The Committee on the Rights of the Child, a body of currently 18 independent experts monitoring the implementation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child by its State Parties, has published its General Comment No. 15 on the right of the child to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of health (article 24). The Convention sets out the civil, political, economic, social, health and cultural rights of children, who are defined as every human being below the age of eighteen years unless the age of majority is attained earlier according to national legislation.
According to article 24 of the Convention, State Parties ‘recognize the right of the child to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of health and to facilities for the treatment of illness and rehabilitation of health.’ They shall ‘strive to ensure that no child is deprived of his or her right of access to such health care services.’ This General Comment no. 15 provides guidance and support to State parties and other duty bearers (governmental and non-governmental, private sector and funding organizations) across all levels of governance for respecting, protecting and fulfilling children’s right to health.
The Committee states that despite remarkable achievements since the adoption of the Convention in terms of fulfilling children’s right to health, remarkable challenges remain. A ‘majority of mortality, morbidity and disabilities among children could be prevented if there were political commitment and sufficient allocation of resources directed towards the application of available knowledge and for prevention, treatment and care.’ According to Navanethem Pillay, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, 6.9 million children die yearly before they turn five, with over two thirds of them due to diseases that can be prevented and treated. Three hundred children die every hour because of malnutrition, which also stunts the development of an estimated 170 million children.
The Committee lists a variety of factors affecting Children’s health. These include new health problems and changing health priorities, such as HIV/AIDS, pandemic influenza, non-communicable diseases. They also include structural determinants, such as the global economic and financial situation, poverty, unemployment, migration and population displacements, war and civil unrest. Other factors identified by the Committee include macro-drivers such as climate change and rapid urbanization, and the development of new technologies (vaccines and pharmaceuticals).
The Committee observes that in many countries, technological advancements and additional resources in the health sector have not led to universal access to basic children’s health services. It calls for the involvement of a wide range of duty bearers with states ensuring that these have sufficient awareness, knowledge and capacity to fulfil their obligations as well as enable children to claim their right to health.
The Comment therefore reaches out to a variety of stakeholders in the field of children’s rights and public health, and is relevant to a wide range of health problems, systems and contexts across different states. In terms of Convention articles addressed the Comment primarily focusses on articles 24.1 and 24.2. It outlines principles and premises for realizing children’s right to health (such as the indivisibility and interdependence of children’s rights, the right to non-discrimination, the right of the child to be heard), the normative content of article 24.1 and article 24.2, obligations and responsibilities of state and non-state actors, as well as a framework for implementation and accountability to be applied for realizing and achieving children’s right to health.
Besides the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the Committee also monitors the implementation of two optional protocols to the Convention, on the involvement of children in armed conflict and on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography. General Comments are an authoritative interpretation used to clarify the normative contents of specific rights provided for under the Convention, or particular issues and topics of relevance to the Convention, and they offer guidance on of implementation measures for States Parties.
More information about the Committee, the Convention, and General Comment No. 15 can be obtained here.