The Convention on the Rights of the Child was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on 20th November 1989 and came into force on 2nd September 1990. It is a statement of children's rights, and over 150 countries are parties to it, although in some instances there are significant reservations. It has three overriding themes: the child's best interests, respect for the child's best interests, respect for the child's evolving capacities, and protection against all forms of discrimination. The UK Government ratified the Convention in December 1991. The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child now constitutes the most authoritative and comprehensive statement of the fundamental rights of children covering civil and political, social, economic, cultural, recreational and humanitarian rights. The expression "rights" must be treated with some caution, since many of the aspirations for children set out in the UN Convention could arguably never be enforced as legal rights by individual children in courts. Although there are several Conventions operating, one that is of greatest significance to the United Kingdom is the European Convention on Human Rights.
In broad terms the UK government is legally bound to follow policies which are in conformity with the general and specific obligations set forth in the UN Convention. It is not, however, open to individual children to bring proceedings before the national courts, based solely on alleged violations of the UN Convention which affect them. In order to achieve this result it would be necessary to incorporate the UN Convention into English law. The general aims of the UN Convention have been referred to as the "4P's"-Prevention, Protection, Provision and Participation. The UN Convention applies to "every human being" below the age of eighteen years, unless, under the law applicable to the child, majority is attained earlier".