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Report No. 259

Chapter - II

International Conventions, Treaties and Declarations

2.1 International Conventions and Declarations have been effective in mobilizing world communities on various social, economic, political, civil rights and human rights issues. Early Childhood Development (ECD) has gained international attention only in the recent past, although most conventions in the past being of a general nature applied to all people including children.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) (1948), which represents the first global expression of universally protecting fundamental human rights, pronounced the special rights of the child for the first time by providing that "Motherhood and childhood are entitled to special care and assistance. All children, whether born in or out of wedlock, shall enjoy the same social protection."7 The United Nations has played a prominent role in evolving ECD. In a General Discussion in 2004 dedicated to the theme of 'implementing child rights in early childhood', the General Assembly stated:

"having reviewed since 1993 the situation of child rights in almost all countries of the world, the rights of babies and young children are too often overlooked. This is so although it is widely recognized that early childhood is a crucial period for the sound development of young children and that missed opportunities during these early years cannot be made up at later stages of the child's life."8 This chapter gives an overview of a few relevant international conventions and declarations which have promoted ECD.

7 Article 25(2) of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 1948 available at (accessed 9 June 2015).

8 A Guide to General Comment 7: 'Implementing Child Rights in Early Childhood' United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child, United Nations Children's Fund and Bernard van Leer Foundation, 2006, available at (accessed on 9 June 2015).

2.2 The period after the First World War posed new challenges to several countries to protect society from the violence and upheaval in the society. The newly formed League of Nations (LON) established a Committee on the Child Welfare in 1919. In 1924, the LON adopted the Geneva Declaration, a historic document that recognized and affirmed for the first time the existence of rights specific to children and the responsibility of adults towards children.9

It established a five-point declaration which emphasized the basic requirements a society should meet in order to provide adequate protection and care for its children. The five points were:

(i) child must be given the means needed for its normal development, both materially and spiritually;

(ii) hungry child should be fed; sick child should be helped; erring child should be reclaimed; and the orphan and the homeless child should be sheltered and succoured;

(iii) child must be the first to receive relief in times of distress;

(iv) child must be put in a position to earn a livelihood and must be protected against every form of exploitation; and

(v) child must be brought up in the consciousness that its best qualities are to be used in the service of its fellow men.10

9 (accessed on July 15, 2015)

10 Geneva Declaration of the Rights of the Child adopted 26 September, 1924, League of Nations, available at

2.3 However, the United Nations took over the Geneva Declaration in 1946 after the Second World War, and with the adoption of the UDHR several shortcomings of the Geneva Declaration were revealed. Thus, a specialized agency of the UN - UNICEF (present nomenclature - United Nations Children's Fund) was established to promote care for the world's children.

The Declaration of the Rights of the Child, which reaffirmed the notion that "mankind owes to the Child the best that it has to give" was unanimously by all 78 Member States of the United Nations General Assembly in 1959.11 This Declaration expanded the five principles of the Geneva Declaration to ten -

(i) non-discrimination;

(ii) special protection, opportunities and facilities to develop physically, mentally, morally, spiritually and socially in a healthy and normal manner and in conditions of freedom and dignity;

(iii) the right to a name and nationality;

(iv) the right to social security, adequate nutrition, housing, recreation and medical services;

(v) the differently-abled child to be given special treatment, education and care;

(vi) the need for love and understanding so that the child grows in the care and responsibility of his/her parents, and in an atmosphere of affection and moral and material security;

(vii) entitlement to education, which should be free and compulsory, at least in the elementary stages:

(viii) the child should be among the first to receive protection and relief in all circumstances;

(ix) protection against all forms of neglect, cruelty and exploitation, including that associated with employment; and

(x) protection from practices that may foster racial, religious and other forms of discrimination.

Although the Declaration reflected the best intentions, it did not have any binding force on the Member States, who were not very effective in putting principles into practice. Further, the biggest drawback of both the Geneva Declaration (1924) and the Declaration of the Rights of the Child (1959) was that they failed to define 'child', which left uncertainty as to when childhood began and ended. Recognizing the significance of child welfare and development, the year 1979 was designated as the International Year of the Child (IYC).

11 Ibid

Early Childhood Development and Legal Entitlements Back

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