This section offers legal professionals the fundamentals about child rights so they can apply that knowledge in work that supports the rights and well-being of children.

All children have the right to equal benefit and protection of the law, without discrimination, under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms (the Charter), other Canadian laws and international human rights treaties. These are important fundamental rights.

Special considerations apply to children. They are generally unable to know their rights, access remedies or have their voices heard unless the adults around them help. Frequently children’s best interests are overlooked or conflict with those of adults generally, or those meant to help them specifically. This is especially true for vulnerable children, including Indigenous children who often experience discrimination, poverty and the legacies of colonialism and residential schools.

Governments and adults responsible for children can address children’s unique vulnerabilities by adopting a child rights based approach, implementing the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC). Canada signed the CRC on May 28, 1990 and ratified it on December 13, 1991, with letters of support from all provinces and territories. It contains civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights to support children’s optimal development and well-being. It is the most universally accepted human rights instrument in history, with all but one country in the world having ratified it (R. v. Sharpe, 2001 SCC 2 171).

While the CRC is not directly incorporated into domestic law through enabling legislation, it is expressly referenced in some Canadian law, including the preamble to the Youth Criminal Justice Act. Canada’s position is that it has ensured and continues to ensure that its laws, policies and practices comply with the CRC. According to Canadian case law, the Charter is presumed to provide protection at least as great as the CRC and other international treaties. The presumption is that Canadian statutes conform to the CRC and other international instruments (Health Services & Support-Facilities Subsector Bargaining Assn. v. British Columbia [2007] 2 SCR 391; reaffirmed in Divito v. Canada (Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness), 2013 SCC 47 at para. 23.). Those international instruments inform a contextual legal analysis, the legal method required for incorporating children’s human rights into laws, policies and practices (R v. Hape, [2007] SCJ No 26 (SCC), at para. 53; A.M.R.I. v. K.E.R., 2011 ONCA 417, at para. 82.)

What Are Child Rights and Where Do They Come From?

Children are entitled to equal benefit and protection of the law, including the Charter, other domestic law and international law.

Child rights are human rights that all children in Canada have without exception. The CRC was ratified by Canada in 1991 and addresses provision, protection and participation rights for every child to reach their full potential.

Child rights are also contained in other international laws such as:

How Do Child Rights Fit with Other Children’s Legal Rights?

‘Child rights’ are human rights for children.

‘Children’s legal rights’ encompass all rights under international law, as well as the Charter and other domestic legislation.