Child Human Rights Defenders


Implementation Guide

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2. Definitions

(Art. 1 CRC and Art. 1 DHRD)

2.1 Definition of a Child


CRC Article 1

For the purposes of the present Convention, a child means every human being below the age of eighteen years unless under the law applicable to the child, majority is attained earlier.

 Article 1 of the CRC ‘simply and solely defines who a child is for the purposes of the Convention and thus determines who is entitled to the rights listed elsewhere in it.’ 1

Those under the age of 18 do not always use the terms ‘child’ or ‘children’ to describe themselves (e.g. it would be rare for a 16 year old to refer to themselves as a ‘child’), but the protections apply nonetheless. 

The CRC adopts the age of 18 as a pragmatic endpoint for childhood, while acknowledging that, in some contexts, the age of majority is obtained earlier. Moreover, even in national contexts where majority is obtained earlier, the Committee urges States to review legislation to ensure that children enjoy the protections of the CRC up to the age of 18.2 The African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child  states that ‘a child means every human being below the age of 18 years’3, and so it does not limit its protections in States where majority is attained earlier.

2.2 Definition of a CHRD


DHRD Article 1

Everyone has the right, individually and in association with others, to promote and to strive for the protection and realization of human rights and fundamental freedoms at the national and international levels.

The Declaration does not contain a definition of a HRD, although Article 1 sets out the scope of the activity that is covered. It also extends to ‘everyone’, making clear that there is no minimum age to act for the protection, promotion and fulfilment of human rights. Children across the world are acting as HRDs, although they do not always use the term to describe themselves and are not always seen or described as HRDs by adults. Part of this is connected to children’s understanding of what a HRD is and does. This is often based on adult assumptions and language with the result that some human rights activities are classified as forms of ‘civic engagement’ or terms such as ‘child’ activist (as opposed to ‘human rights’ activist) or activities such as child/youth empowerment are used in preference. Children should be free to choose what to call themselves. However, irrespective of that, they should enjoy their human rights both as children and as HRDs.

I imagine human rights defenders as a very intense role, marching/protesting, working at the United Nations. However, when you think about it, in the small things you can also defend human rights, and then you realize you are one [a defender] indeed. 

Latin America and the Caribbean

The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) defines HRDs as those who ‘individually or with others, act to promote or protect human rights.’4

Building on DGD2018, the Guide uses the following applied definition of CHRDs:  

Children who take actions to promote, protect and fulfil human rights, including children’s rights, are human rights defenders, even if they do not see themselves as such, or are not considered and called as such by others.5

This applied definition addresses (a) the misconception that CHRDs only work on children’s rights and (b) the reality that many CHRDs do not use the term and/or there is adult resistance to acknowledging that children can be CHRDs.

CHRDs act on a wide range of human rights issues. Some of these are connected to their own rights and those of other children (i.e. children claiming their right to education can have important consequences for their own rights and the rights of other children) and some are focused on human rights affecting everyone (such as environmental rights and poverty).

The OHCHR states that HRDs are identified ‘above all by what they do’ and it is through a description of their actions that the term can best be explained. The actions that are identified as examples of human rights activity are as follows: local, national, regional and international action; collecting and disseminating information on violations; supporting victims of human rights violations; action to secure accountability and to end impunity; supporting better governance and government policy; contributing to the implementation of human rights treaties; human rights education and training.6 


Examples of CHRDs

  • A child, member of a Children’s Parliament, who conducts advocacy work to make sure that his/her government respects its international human rights obligations;
  • A child who raises awareness of children’s rights among his/her peers;
  • A child who seeks justice for the violation of his/her own rights to promote reforms in the public interest; 
  • A child who participates in a peaceful assembly to protest against injustices and stand up for human rights; 
  • A child who monitors the implementation of the CRC and submits an alternative report to the Committee.

While there are children all over the world who will fit within the above definition of a CHRD, the reality for most children is different: not only will they not know about human rights and/or what that means/implies but they live in societies where speaking out is unacceptable generally, let alone speaking up for human rights. In many societies and contexts, it is inconceivable to children that they should speak up against adults’ authority. The challenges can be further compounded in authoritarian regimes – adding political barriers to social and cultural ones. In spite of this reality, the human rights obligations of States remain and the guidance that follows is for all States, albeit acknowledging the very different social, political and economic contexts in which the rights of CHRDs, actual or prospective, must be realized.


1 Archard, D. and Tobin, J. in Tobin, J. (Ed.) (2019) The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child: A Commentary, p.22.
2 See for example Committee on the Rights of the Child, Concluding observations: Côte d’Ivoire CRC/C/CIV/CO/2, para 18; Albania CRC/C/ALB/CO/2-4, para 26; Myanmar CRC/C/ MMR/CO/3-4, para 34; Thailand CRC/C/THA/CO/3-4, para 32 and Bangladesh CRC/C/BGD/ CO/4, para 31(a).
3 African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child, art. 2 (1990).
4 OHCHR (2004) Fact Sheet No. 29, Human Rights Defenders: Protecting the Right to Defend Human Rights, p. 2. Retrieved 8 Oct 2020, from: Publications/FactSheet29en.pdf.
5 United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child (2018) 2018 Day of General Discussion Outcomes Report: Protecting and Empowering Children as Human Rights Defenders, p.5.
6 OHCHR (2004) Fact Sheet No. 29, Human Rights Defenders: Protecting the Right to Defend Human Rights. Retrieved 8 Oct 2020, from: Publications/FactSheet29en.pdf.

Table of Contents



Child Human Rights Defender


Convention on the Rights of the Child


Children’s Rights Impact Assessment


Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities


Human Rights Defender


International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights


National Human Rights Institution


Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights


Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on a Communications Procedure


Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe


Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Violence against Children 


Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict

The Committee

Committee on the Rights of the Child 

The Declaration or DHRD

The United Nations Declaration on the Right and Responsibility of Individuals, Groups and Organs of Society to Promote and Protect Universally Recognized Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms

The Special Rapporteur

Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders


United Nations