What are human rights?
Human rights are the rights and freedoms shared by everyone. Nobody has the right to take these rights away, they are:
- Universal – Every person, by virtue of being human, should enjoy all human rights. Human rights were officially recognised as universal values by the world when the UN adopted the Universal Declaration.
- Equal – All rights are equally important.
- Interdependent – Human rights are indivisible. They are inter-related and reinforce each other.
- Inalienable – Rights cannot be taken away, but they can be limited by law (e.g. your liberty can be curtailed through criminal proceedings if you are found guilty in a trial and sentenced to jail).
Human rights are based on fairness, dignity, justice, equality and respect. These are values that everybody can understand and that have existed for hundreds of years in different societies all over the world. Human rights include:
- The right to life. To food. To shelter. These are rights based on our physical needs.
- The right to be free from torture, cruel treatment and abuse. These are rights that protect us.
- The right to education. To work. To participate in your community. These are rights that enable us to develop to our fullest potential.
Why do human rights matter?
Human rights matter to everyone but not everyone knows when their rights are not being respected or how they can change their situation. Children are especially vulnerable to having their rights violated. For example:
- In 2013, 85 million children across the world were engaged in hazardous work which directly endangers their health, safety and moral development.
- In 2012, 58 million children of primary school age were out of school.
Sometimes it can seem as though human rights are only important to people in other countries, However there are many children in the UK whose rights are not being respected.
In the UK:
- 1 in four children live in relative poverty, according to UNICEF ,
- one in 14 children aged 11-17 has experienced severe physical violence at the hands of an adult in childhood
- one child in seven does not have a proper home.
Everyone, especially young people should know their rights and understand how they can use their rights to protect themselves. All adults have a responsibility to uphold the rights of all children.
How does the UN protect human rights?
When the United Nations was founded in 1945 human rights for everyone was a central aim along with maintaining international peace and security.
Human rights are protected by the Universal Declaration, which is the cornerstone of human rights. The UDHR was adopted by the UN’s member states in 1948 and has served as a moral compass for people and governments ever since. It contains 30 rights, each of which corresponds to a particular human need. Although not binding on states, the UDHR has inspired more than 80 international human rights treaties and holds the world record as the most translated international document – with more than 360 language versions available to help people learn about their rights.
What about the rights of children?
The human rights of specific groups like children are also protected by treaties like the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), which lists all the rights that children everywhere in the world should enjoy.
The CRC applies all the human rights contained in the Universal Declaration to children, taking into account the special protection that children require. It contains rights such as the right to a name and to family reunification, as well as the rights to education, shelter, health and protection from abuse.
The main principles of the CRC are that every child has all these rights, and that all government have to take action to protect the rights of all children, regardless of their nationality, gender or any other distinction. The vast majority of the world’s countries – 194 – have signed up to the CRC, including the UK, which did so in 1991.
Once a country has signed up to a treaty like the CRC, it pledges to make the rights contained in it a reality i.e. putting words into action. States agree to ensure that public bodies and service-providers are obliged to respect, protect and fulfil rights, and enable people whose rights have been violated to seek help, if necessary via the courts.