Child Human Rights Defenders


Implementation Guide

3.2 Parents’/Guardians’ Rights and Duties

(Art. 3(2), 5, 18(1-2) CRC)

The interconnection between parents’/ guardians’ rights and children’s rights is one of the key differences that makes the rights of CHRDs distinctive from those of adult HRDs. There is simply no equivalent for other HRD – a fact that further underscores the importance of using the CRC to implement the Declaration. CHRDs’ exercise of their rights needs to take account of parents’ rights and duties in relation to their children. CHRDs report that some parents/guardians will want to protect children from harm and may restrict CHRD activity on that basis. Parents/ guardians may also be concerned about the impact on the child’s education. States can also play an important role by ensuring that CHRDs can act safely and in ways that are not detrimental to their education. They can also promote a positive attitude towards children who act as HRDs and support and inform parents/ guardians so that they can further empower CHRDs.

The CRC contains three provisions that refer to parents that are of particular relevance to CHRDs (Articles 5, 3(2) and 18(1)-(2)). These are discussed individually below followed by a discussion of how they might be implemented collectively in practice.  

Then someone else came out of the City Hall, started yelling and asking, “How old are you? Is this normal for minors to ask/request anything from the authorities? 

Eastern Europe

There are people who call us criminals or troublemakers for fighting for important issues that benefit society.

Latin America and the Caribbean

3.2.1 Parents’/ Guardians’ Rights and Duty to Provide Guidance


CRC Article 5

States Parties shall respect the responsibilities, rights and duties of parents or, where applicable, the members of the extended family or community as provided for by local custom, legal guardians or other persons legally responsible for the child, to provide, in a manner consistent with the evolving capacities of the child, appropriate direction and guidance in the exercise by the child of the rights recognized in the present Convention.

Article 5 plays a role across the whole Convention,  and is hugely important in this context given the influence that families will have as to whether and how a child acts as a HRD. The provision recognizes the distinctive and important role of parents/guardians and communities in children’s lives and reflects the reality that parents would play a role in assisting children realize their rights as their capacities evolve. 1 

Article 5 is unique as it makes parents and guardians rights-holders (and duty-bearers) in a Convention designed for another group. It extends to parents/guardians and ‘others legally responsible for the child’. That might include, for example, community leaders or elders in a tribe.  They are entitled to provide children with guidance in the exercise of all of their other rights. This includes all of the child’s civil and political rights as well as the child’s right to be protected from harm. Parents also have a duty to provide guidance – meaning that children are also entitled to receive guidance. That duty should be recognized in domestic law.

Legal obligation on parents/guardians for major decisions affecting a child

South African Children’s Act 38 of 2005, Section 31: ‘Before a person holding parental responsibilities and rights in respect of a child takes any decision contemplated in paragraph (b) involving the child, that person must give due consideration to any views and wishes expressed by the child, bearing in mind the child’s age, maturity and stage of development.’

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The right/duty to provide guidance must be exercised in line with the children’s ‘evolving capacities’. This phrase has been lifted out of Article 5 and increasingly used as an interpretative approach across the Convention, but it is there first and foremost to apply to the right and duty to give children guidance. This applies across a child’s life: there is no minimum age at which a child may act as a CHRD and many children begin to engage with human rights issues while at primary school. However, Article 5 recognizes that the level of  parents’/ guardians’ guidance will diminish as children mature. 2 The Committee has recognized that once  children have the capacity to enjoy and claim their rights independently, they no longer have a need to rely on the right to parental direction under Article 5. A key question is what the boundaries are and when, if at all, parents or guardians can deny their children permission to act as  CHRDs or limit the activities in which they take part. CHRDs recognize the need for support and guidance from parents and adults in their communities.

The human rights defender needs financial resources but also conviction, inspiration, will and love. A key aspect is the support and understanding of the people around her, a defender cannot work alone. As the defender is a child, she needs to work with others and learn from others. She needs guidance and support.

Latin America and the Caribbean

Others commented on the fact that parents tended to want their children to pursue education rather than any form of activism or were worried about their children’s safety.

Parents are more likely to have their children stay at home studying, rather than participating in child-led groups aiming at raising their voices in relation to child rights violation. 

Eastern Europe

However, many children were clear that the nature of the support should be to facilitate rather than prevent children from acting as HRDs. 

There is a need for greater guidance as to what is required of States to respect, protect and fulfil the rights of the child to receive parental guidance in line with their evolving capacities.3 States should not interfere arbitrarily with parents’/guardians’ rights, responsibilities and duties. However, a challenge may arise in practice where a parent/guardian refuses to let a child act as a CHRD. These concerns might vary depending on the child’s age and the perceived level of danger. For example parents might be reluctant to allow a child to act as a CHRD even where the child is mature enough to make a decision for him/herself if there is a concern about the repercussions of the activity (e.g. an adolescent wishes to start an online campaign that may expose him/her to online abuse). CHRDs accept that the degree of parental involvement may be linked to the level of risk involved in the activity, or cultural, religious or political considerations, but emphasized that this needs to be assessed taking the child’s views on this into account. In all cases, the obligation on States is to enable CHRDs to exercise their rights safely and to inform and support parents/guardians so that they can advise and guide children appropriately.

3.2.2 Right to Care and Protection with Guidance from Parents/Guardians


CRC Article 3(2)

States Parties undertake to ensure the child such protection and care as is necessary for his or her well-being, taking into account the rights and duties of his or her parents, legal guardians, or other individuals legally responsible for him or her, and, to this end, shall take all appropriate legislative and administrative measures.

Article 3(2) provides a strongly worded obligation on States to ensure the protection and care necessary for the child’s well-being. It receives little attention, largely because other Articles of the CRC address it collectively and some (such as Articles 19 and 18(2)) ‘mimic’ its content.4 It is of significance here as it underscores the obligation on the States to ‘defer’ to parents’ and guardians’ rights and duties.5 However, that deference is not absolute.6 There is a range of ways in which States might need to intervene to protect children’s well-being. It could be that parents are preventing a child from acting as a CHRD or coercing the child to act as a CHRD in circumstances where that may adversely affect the child’s well-being – e.g. encouraging the child to speak out publicly when that is likely to expose them to significant risk or to attend a protest that may be violent.

3.2.3. Parents’/Guardians’ Responsibilities and State Assistance


CRC Article 18

(1) States Parties shall use their best efforts to ensure recognition of the principle that both parents have common responsibilities for the upbringing and development of the child. Parents or, as the case may be, legal guardians, have the primary responsibility for the upbringing and development of the child. The best interests of the child will be their basic concern.

(2) For the purpose of guaranteeing and promoting the rights set forth in the present Convention, States Parties shall render appropriate assistance to parents and legal guardians in the performance of their child-rearing responsibilities and shall ensure the development of institutions, facilities and services for the care of children.

Much of Article 18 is focused on encouraging joint responsibility for children’s upbringing and on the support that the States should offer in this respect. However, the second part of Article 18(1) states that parents/ guardians ‘have the primary responsibility for the upbringing and development of the child. The child’s best interests will be their basic concern.’ This is highly relevant in the context of CHRDs, reading it alongside Article 5 and Article 3(2) in particular.

Children reported that parents/ guardians often discourage or do not give them permission to be involved in HRD activity as they are worried about their safety or impact on their education.

Parents usually don’t encourage us. We are asked to keep away from situations of violence. 


The barriers that I face as a human rights defender locally are my parents because they won’t allow me to defend my rights because it will harm me.


Some children recognized that their parents were concerned for their safety and best interests and accepted that. Others spoke of the support and encouragement they had from their families, sometimes after having to persuade them that it was appropriate, with the support of other CHRDs.

Yes there are challenges faced by children such as the refusal of their families to participate in any assembly; especially my friend at school, he has a desire to participate and see what is happening in the square but his family refused and he was not able to participate. I described what was happening in the square and encouraged him to go and there is nothing to fear about; and a time later, he succeeded to convince his father and he went to [the] square.


It helps us to feel accompanied by teachers, the school, our colleagues and families. That they believe in our word. That they give us a space to participate. That adults respect our decisions. That they teach us how to defend our rights.  

Latin America and the Caribbean

While Article 18 is often discussed in the context of parents’ responsibility to contribute to the realization of their children’s social and economic rights, it also applies to civil and political rights and includes ‘the fostering of values consistent with human rights.’7 This aligns with Article 16 of the Declaration which emphasizes the role that individuals have to play in raising public awareness of human rights. However, there has been very limited discussion of the fact that the responsibility of parents and guardians also applies to civil and political rights, such as the rights to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and association. States should ensure that the CHRD’s family and community have an understanding and appreciation of all children’s rights and that they can also access information and support, such as legal assistance and psychosocial interventions. 

Finally, there will be instances where parents/guardians refuse the child permission to take part in HRD activity. States will not often be aware of the breach in most cases and, if they are it may be considered more harmful or just not practical or advisable to intervene in family life unless the child is considered to be at risk of significant harm. However, the State should provide specific services for CHRDs and their parents/guardians that can enable conflicts to be resolved by agreement and in ways that empower both the parents/ guardians and the child. Furthermore, CHRDs must be able to access redress when restrictions violate their rights.

3.2.4. Parents’/ Guardians’ Rights: Summary of Implementation Measures

Some parents/ guardians will themselves be acting as HRDs and their activity will have had an impact on their children’s views and actions. Children whose families act as HRDs should be entitled to protection from discrimination or harms that may be a consequence of that (see section 3.1.1). Parents/ guardians should advise their children without manipulating them for their own purposes (see section 3.4.2). However, when parents/ guardians are not themselves involved in HRD activity, the State has an obligation to enable them to support their children to realize their rights. However, the reality is that many parents and guardians are making decisions every day without taking into consideration their own rights or their children’s or indeed knowledge or awareness of their obligations in this regard.

The State can play an important role in this regard by educating parents about children’s rights, including their civil and political rights, from early childhood on. States should also promote a positive image of CHRDs, addressing any religious and cultural concerns as well as gender and other stereotypes. States can also take steps to alleviate parents’/ guardians’ concerns that children will be safe when they act as CHRDs (see section 3.4.5) by fulfilling their obligations to protect children. And finally, States can provide schools and teachers with guidance on protecting the rights of CHRDs, including their right to education, that can address concerns that parents/guardians might have in that regard. If States act to inform and support CHRDs’ families and create an environment where CHRDs can act safely, they will enable parents/ guardians to fulfil their obligations under Article 5 of the CRC and empower their children to act as HRDs.


States should include right and duty of parents/ guardians to provide guidance to children in the exercise of their rights in relevant domestic law.


States should educate parents about human rights and children’s rights, including their civil and political rights, enabling them to make informed approaches when they are providing support and guidance to their children.  


States should empower parents/ guardians to support children who act as CHRDs by ensuring that children will be protected and that their education will not be adversely impacted. 


States should provide mechanisms whereby children can seek receive services and support in instances where there is a conflict between parents and children on the exercise of their rights.


States should provide accessible opportunities for CHRDs to seek redress when their rights have been restricted by parents/guardians.


1 Id. at p. 160.
2 Id. at p. 177.
3 Id. at p. 184.
4 Eekelaar, J. and Tobin, J. in Tobin, J. (Ed.) (2019) The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child: A Commentary, p. 101.
5 Id. at p. 103.
6 Id. at p. 103.
7 Tobin, J. and Seow, F. in Tobin, J. (Ed.) (2019) The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child: A Commentary, p. 657.

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