The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, adopted in 1989, is the global treaty outlining the human rights of the child. The Convention is ratified by all countries, except one, making it the most widely ratified human rights treaty in history. “States parties” to the Convention, the ones that have ratified it, have the obligation under international law to implement the treaty within their countries. A child-friendly version of the Convention, developed by UNICEF and Child Rights Connect, is available here.

Every human rights treaty has a group of experts or a “Treaty Body” that monitors State parties implementation of that treaty. The United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child (CRC) is the Treaty Body for the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC), which is made up of 18 independent experts responsible for ensuring State parties fulfil their obligations to the convention.

It is not always clear what steps States have to take to implement certain provisions included in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC). This is why the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child writes General Comments or an authoritative interpretation of the UNCRC that describes in detail how children’s rights are impacted as a result of a particular issue and spell out what States must do to uphold and defend these rights. The committee has adopted 25  General Comments including on the topics of health, business and migration. This General Comment is No. 26.

The achievement of General Comment No. 26 is the result of years of hard work across sectors and stakeholders, and especially, among children and young people. In 2016, the Committee organized a Day of General Discussion to draw attention to the relationship between children’s rights and the environment. It was the first time the two topics were linked in such a clear manner at the international level. Since then, the Committee and other actors have undertaken steps to clarify the meaning of children’s environmental rights and the corresponding obligations of States to realize this right. The Committee now thinks the time is ripe to bring all the existing knowledge about the topic together and develop recommendations that will help to protect the environment for the benefit of children and all future generations.

To ensure General Comment No.26 is representative of the diverse experiences and best interests of children globally, the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child took a collaborative, intergenerational approach to its development. The Committee’s work to develop the General Comment was supported by a steering group led by Terre des Hommes in collaboration with various stakeholders, including the Children’s Environmental Rights Initiative (CERI), OHCHR and Child Rights Connect, and guided by expert advisors and a Child Advisory Team. 

A series of consultations took place from December 2021 – February 2023 to inform the drafting of the General Comment. They included a diversity of stakeholders, especially children, young people and communities most impacted by the environmental crisis. The first phase of consultations informed the creation of the General Comment first draft, while the second sought feedback on the first draft.

An essential part of the development of General Comment No.26 was the involvement of children themselves. Recognising the enriching opportunities that greater involvement of children in the drafting process creates, Terre des Hommes established a global Children’s Advisory Team to support the development of General Comment No.26. The Children’s Advisory Team is made up of 12 child experts between the ages of 11 and 17 from different regions, backgrounds and with diverse lived experiences. Working with Terre des Hommes and local and regional supporting organisations, the Children’s Advisory Team played a key role in:

  • Co-designing ways for children worldwide to participate in consultations. 
  • Providing guidance to the Committee on General Comment No.26 based on the findings from the consultations with children. 
  • Co-creating the child-friendly versions and Our Planet, Our Rights, Our Voices.
  • Helping to raise awareness of General Comment No.26 with children worldwide.

From December 2021 – February 2023, offline and online consultations were held to inform the content and shape of General Comment No.26. This included consultations with children, designed with the Child Advisors, through which a total of 16,331 contributions from children across the world were received. Read about the findings here.

The General Comment No. 26 can have a significant impact for children worldwide. By highlighting the connection between children’s rights and the environmental crisis and States’ responsibilities to uphold children’s rights, it can be used to inform States and local authorities activities, including policies and programs. States will have to report periodically to the United Nations Committee on relevant progress they have made in protecting children’s environmental rights. The General Comment No. 26 can serve as a reference for the way international environmental agreements such as the Paris Climate Agreement are implemented, and can also be applied to the work of various stakeholders, such as United Nations organizations like UNICEF and UNEP and grassroots organizations.

In the end, the strength of the General Comment depends on the willingness of States to use it and of all other actors (NGOs, children and youth etc.) to advocate for it and draw attention to its relevance. For example, environmental and child rights defenders can use it to call on States to take certain steps or control their actions and hold them accountable.

According to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child  (UNCRC), a child means every human being below the age of 18 years. Across our work for General Comment No. 26, we use the phrase “children and young people”, recognising that older children often refer to themselves as young people, but this still refers to all those under the age of 18.

We are committed to making sure the child-friendly versions of General Comment No.26 and Our Planet, Our Rights, Our Voices are accessible to children across the world and wish to work with local, national and global partners to create further translations. If you would like to collaborate with us, please email: team@childrightsenvironment.org