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Declaration on Social and Legal Principles

Minimum Age Convention 1973

The aim of the Minimum Age Convention (MAC) is to establish a general instrument on the subject of the minimum age of employment with a view to achieving the total abolition of child labor (Preamble).  Thus, each State Party is to “pursue a national policy designed to ensure the effective abolition of child labor and to raise progressively the minimum age for admission to employment to a level consistent with the fullest physical and mental development of young persons” (article 1).  States Parties must specify a minimum age for admission to employment or work, subject to certain exceptions set forth in the MAC.  That minimum may not be less than the age of completion of compulsory schooling and, in any case, less than fifteen years, but it may initially be set at fourteen years if a state’s economy and educational facilities are insufficiently developed (article 2).  Exceptions to the age limits may also be permitted for light work or for such purposes as participation in artistic performances (articles 7 and 8).  If the employment may be hazardous to a young person’s health, safety, or morals, the minimum age is generally not to be less than eighteen years (article 3(1)).

U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child 1989

The Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) is the most comprehensive document on the rights of children.[7]  Based purely on the number of substantive rights it sets forth, as distinct from implementation measures, it is the longest U.N. human rights treaty in force and unusual in that it not only addresses the granting and implementation of rights in peacetime, but also the treatment of children in situations of armed conflict.  The CRC is also significant because it enshrines, “for the first time in binding international law, the principles upon which adoption is based, viewed from the child’s perspective.”[8]  The CRC is primarily concerned with four aspects of children’s rights (“the four ‘P’s”): participation by children in decisions affecting them; protection of children against discrimination and all forms of neglect and exploitation; prevention of harm to them; and provision of assistance to children for their basic needs.[9]  For the purposes of the CRC, a child is defined as “every human being below the age of eighteen years unless under the law applicable to the child, majority is attained earlier” (article 1). 

Key accomplishments of the CRC have been described as five-fold.  It creates new rights for children under international law that previously had not existed, such as the child’s right to preserve his or her identity (articles 7 and 8), the rights of vulnerable children like refugees to special protection (articles 20 and 22), and indigenous children’s right to practice their culture (articles 8 and 30).  In some instances, this innovation takes the form of child-specific versions of existing rights, such as those in regard to freedom of expression (article 13) and the right to a fair trial (article 40).  In addition, the CRC enshrines in a global treaty rights that hitherto had only been found in case law under regional human rights treaties (e.g., children’s right to be heard in proceedings that affect them) (article 12).  The CRC also replaced non-binding recommendations with binding standards (e.g., safeguards in adoption procedures and with regard to the rights of disabled children) (articles 21 and 23).  New obligations are imposed on States Parties in regard to the protection of children, in such areas as banning traditional practices prejudicial to children’s health and offering rehabilitative measures for victims of neglect, abuse, and exploitation (articles 28(3) and 39).  Finally, the CRC sets forth an express ground obligating States Parties not to discriminate against children’s enjoyment of CRC rights.[10]  The right to participate in proceedings, it is argued, “together with the principles of non-discrimination in Article 2 and provision for the child’s best interests in Article 3, form the guiding principles of the Convention, which reflect the vision of respect and autonomy which the drafters wished to create for all children.”[