The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child is an International Treaty, signed by most nations of the world (it has the highest ratification rate among all international treaties: more states are legally binding by it than those who belong to the United Nations itself, with a total number of 195 ratifications, when the UN has 193 members). The Convention is based on four fundamental principles: non-discrimination; right to life, survival, and development; doing what is in the best interest of the child; and meaningfully engaging children and youth.
After the terrors of the World Wars, the international community felt the need to affirm its commitment to the principles and values of human rights and establish the modern international human rights law, which will be used as a reference point for all nations alike and will include legally binding obligations on States to promote, protect and enforce human rights and fundamental freedoms. In that respect,the International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights was adopted in 1966, which contained a segment that aimed to create higher protection for children. To clarify the cornerstones of such protection, the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child came into force in 1989.
In order to provide legally binding effect of treaties (such as conventions, protocols etc.) on states, countries need to sign and ratify them. To understand the difference between the signing and the ratification, a brief legal explanation is needed. Before a treaty can actually come into action, the nations need to come to an agreement. When that happens, diplomatic representatives of States sign the treaty. However, that is not enough to be legally binding, i.e. to have a legal effect in the national legal systems, states need to acknowledge this.. This acknowledgement is called ratification, i.e. incorporation of the provisions of the Treaty into the national legal system.
The countries usually sign the treaty in question, and the signature is followed by ratification. South Sudan has become the 195th state to ratify the Convention on the Rights of the Child. This means that as of today, the United States is the only country that has yet to ratify the landmark treaty after Somalia recently began the process of ratifying the Convention. What is rather interesting, though, that although the United States have not ratified the Convention, they have given legally binding effect on two Optional Protocols of the Convention on the Rights of the Child: The Optional Protocol on the Sale of Children, Child Prostitution, and Child Pornography, and The Optional Protocol on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict.
When a treaty has been ratified, the States need to modify or amend their national legislation so as to be in line with the provisions of the Treaty.
The fact that almost each nation in the world has joined the Convention evidences the commonly accepted view shared by States that children have a special, emphasized position in each society, no matter what cultural background they come from. Their vulnerability needs to be balanced out with laws that can secure their protection and safety. Ensuring that the criteria set down in the Convention have an actual effect in the states’ day to day affairs is the way to create a brighter future to all children all around the world.