The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child was written in 1989 and was signed by the New Zealand Government in 1993. This means that New Zealand has agreed to be bound by the rights set out in the Convention, and agrees to regularly report to the International Committee about how children’s rights are being recognised in this country.

The signing of the Convention was the beginning of a shift away from children being regarded as objects, to children being recognised as individuals with rights to be respected and the right to be treated fairly.

The basic idea of the Convention is that all children are born with fundamental freedoms and the inherent rights of all human beings. The word “children” is defined as all human beings below the age of 18 years.

Children’s rights, as set out in the Convention, include:

  • The right to life.
  • The right to a name, to acquire a nationality and as far as possible the right to know and be cared for by his or her parents.
  • The right not to be separated from his or her parents against their will, unless such separation is necessary for the best interests of the child.
  • The right to maintain personal relations and direct contact with both parents on a regular basis, except if it is contrary to the child’s best interests.
  • A child who is capable of forming his or her own views has the right to express those views freely in all matters affecting the child. The views of the child being given weight in accordance with the age and maturity of the child.
  • The right to be given the opportunity to be heard in any judicial proceedings affecting the child, either directly, or through a representative.
  • The right to rest and leisure, to engage in play and recreational activities appropriate to the age of the child and to participate freely in cultural life and the arts.
  • The right to be protected from all forms of physical or mental violence while in the care of parents, legal guardians or any other person.

Many of these rights are already principles that the Family Court takes into account when deciding matters relating to children in New Zealand, such as the right of a child to maintain contact with both parents, and the right to have the opportunity to be heard in Family Court matters.