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Hague Adoption Convention on the Protection of Children and Co-operation in Respect of Inter-Country

I. Introduction

It was not until the late nineteenth century that a nascent children’s rights’ protection movement countered the widely held view that children were mainly quasi-property and economic assets.  In the United States, the Progressive movement challenged courts’ reluctance to interfere in family matters, promoted broad child welfare reforms, and was successful in having laws passed to regulate child labor and provide for compulsory education.  It also raised awareness of children’s issues and established a juvenile court system.  Another push for children’s rights occurred in the 1960s and 1970s, when children were viewed by some advocates as victims of discrimination or as an oppressed group.  In the international context, “[t]he growth of children’s rights in international and transnational law has been identified as a striking change in the post-war legal landscape.”[1]  The purpose of this overview is to describe some of the provisions of certain major international legal instruments on children’s rights that form part of that landscape. 

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II. Global International Documentation

Declaration of the Rights of the Child 1959[2]

The U.N. Declaration of the Rights of the Child (DRC) builds upon rights that had been set forth in a League of Nations Declaration of 1924.  The Preamble notes that children need “special safeguards and care, including appropriate legal protection, before as well as after birth,” reiterates the 1924 Declaration’s pledge that “mankind owes to the child the best it has to give,” and specifically calls upon voluntary organizations and local authorities to strive for the observance of children’s rights.[3] One of the key principles in the DRC is that a child is to enjoy “special protection” as well as “opportunities and facilities, by law and by other means,” for healthy and normal physical, mental, moral, spiritual, and social development “in conditions of freedom and dignity.”  The “paramount consideration” in enacting laws for this purpose is “the best interests of the child,”[4] a standard echoed throughout legal instruments on children’s rights.  Among other DRC principles, a child is entitled to a name and nationality; to adequate nutrition, housing, recreation, and medical services; to an education; and, for the handicapped, to “special treatment, education and care.”[5] Other principles are on protection against neglect, cruelty and exploitation, trafficking, underage labor, and discrimination.