A Historical Context for the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child

The United Nations (UN) Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) was a by-product of international commitments to human rights, but its history lies in the complex and contradictory developments of the twentieth century, when elevated expectations regarding the welfare of children confronted the realities of war. In the late nineteenth century, material conditions and reform efforts redefined the lives of children in the Western world and created new sentiments about childhood and investments in children’s progress. World Wars I and II exposed children’s acute vulnerability and the myth of inevitable progress. After each of these wars, defining what was owed to children and how best to meet their needs was part of larger international negotiations regarding power and prestige. Throughout this period, the involvement of women, a new Swedish presence in international diplomacy, and the growing role of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) affected what would become a rearticulation of child welfare and protection and a more active commitment to children’s rights.