UN Convention on the Rights of the Child

As a State Party that has ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), Canada is obliged to:

  • Undertake appropriate legislative, administrative and other measures to implement the rights in the CRC, and with respect to economic, social and cultural rights, undertake measures to the maximum extent of available resources and within the framework of international cooperation (Article 4)
  • Make the principles and provisions of the CRC widely known to adults and children alike (Article 42)
  • Report to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child on progress made on measures and enjoyment of the CRC’s rights (Article 44)

Four Guiding Principles

In your work affecting children, consider the four guiding principles at the foundation of the CRC:

1. Non-discrimination (Article 2) - All rights apply to all children without exception.

  • Requires you to use available research and data to actively identify individual children and groups of children who may need special help to address discrimination, including its causes (e.g. Indigenous or LGBT children )
  • Consider beneficial changes to legislation, administration and resource allocation, as well as educational measures to change attitudes
  • Remember that the non‑discrimination principle of equal access to rights does not mean identical treatment
  • S. 15 of the Charter provides equality guarantees

2. Best Interests of the Child (Article 3) – Shall be a primary consideration in all actions concerning children– they are not considered on the same level as all other considerations.

  • For actions by “public or private social welfare institutions, courts of law, administrative authorities or legislative bodies”
  • Requires active measures by governments, Parliament and the judiciary : every legislative, administrative and judicial body or institution must apply the principle by systematically considering how children’s rights and interests are or will be affected by their decisions and actions, directly or indirectly
  • General Comment No. 14 provides further guidance
  • The Best Interests of the Child test is frequently found in Canadian laws such as those pertaining to family law and child protection

3. Life, Survival and Development (Article 6) - Recognizes the child’s inherent right to life and requires advancing the child’s survival and development to the maximum extent possible.

  • “Development” in its broadest sense, a holistic concept embracing the child’s physical, mental, spiritual, moral, psychological and social development
  • Implementation measures aimed at achieving the optimal development of all children

4. Participation (Article 12) - Children capable of expressing their own views have a right to do so in “all matters affecting” them, and those views must be given due weight.

  • The child is an active participant in promoting, protecting and monitoring his or her rights
  • Participation applies equally to all measures adopted by States to implement the CRC
  • Children’s best interests cannot be determined without making sure that they have the right to participate
  • Meaningful participation requires documents as well as processes to be accessible
  • Listening to children is easy, giving due weight to their views requires real change
  • Listening to children is not an end in itself, but a way for States to inform their interactions with children and ensure better sensitivity to the implementation of child rights
  • Requires consistent and ongoing arrangements
  • Meaningful involvement and participation will avoid being tokenistic and aim to ascertain representative views
  • “ALL matters that affect them” requires ascertaining the views of particular groups of children on particular issues – e.g. children who have experience of the juvenile justice system on proposals for law reform in that area, adopted children and children in adoptive families on adoption law and policy
  • Governments should develop a direct relationship with children, not simply one mediated through non-governmental organizations or human rights institutions
  • General Comment No. 12 provides further guidance
  • Participation is found in various Canadian laws, such as family law or case law that lists the “views of the child” as a factor in determining the child’s best interests. In Quebec, every decision concerning a child is made considering the child's interests and respect for the child’s rights

Substantive Articles

Part I of the CRC places specific obligations on Canada about substantive child rights. These rights can be grouped according to:

  • Provision (e.g. food, shelter, health)
  • Protection (e.g. from violence or exploitation)
  • Participation (e.g. to receive information and share views in matters affecting the child)

List of the 41 Substantive Articles in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.

Respect for parents is imbedded in many of these rights, such as where the CRC:

  • Recognizes parents’ (and others’) responsibilities, rights and duties to provide direction and guidance to the child in exercising his or her rights (Article 5)
  • Provides that the child is not to be separated from their parents, except by competent authorities when in the child’s best interests (Article 9)
  • Recognizes both parents’ (and guardians’) role: parents (guardians) are primarily responsible for the child’s upbringing and development with the best interests of the child as their basic concern (Article 18(1))
  • Requires States Parties to provide parental assistance including developing child-care policies (Article 18(2))
  • Requires the child deprived of liberty to remain connected to parents and ensures a child is not wrongfully deprived of liberty (Article 37), but if so deprived, keeps the child connected to the parents unless it would be contrary to the child’s best interests (Article 37(c))

Canada has reservations to ratification of Articles 21 and 37(c):

  • Article 21 (best interests of the child paramount consideration in adoption):
    With a view to ensuring full respect for the purposes and intent of article 20(3) and article 30 of the Convention, the Government of Canada reserves the right not to apply the provisions of article 21 to the extent that they may be inconsistent with customary forms of care among aboriginal peoples in Canada.
  • Article 37(c) (detain children separately from adults):
    The Government of Canada accepts the general principles of article 37(c) of the Convention, but reserves the right not to detain children separately from adults where this is not appropriate or feasible.

Three Optional Protocols to the CRC

Extend measures that States Parties should take to guarantee the protection of the child, and must be separately ratified by States Parties.

Canada has ratified:

Canada has yet to sign or ratify the Optional Protocol on a Communication Procedure for Children which was open for signature on December 19, 2011 and came into force on April 14, 2014. It enables a child or group of children to submit a “communication” to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child where rights violations are alleged to have occurred.

General Comments

Help States Parties interpret and implement the CRC’s Articles.


  • Give authoritative direction to Canada on its CRC obligations
  • Can be referred to by Courts when interpreting CRC articles (Divito v. Canada 2013 SCC 47, paras. 26-27 where the SCC referenced the UN Human Rights Committee’s General Comment to interpret a provision of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights); (see also Canadian Doctors for Refugee Care v. Canada (Attorney General), 2014 FC 651, para. 462, where the Federal Court references General Comment No. 14 which provides guidance on how the best interests principle is to be applied, noting that the child's right to health is central in assessing a child's best interests)
  • 20 topics to date:
    • GC No. 1 - (2001) – The aims of education
    • GC No. 2 - (2002 – The role of independent human rights institutions
    • GC No. 3 - (2003) - HIV & AIDS and the rights of the child
    • GC No. 4 - (2003) – Adolescent health
    • GC No. 5 - (2003) – General measure of implementation for the Convention on the Rights of the Child
    • GC No. 6 - (2005) – Treatment of unaccompanied and separated children outside their country of origin
    • GC No. 7 - (2005) – Implementing child rights in early childhood
    • GC No. 8 - (2006) – The right of the child to protection from corporal punishment and other cruel or degrading forms of punishment
    • GC No. 9 - (2006) – The right of children with disabilities
    • GC No. 10 - (2007) - Children’s rights in juvenile justice
    • GC No. 11 - (2009) - Indigenous children and their rights under the Convention
    • GC No. 12 - (2009) – Children’s right to be heard
    • GC No. 13 - (2011) – Freedom from all forms of violence
    • GC No. 14 - (2013) – Best interests of the child
    • GC No. 15 - (2013) – Right to health
    • GC No. 16 - (2013) – State obligations regarding the impact of the business sector on children’s rights
    • GC No. 17 - (2013) – The right of the child to rest, leisure, play, recreational activities, cultural life and the arts
    • GC No. 18 - (2014) – Harmful practices (jointly with the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (No. 31)
    • GC No. 19 - (2016) – Public budgeting for the realization of children’s rights
    • GC No. 20 - (2016) -  The implementation of the rights of the child during adolescence