vast numbers of children are still trapped in this life-threatening sex trade.

Human Rights Watch has investigated the trafficking of women and girls from Burma to Thailand and from Nepal to India. In 1993 we found that many girls were among the thousands of Burmese trafficked into Thai brothels every year. They worked in conditions tantamount to slavery. Subject to debt bondage, illegal confinement, various forms of sexual and physical abuse, and exposure to HIV in brothels, they then faced arrest as illegal immigrants if they tried to escape or if the brothels were raided by Thai police. Once arrested, the girls were sometimes subjected to further sexual abuse in Thai detention centers. They were then taken to the Thai-Burmese border where they were often lured back into prostitution by brothel agents who played on their fear of arrest on return to Burma. Thai police and border patrol officials were involved in both the trafficking and the brothel operations, but they routinely escaped punishment as do, for the most part, brothel agents, pimps and clients.

In 1995 we looked into the trafficking of Nepali women and girls to brothels in India. The victims of this international trafficking network routinely suffered serious physical abuse, including rape, beatings, arbitrary imprisonment and exposure to HIV/AIDS. Held in debt bondage for years at a time, girls worked under constant surveillance. Escape was virtually impossible. Both the Indian and Nepali governments were complicit in the abuses. Police and officials in India protected brothel owners and traffickers in return for bribes; Nepali border police accepted bribes to allow trafficking. Even when traffickers were identified, few arrests and even fewer prosecutions resulted.

The international community, both governments and nongovernmental groups, must make every effort to end these abuses. In some cases new laws are required; in others the political will must be mobilized to implement existing legislation and prosecute those involved in sexually abusing and exploiting these vulnerable children.


1) Governments must implement the Stockholm Agenda for Action to which they agreed during the World Congress against Commercial Sexual Exploitation, and prosecute those who abuse and sexually exploit children, or profit from the practice.

2) Children engaged in prostitution must be treated as victims of sexual exploitation, violence, and forced labor, and not as criminals. Governments and aid groups should support quality rehabilitation and recovery programs for children who leave the sex trade, which include psychological counseling, health care, education and vocational training, and shelter, as appropriate.

3) Governments must develop prevention programs that will raise public awareness and encourage actions that protect children.


Focal Point against Sexual Exploitation of Children

ECPAT (End Child Prostitution, Child Pornography and Trafficking in Children for Sexual Purposes)


Education is a fundamental right for all children, guaranteed by articles 28 and 29 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child. The goal of universal primary level education has not yet been reached, but many advances have been made. Overall primary enrollment has risen around the world, and the gender gap in primary enrollment has declined, with girls' enrollment approaching parity with boys in many parts of the world, although completion rates are still lagging.

Nevertheless, 130 million children of school age in the developing world--21 percent of all school age children in the world--had no access to basic education in 1998 and millions more received substandard educations resulting in little learning. An estimated 855 million people today are functionally illiterate as a result of having been denied an education as children.

Often the denial of education is directly linked to civil and political rights violations of children such as the illegal employment of children in hazardous and exploitative labor, the detention of children in prisons, and discrimination against children from ethnic, linguistic or religious minority groups, or based on gender, disability, or other status. Thus effective protection of children requires addressing these rights issues for children simultaneously.

Human Rights Watch has been particularly concerned with the impact of the lack of decent education on groups who are already marginalized-- including street children, children in detention, minority children, orphans, child laborers, children affected by armed conflicts, including refugee children, gay and lesbian children, and girls. Children in all of these groups are frequently vulnerable to other types of human rights violations as well and, without education, face even poorer prospects for their future.

Children in poor rural areas often face economic barriers to education that may seem insurmountable. In many communities, even if school fees are not a problem, the cost of a pencil or clothing can keep a child from school.

Girls in many countries are frequently kept at home, away from school, to do domestic work, or simply because education of girls is not valued. Among Sierra Leonean refugee children in Guinea, Human Rights Watch found that some girls were permitted to attend school but few were able to get an education. Many testified that they were only able to attend school one or two days a week because they had to work on other days. Girls are frequently pulled out of school to work once they reach adolescence. A refugee teacher in Guinea explained that "parents know that girls are more useful in the homes, more careful with small children." Girls make up two out of every three children of school age in the developing world who do not receive a primary education (73 million of the 130 million out-of-school children).

Children in detention, including street children whose only "crime" may be vagrancy, are frequently denied access to education while in the state's custody. Even the few who do have access rarely receive an appropriate education. In Pakistan, detained children have access to some education but only 10 percent pass a standard examination at the conclusion of tenth grade. The reasons they do not succeed include the dismal conditions of schools in the facilities, emphasis on religious rather than secular subjects, and the fact that many of these children come from poor backgrounds and had little access to education before their detention. Children detained in adult criminal facilities, as is frequently the case in many states in the United States, may have no access to any education at all.

Children belonging to ethnic minorities in many countries are likewise especially at risk of being denied access to adequate education. In some countries, they may be relegated to substandard educational facilities, poorer quality of instruction, fewer teaching materials, and fewer opportunities for higher education than for the rest of the population. In the Czech Republic and Bulgaria, Roma children, commonly referred to as "gypsies," are disproportionately confined to schools designated for mentally retarded children. Minority children are also sometimes denied the right to speak their own language or to practice their own culture in schools, in violation of article 30 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child. The content of instruction may also be used to advance political goals of the state at the expense of development of the child's fullest potential and respect for the child's cultural, religious, or ethnic identity. In Tibet, for example, the Chinese government has taught Tibetan children the "backwardness" of Tibetan culture in comparison to Han Chinese culture, to promote state and ethnic unity in China.

Children in orphanages may also face extreme hurdles to gaining an education. In Russia, Human Rights Watch has found that the state conducts an examination of children at age four, using what experts have found to be an extremely unreliable and flawed methodology, to determine their lifetime potential. If classified as "oligophrenic," or ineducable at age four, children are condemned to life in a facility where their right to education will be permanently denied.

For many children, violence is a regular part of their school experience. Human Rights Watch found that teachers in Kenya used caning, slapping, and whipping to maintain classroom discipline and to punish children for poor academic performance. The infliction of corporal punishment is often routine, arbitrary, and brutal. In extreme cases, beatings by teachers have caused children to drop out of school altogether or have left children permanently disfigured, disabled, or dead.

Students perceived to be gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgendered too often experience school as a place that accepts intolerance, hatred, ostracization, and violence against youth who are perceived as different. For the most part, school officials refuse to intervene to protect these students, and what begins as harassment may escalate to physical violence. Students who are subjected to harassment and violence at the hands of their peers frequently suffer from depression, low self-esteem, and an inability to focus on schoolwork; a 1989 U.S. Department of Health and Human Services study concluded that gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered youth are two to three times more likely to attempt suicide than their heterosexual counterparts.

The denial of education in and of itself can be devastating for children. What's more, it can lead to continued denial of their rights as children and, later, as adults. Without access to education, for example, many children have no choice but to continue working under exploitative, hazardous conditions, and have little hope of ever participating fully in the political life in their societies. Proper education could give children hope for the future and skills to ensure that they have options in life besides living on the streets, laboring under exploitative, hazardous or abusive conditions, or a life of crime.


1) Governments should provide free and compulsory primary level education to all children, aimed at developing the child's fullest potential, regardless of ethnic or social origin, gender, disability, or other status. Governments should ensure that the associated costs of education, such as costs for books, uniforms and school fees do not prevent children from going to school.

2) Special efforts should be made to ensure that girls have full access to education, and that education be gender-sensitive.

3) Governments should ensure that children who are in detention, orphanages, or other custodial institutions receive appropriate education.

4) Governments should act to protect the physical safety of children in schools and prohibit the use of corporal punishment by teachers.


The State of the World's Children 1999: Education

UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization)


In many countries around the world, children make up more than half the population. Yet nowhere are they safe. Life-threatening abuses are perpetrated against children on the streets, in schools, in the workplace, in institutions, and in combat zones.

Nearly every country in the world is now party to the Convention on the Rights of the Child and many have taken significant and concrete steps to end abuses of children. But for too many children, the promises of the Convention remain hollow and the abuses they endure every day contradict the commitments made by their governments.

The tenth anniversary of the Convention's adoption presents a challenge to governments worldwide: to take all necessary steps to ensure that the rights of children are not just an abstract concept but a concrete reality for their youngest citizens. The recommendations presented in this report outline steps that can make a real difference in the lives of children.

The role of citizens and non-governmental organizations is no less important. Children too often lack a voice in the political sphere and need advocates working on their behalf. Concerned individuals can contact representatives of their government to discuss the recommendations in this report and press for public commitments to stronger actions for children. Citizens and organizations can also help raise awareness within civil society of the appalling abuses of children and join together in coalitions to take constructive action.

Only concerted efforts by governments and civil society together can effectively end the abuse and exploitation of children. We must keep our promises and fulfill the basic rights of children.