Unit 1. The Context for Children
Unit 2: Understanding child abuse
Unit 3: Understanding child safeguarding
Unit 4: Safeguarding concerns and abuse

4.1: Child safeguarding and the law

Child safeguarding and the law

Children share protected universal human rights with all other persons but, in addition, because of their dependence, vulnerability and developmental needs, they also have certain additional rights. The legal basis for prioritised action on behalf of children is well established in international law. The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) provides a comprehensive code of rights that offers the highest standards of protection and assistance for children of any international instrument.

The issue of legal status of children is particularly important and has very important implications for ensuring birth registration. As a matter of principle, children should not be detained and there are a number of special measures to protect children from unlawful or arbitrary detention. Refugee and displaced children are particularly at risk from many types of abuse and exploitation, including child labour and sexual exploitation. Their rights to protection are established through the UNCRC and other international instruments.

The maintenance of family unity and the reunification of families has been established as a priority in international law. Education is recognised as a universal human right established through a wide range of international and regional instruments. The UNCRC establishes the right to the highest attainable standard of health for children. The civil rights and freedoms established under the UNCRC apply equally to all children, who should be provided with opportunities to express their views in any matter affecting them and encouraged to participate in the activities of the community.

The UNCRC and other instruments provide the right to specific protection for children in situations of armed conflict.

The UNCRC defines a ‘child’ as everyone under 18 years of age, unless, under the law applicable to the child, majority is attained earlier (Article 1). For normal purposes, this means that it can be applied to everyone up to the age of 18, unless it is demonstrated that they are an adult under the applicable national law for all purposes or for this specific purpose. In any case, the ‘scheme’ of the UNCRC suggests that this exception should be interpreted as an empowering one, in other words, that under-18s can claim the benefits of adulthood if granted by national law while still being able to claim the protection of the UNCRC.

In some countries, it may be more dangerous to children and other witnesses if child abuse concerns are reported to the national authorities. We must always remember the principle that what is in the best interest of the child is paramount.


➜ The Legal Framework for Child Protection from Keeping Children Safe ‘Understanding Child Safeguarding – A Facilitators’ Guide

Read more:

➜ United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC)