Children and human rights

Across the world children are denied their human rights, including for example, their right to education.  They are recruited into armed forces.  They are subjected to the death penalty, are disappeared, are punished by cruel and inhumane methods and suffer many other forms of violence.

Child soldiers

Worldwide, hundreds of thousands of children under 18 have been affected by armed conflict. 

They are recruited into government armed forces, paramilitaries, civil militia and a variety of other armed groups.  Often they are abducted at school, on the streets or at home.  Others enlist “voluntarily”, usually because they see few alternatives. Yet international law prohibits the participation in armed conflict of children aged under 18.

It means that in reality girls and boys illegally and under force, participate in combat where frequently they are injured or killed.  Others are used as spies, messengers, porters, servants or to lay or clear landmines. Girls are at particular risk of rape and other sexual abuse.

Such children are robbed of their childhood and exposed to terrible dangers and to psychological and physical suffering.

Other forms of violence against children

Children routinely face other violence - at school, in institutions meant for their protection, in juvenile detention centres and too often in their own homes.

Violence against children happens in all parts of the world.

A small - and diminishing - number of countries execute those who were children at the time of their offences. Since 2004, only China, Iran, Pakistan and Sudan have put child offenders to death. Ending the execution of child offenders is a major objective in itself and an important step on the road to total abolition of the death penalty. 

The right to education

Everyone has the right to education—which should be available free to all at least at the primary level. Education is also indispensable in realizing other human rights.

Across the world many children miss out on their education because:

  • they are made to work
  • they are recruited into armed forces
  • their families do not have the means to pay for schooling
  • discrimination and racism undermine their chance to receive an education
  • they face violence as they pursue their education.


School fees and related costs are a common barrier to education.  These charges - which may be called “voluntary” quotas, matriculation fees or examination costs - are a greater burden for children from poor families, and they disproportionately affect those who are racial and ethnic minorities, members of Indigenous communities and migrants.


Girls are more likely to be excluded from school than boys when there isn’t enough money to go round.

Key facts

  • The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, adopted in 1989 to protect the rights of children, is the most widely ratified human rights treaty in history. It encompasses civil rights and freedoms, family environment, basic health and welfare, education, leisure and cultural activities and special protection measures for children.
  • There are estimated to be between 100 million and 150 million street children in the world, and this number is growing. Of those some 5-10% have run away from or been abandoned by their families.
  • Under international law, the participation of children under 18 in armed conflict is generally prohibited, and the recruitment and use of children under 15 is a war crime.
  • Around 4,500 children are currently in detention in Pakistan. More than 3,000 of them have not been convicted of any offence; their trials have either still yet to start or have not yet been completed.

Examples of what Amnesty International is doing

  • As a member of the Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers, Amnesty International works to end the recruitment of children into armed forces and to reintegrate former child soldiers back into civilian life.
  • Amnesty International has recommended that Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia and Slovenia take immediate action to prohibit discrimination against Roma in education, and take further steps towards eliminating discrimination against Romani children and promoting equality in education.
  • Around the world, Amnesty International members, including its Youth and Student network, are campaigning to prevent the unnecessary imprisonment of children in Pakistan.

Success story

On 25 May 2000, the UN General Assembly adopted the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the involvement of children in armed conflict. This represented a milestone in protecting children from participation in armed conflicts.

To mark the sixth anniversary of the Protocol’s adoption, Amnesty International, together with the Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers, called on the Russian Federation to ratify it without any further delay and set 18 years as the standard minimum age for voluntary recruitment into its armed forces. At the time, both Russia and China were the two remaining members of the UN Security Council not to have become party to the Protocol.

Both countries subsequently ratified the document in 2008 and – as of February 2014 – a total of 152 countries are party to the Protocol with a further 20 signatories from across the UN set to enact it into law.

How you can help

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