New General Comment on the Rights of the Child During Adolescence

Date: 13th December 2016
Category: General Comments

This newest of the General Comments recognises that 'Adolescents are agents of change and a key asset and resource with the potential to contribute positively to their families, communities and countries'.

General comments

On the basis of its consideration of State reports over the years, the Committee publishes 'general comments' to guide States on their international obligations under the Convention. As of 28 November 2016 the CRC Committee had issued 19 general comments, on subjects ranging from 'The Aims of Education' through 'the right of the child to have his or her best interests taken as a primary consideration' to 'public budgeting for the realization of children's rights'. The general comments are not legally binding, but contain legal analysis of the Convention's provisions.


General Comment on the Rights of the Child During Adolescence

The Convention on the Rights of the Child defines a child as every human being below the age of 18 years unless under the law applicable to the child majority is attained earlier, and emphasizes that States should respect and ensure the rights embodied in the Convention to each child within their jurisdiction without discrimination of any kind. While the Convention recognizes the rights of all persons under 18 years, the implementation of rights should take account of children's development and their evolving capacities. Approaches adopted to ensure the realization of the rights of adolescents differ significantly from those adopted for younger children.

Adolescence is a life stage characterized by growing opportunities, capacities, aspirations, energy and creativity, but also significant vulnerability. Adolescents are agents of change and a key asset and resource with the potential to contribute positively to their families, communities and countries. Globally, adolescents engage positively in many spheres, including health and education campaigns, family support, peer education, community development initiatives, participatory budgeting and creative arts, and make contributions towards peace, human rights, environmental sustainability and climate justice. Many adolescents are at the cutting edge of the digital and social media environments, which form an increasingly central role in their education, culture and social networks, and hold potential in terms of political engagement and monitoring accountability.

The Committee observes that the potential of adolescents is widely compromised because States parties do not recognize or invest in the measures needed for them to enjoy their rights. Data disaggregated by age, sex and disability are not available in most countries to inform policy, identify gaps and support the allocation of appropriate resources for adolescents. Generic policies designed for children or young people often fail to address adolescents in all their diversity and are inadequate to guarantee the realization of their rights. The costs of inaction and failure are high: the foundations laid down during adolescence in terms of emotional security, health, sexuality, education, skills, resilience and understanding of rights will have profound implications, not only for their individual optimum development, but also for present and future social and economic development.

In the present general comment, the Committee provides guidance to States on the measures necessary to ensure the realization of the rights of children during adolescence, cognizant also of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. It highlights the importance of a human rights-based approach that includes recognition and respect for the dignity and agency of adolescents; their empowerment, citizenship and active participation in their own lives; the promotion of optimum health, well-being and development; and a commitment to the promotion, protection and fulfilment of their human rights, without discrimination.

The Committee recognizes that adolescence is not easily defined, and that individual children reach maturity at different ages. Puberty occurs at different ages for boys and girls, and different brain functions mature at different times. The process of transitioning from childhood to adulthood is influenced by context and environment, as reflected in the wide variation in cultural expectations of adolescents in national legislations, which afford different thresholds for entry into adult activities, and across international bodies, which employ a variety of age ranges to define adolescence. The present general comment does not seek, therefore, to define adolescence, but instead focuses on the period of childhood from 10 years until the 18th birthday to facilitate consistency in data collection.

The Committee notes that several of its general comments have a particular resonance for adolescents, notably those relating to adolescent health and development, HIV/AIDS, eradicating practices that are harmful to women and children, unaccompanied and separated children and juvenile justice. The Committee emphasizes the particular significance for adolescents of the recommendations arising from the day of general discussion on digital media and children's rights. The present general comment has been developed to provide an overview on how the Convention in its entirety needs to be understood and implemented in respect of all adolescents and should be read together with other general comments and with documents arising from the day of general discussion.