International Human Rights Law

Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC)

Children impacted by conflict-related sexual violence are rights-holders and therefore entitled to protection, justice, physical and psychological recovery and social reintegration, as outlined in the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

Luis Ernesto Pedernera Reyna, Chair of the CRC Committee (2017-2021)1

I. Introduction🔗

The Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) entered into force on 2 September 1990. States Parties have committed to respect and ensure ‘the civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights of children. The Convention provides for the realization of these rights by setting standards for health, education, legal, civil, and social services for children’.2 The Committee on the Rights of Child monitors States’ implementation of the CRC.3

Note to reader
For an explanation of the Committee’s powers and other international legal mechanisms that may available to enforce a State’s obligations under the CRC, please consult the “Ratification and Enforcement of Treaties” chapter, “International Human Rights Law” section.

I.1 Children under the CRC🔗

The CRC applies to all children. Under article 1, ‘a child means every human being below the age of eighteen years unless under the law applicable to the child, majority is attained earlier’. While the CRC recognises the rights of all persons under 18 years, States should consider children’s development and their evolving capacities when implementing their rights.4

‘Evolving capacities’ refers to ‘the process of maturation and learning through which children progressively acquire competencies, understanding and increasing levels of agency to take responsibility and exercise their rights’.5

Approaches adopted to ensure the realisation of adolescents’ rights often differ significantly from those adopted for younger children. While the Committee has recognised ‘that adolescence is not easily defined, and that individual children reach maturity at different ages’, it has described adolescence as the period of childhood from 10 years until the 18th birthday.6

I.2 CRSV under the CRC🔗

Under article 19(1), violence against children encompasses ‘all forms of physical or mental violence, injury or abuse, neglect or negligent treatment, maltreatment or exploitation, including sexual abuse’.

The Committee has defined child sexual abuse as comprising ‘any sexual activities imposed by an adult on a child, against which the child is entitled to protection by criminal law. Sexual activities are also considered as abuse when committed against a child by another child, if the child offender is significantly older than the child victim or uses power, threat or other means of pressure’. However, sexual activities between children are not considered as sexual abuse if the children are older than the age limit defined by the State ‘for consensual sexual activities’.7

Beyond the forms of sexual violence listed in the Introduction to the Guidebook, child sexual abuse also includes:

  • The inducement or coercion of a child ‘to engage in any unlawful or psychologically harmful sexual activity’;
  • The use of children ‘in commercial sexual exploitation’;
  • The use of children ‘in audio or visual images of child sexual abuse’, including online;8
  • Child prostitution, sexual slavery, sexual exploitation in travel and tourism;9
  • Trafficking,10 within and between countries, and including as a result of illegal adoption;11 and
  • Sale of children for sexual purposes and forced marriage.12 The sale of children ‘involves some form of commercial transaction, which trafficking in children does not require’. Moreover, while trafficking always has the intended purpose of exploiting the child, ‘this purpose is not a required constitutive element for the sale of children, although the effect of the sale can still be exploitative’.13

Whether sexual violence is conflict-related is irrelevant to the CRC’s application. While recognising the particularly severe effects of ‘armed conflict, political instability and presence of armed groups’,14 the Committee has stated that the CRC and its Optional Protocols ‘apply at all times’. There are no provisions allowing for the suspension of children’s rights during emergencies;15 the State Party ‘bears the primary responsibility to protect children and should therefore take immediate measures to prevent further violence against them’.16

II. Legal Framework🔗

Note to reader
On the authoritativeness and the question of bindingness of the Committee’s work, consult the “International Human Rights Law” chapter, “Introduction” section, and the “Introduction” chapter, “Methodology” section.

III. Obligations🔗


III.1 States must criminalise CRSV🔗

III.2 States’ obligations under the CRC must be fulfilled both within and outside their territory🔗

III.3 States must address CRSV committed by non-State actors🔗

III.4 Decentralisation of power does not negate or reduce States’ obligations under the CRC🔗

III.5 States must ensure the best interests of the child in eliminating CRSV🔗

III.6 States must ensure children’s right to express views and consider them in eradicating CRSV🔗

III.7 Special protection against CRSV is owed to children facing multiple, intersecting forms of discrimination🔗

III.8 Special protection against CRSV is owed to migrant children🔗

III.9 States should not detain children🔗

III.10 States must ensure children are not recruited in or used by parties to a conflict🔗

III.11 States should regulate the arms trade🔗

III.12 States must educate their population on CRSV🔗

III.13 States should establish national human rights mechanism to help them eradicate CRSV🔗

III.14 States should cooperate with other actors to eradicate CRSV🔗

III.15 States should ratify other instruments of international law to eliminate CRSV🔗

III.16 States should monitor CRSV and report on the measures adopted to eradicate it to the Committee🔗

Justice and Accountability🔗

III.17 States must investigate and prosecute CRSV effectively🔗

III.18 States must establish a child-friendly justice system for child perpetrators🔗

III.19 States should provide child victims/survivors of CRSV with access to justice🔗

Humanitarian Response🔗

III.20 States must provide child victims/survivors of CRSV with appropriate care🔗


III.21 States should provide child victims/survivors of CRSV with effective remedies and reparations🔗

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