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III. Obligations Arising from the Human Rights of Particular Groups

1. Children

Children have the right to protection from drugs and exploitation in the drug trade. They have the right to be heard in matters concerning them with due regard for their age and maturity, and their best interests shall be a primary consideration in drug laws, policies, and practices.

In accordance with these rights, States shall:

i. Take all appropriate measures, including legislative, administrative, social, and educational measures, to protect children from the illicit use of narcotic drugs and psychotropic substances as defined in relevant international treaties and to prevent the use of children in the illicit production and trafficking of such substances. ‘Appropriate measures’ are evidence based and compliant with wider human rights norms.

To facilitate the above, States should:

ii. Obtain and disseminate age-disaggregated data on drug use and related harms and on the nature of children’s involvement in the illicit drug trade.

Commentary:

Almost all States have ratified or acceded to the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which has 196 States Parties. It provides that children – defined as anyone under the age of 18 unless under the applicable national law the age of majority is achieved earlier[608] – shall be protected from the illicit use of narcotic drugs and psychotropic substances and from being exploited or ‘used’ in the illicit drug trade.[609] It is one of the only instruments in international human rights law to refer explicitly to drugs. The drug trade is also a subject of the International Labour Organization Convention concerning the Prohibition and Immediate Action for the Elimination of the Worst Forms of Child Labour.[610]

The Convention on the Rights of the Child’s provision on protection from drugs is broadly framed, engaging a wide range of children’s rights, including the right to health.[611] Protection from drugs must therefore be understood in the light of the Convention as a whole, in conformity with its generally ‘holistic’ approach. The provision requires that ‘appropriate measures’ be undertaken. While this phrase is lacking in sufficient detail, it is a general obligation of due diligence. Moreover, the Commission on Narcotic Drugs has stated that measures to protect children must be evidence based and compliant with children’s rights.[612] This general test reflects approaches to other rights in the Convention.[613]

Children have the right to have their best interests taken into account in all matters that affect them.[614] They have the right to be heard in such matters, with ‘the views of the child being given due weight in accordance with the age and maturity of the child’.[615] These are considered two of the four ‘general principles’ of the Convention that underpin the interpretation of all other articles, including in relation to child health.[616]

The Committee on the Rights of the Child has consistently made recommendations on drug-related issues to individual States and has addressed drug-related issues across its general comments, from adolescent health to children in street situations to children’s right to health.[617]

States should collect and disseminate age-disaggregated data on drug use and involvement in the drug trade. This requirement flows from children’s right to health,[618] the right to protection from drugs,[619] and protection from discrimination.[620] This has been a consistent recommendation of the Committee on the Rights of the Child.[621] Age disaggregation for those under 18 – or legal minors by national standards – is required to capture the age group for whom child rights law and child protection standards apply. Nonetheless, data on drug use and related harms among children are generally poor in all but the highest-income countries.

Further guidance on implementing the Convention is available in the Committee on the Rights of the Child’s general comment on the ‘general measures of implementation’.[622]

Relationship to the UN drug control conventions

The Convention on the Rights of the Child refers to the protection of children from the illicit use of narcotic drugs and psychotropic substances ‘as defined in the relevant international treaties’.[623] At the time of the Convention’s drafting, the treaties in force were the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs and the 1971 Convention on Psychotropic Substances. The reference to these treaties was intended to indicate those substances from which children should be protected under this provision, not the kinds of interventions that the Convention required.[624] Similar wording appears in the International Labour Organization Convention concerning the Prohibition and Immediate Action for the Elimination of the Worst Forms of Child Labour[625] and the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child.[626]

  • 608. ^

    Convention on the Rights of the Child, G.A. Res. 44/25 (1989), art. 1.

  • 609. ^

    Convention on the Rights of the Child, G.A. Res. 44/25 (1989), art. 33.

  • 610. ^

    International Labour Organization, Convention concerning the Prohibition and Immediate Action for the Elimination of the Worst Forms of Child Labour, C182 (1999), art. 3(c).

  • 611. ^

    Convention on the Rights of the Child, G.A. Res. 44/25 (1989), arts. 24, 33.

  • 612. ^

    Commission on Narcotic Drugs, Resolution 58/2: Supporting the Availability, Accessibility and Diversity of Scientific Evidence-Based Treatment and Care for Children and Young People with Substance Use Disorders (2015); Commission on Narcotic Drugs, Resolution 60/7: Promoting Scientific Evidence-Based Community, Family and School Programmes and Strategies for the Purpose of Preventing Drug Use among Children and Adolescents (2017).

  • 613. ^

    See J. Tobin (ed.), A Commentary on the Convention on the Rights of the Child (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2019).

  • 614. ^

    Convention on the Rights of the Child, G.A. Res. 44/25 (1989), art. 3.

  • 615. ^

    Convention on the Rights of the Child, G.A. Res. 44/25 (1989), art. 12.

  • 616. ^

    Committee on the Rights of the Child, General Comment No. 5: General Measures of Implementation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, UN Doc. CRC/GC/2003/5 (2003); Committee on the Rights of the Child, General Comment No. 12: The Right of the Child to Be Heard, UN Doc. CRC/C/GC/12 (2009), paras. 101, 102; Committee on the Rights of the Child, General Comment No. 14: The Right of the Child to Have His or Her Best Interests Taken as a Primary Consideration, UN Doc. CRC/C/GC/14 (2013), paras. 77, 78.

  • 617. ^

    See Committee on the Rights of the Child, General Comment No. 25: Children’s Rights in relation to the Digital Environment, UN Doc. CRC/C/GC/25 (2021), paras. 97, 114; Committee on the Rights of the Child, General Comment No. 21: Children in Street Situations, UN Doc. CRC/C/GC/21 (2017), para. 53; Committee on the Rights of the Child, General Comment No. 15: The Right of the Child to the Highest Attainable Standard of Health, UN Doc. CRC/C/GC/15 (2013), para. 66; Committee on the Rights of the Child, General Comment No. 3: HIV/AIDS and the Rights of the Child, UN Doc. CRC/GC/2003/3 (2003), para. 39; Committee on the Rights of the Child, General Comment No. 20: Implementation of the Rights of the Child during Adolescence, UN Doc. CRC/C/GC/20 (2016), para. 64.

  • 618. ^

    Convention on the Rights of the Child, G.A. Res. 44/25 (1989), art. 24.

  • 619. ^

    Convention on the Rights of the Child, G.A. Res. 44/25 (1989), art. 33.

  • 620. ^

    Convention on the Rights of the Child, G.A. Res. 44/25 (1989), art. 2.

  • 621. ^

    See, e.g., Committee on the Rights of the Child, Concluding Observations: Yugoslavia, UN Doc. CRC/C/15/Add.49 (1996), para. 40; Committee on the Rights of the Child, Concluding Observations: Jordan, UN Doc. CRC/C/15/Add.125 (2000), paras. 47–48; Committee on the Rights of the Child, Concluding Observations: Uzbekistan, UN Doc. CRC/C/UZB/CO/2 (2006), paras. 50–51; Committee on the Rights of the Child, Concluding Observations: Italy, UN Doc. CRC/C/ITA/CO/3-4 (2011), para. 54; Committee on the Rights of the Child, Concluding Observations: Mexico, UN Doc. CRC/C/MEX/CO/4-5 (2015), para. 50(d); Committee on the Rights of the Child, Concluding Observations: Angola, UN Doc. CRC/C/AGO/CO/5-7 (2018), para. 30(c); see also Committee on the Rights of the Child, General Comment No. 5: General Measures of Implementation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, UN Doc. CRC/GC/2003/5 (2003).

  • 622. ^

    Committee on the Rights of the Child, General Comment No. 5: General Measures of Implementation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, UN Doc. CRC/GC/2003/5 (2003).

  • 623. ^

    Convention on the Rights of the Child, G.A. Res. 44/25 (1989), art. 33.

  • 624. ^

    D. Barrett and J. Tobin, ‘Article 33: Protection from Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances’, in J. Tobin (ed.), A Commentary on the Convention on the Rights of the Child (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2019), pp. 1273–1309.

  • 625. ^

    International Labour Organization, Convention concerning the Prohibition and Immediate Action for the Elimination of the Worst Forms of Child Labour, C182 (1999), art. 3(c).

  • 626. ^

    African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child, OAU Doc. CAB/LEG/24.9/49 (1990), art. 28.

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