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OISE marks 30 years of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child

November 20, 2019

By Perry King   


“In all actions concerning children, whether undertaken by public or private social welfare institutions, courts of law, administrative authorities or legislative bodies, the best interests of the child shall be a primary consideration.” Convention on the Rights of the Child, Part I, Article 3, Section I


On Nov. 20, 1989, most member states of the United Nations signed the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), a human rights treaty that set out the civil, political, economic, social, health and cultural rights of children. With the Canadian government’s ratification of the Convention in 1991, the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education has worked tirelessly to develop a children’s rights approach to education and assist others in doing so.

OISE professors have studied children’s rights as they affect provincial policies for decades and have consulted with many organizations, including UNICEF, and have developed resource guides and toolkits for educators. Many of OISE’s scholars have made children and youth central to their research and advocacy since the Institute's inception in 1965.  

Read Professor Charles Pascal's op-ed on the CRC for the Toronto Star

To mark the 30th anniversary, a number of these educational leaders are reflecting on the CRC’s significance. We asked them what remains to be done to truly honour and support the youngest of our young people going forward.

This is what they have said:


Michele Peterson-Badali
Professor and Associate Dean, Research, International & Innovation

Human rights are vital legal and social mechanisms for promoting the wellbeing of individuals and groups; but rights are not equally available to all members of society. To protect children from harm and promote their development and participation, we have to understand how children themselves think about rights. For 30 years I have been researching children’s developing thinking about rights and the implications of this for policy and practice.

The education system has a central role to play in supporting children’s developing knowledge and understanding about their rights. Fostering this understanding is key to promoting children’s development as citizens, their respect for the rights of others, social responsibility, and a commitment to justice and equity. While Canada has come a long way in 30 years, we still have a long way to go.

Sean Monteith 
PhD student and Director of Education, Hastings and Prince Edward District School Board

As a northerner growing up in an Indigenous way of life, one being connected to the land and water, I continue to aspire to a future where all Indigenous children and youth are afforded rich opportunities to grow and contribute to their communities and society at large. I also hope non-Indigenous peoples will learn from Indigenous ways of being as an important contribution to their personal and collective journeys.

Ahmed Ali Ilmi
Provost's Postdoctoral Fellow

All children have the right to access to education so they can become productive members of society. So what happens when children, particularly black boys, aren’t afforded the opportunities to excel in education? As we think of the challenges facing Black boys, we need to think through a holistic human rights lens to achieve better outcomes and to build a more just society.  The celebration of the 30th anniversary of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child should act as a stark reminder to pay urgent attention to these rights to build better schools and communities for all children.

Hilary Inwood
Lead, Environmental and Sustainability Education
Department of Curriculum, Teaching and Learning

For over 30 years, the UN CRC has made important strides forward to protect childrens basic rights; however, to truly ensure childrens health and wellness, the right of children to grow up in a safe and healthy environment must be enshrined in all we do. To respect intergenerational equity, and support their full development, all children must have access to clean air, safe drinking water, healthy food and secure shelter, free of environmental degradation and toxins.

Esther Geva
Professor, Department of Applied Psychology and Human Development

The right of every child to enjoy access to education of good quality, without discrimination or exclusion, means that we should strive to avoid over- and under-identification of culturally and linguistically diverse children with various childhood disorders. It also means that we should strive for equity in access to the best educational and mental health services and practices, regardless of cultural and linguistic diversity.

Hon. Marvin A. Zuker
Associate Professor, Department of Leadership, Higher and Adult Education

The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child has become the most universally accepted human rights instrument in the world, notwithstanding the US failure to sign on. The CRC requires Canada to support the right of every child to access education so that they may reach their fullest potential and live a responsible life in a free society. This is set out in Articles 28 and 29 of the CRC, which states in part that preparing the child must be in the spirit of understanding, peace, tolerance, equality of sexes and friendship among all peoples, ethnic, national and religious groups and persons of indigenous origin.

If we want to make Canada the best place in the world for a child to grow up, recognizing, respecting and promoting the rights of children and young people is essential to achieving this.