Harm Reduction International, 05 January 2012

The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) is an international treaty which every UN member state, bar the US and Somalia, has ratified (agreed to be legally bound by).

It contains a comprehensive set of rights, including civil and political rights (e.g. freedom from torture, freedom of expression) and economic social and cultural rights (e.g. the right to an adequate standard of living), as well as others specific to children’s needs (e.g. the right to know and be cared for by ones parents, recognition of the child’s evolving capacities).

It is also the only core UN human rights treaty to refer to drugs.

Article 33 of the CRC requires that ‘States parties’ (jargon for States that have ratified the Convention) ‘shall take all appropriate measures, including legislative, administrative, social and educational measures to protect children from the illicit use of narcotic drugs and psychotropic substances, as defined in the relevant international treaties...’

It goes to require the prevention of the use of children in illicit production and trafficking, an obligation reflected in international child labour laws (ILO Convention 182 on the worst forms of child labour).

The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child was established under the CRC as the independent mechanism tasked with monitoring implementation of the Convention. As part of its mandate it receives periodic reports from States parties on their progress and issues ‘Concluding Observations’ or specific recommendations to those counties. (On harm reduction, see the recent concluding Observations on Ukraine, paras 60 and 61).

Soon, after a recently adopted protocol, the Committee will be able to receive complaints on violations of the CRC.  

The Committee also issues ‘General Comments’ on specific themes or articles intended to guide interpretation of the CRC. Past General Comments have included HIV/AIDS, Adolescent Health and Juvenile justice, all with direct relevant to drugs and harm reduction. The Committee is now in the process of drafting a General Comment on article 24 of the CRC which is about the child’s right to health.

As part of the drafting process, civil society organisations are invited to submit input. Harm Reduction International, Youth RISE and the Eurasian Harm Reduction Network have provided the Committee with a submission on drug use, an issue specifically requested by the Committee in its guidance note.

In the submission we provide our views on some of the normative content (underlying principles) and specific obligations relating to the right to health in the context of drug use, and when article 33 of the CRC is taken into account.

We also recommend a specific inquiry by the Committee and a General Comment on child rights, drug use and the drug trade.

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