Human rights for under 5s

Children's fingers pointing towards our Gaelic UNCRC Symbols poster on the ground

All children have rights, and that includes babies and very young children. 


All children have rights, and that includes babies and very young children. 

The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) expresses these rights within the framework of children’s lives and experiences.  The rights in the UNCRC are linked together and support each other – so supporting one right, like the right to participate in play, promotes other rights including the right to be heard, to free expression, to development and to education.

Long before young children can understand the concept of children’s rights, they can develop a sense of their own agency.  Babies and very young children can develop this through relationships with parents and carers, and through their surroundings and environment.  Their experience of these early relationships will influence their sense of self, how they view others and how they respond to their environment.

Babies and very young children need to be supported by the adults that care for them to make their own decisions and to be listened to. They need to feel that their ideas, thoughts and decisions are respected. 

They are finding out about their rights through how others treat them.  They are learning about expressing themselves, their interdependence with others, how valued they are.  They are also learning about sharing, making choices and their place in the world.

Early childhood is a critical period for the realisation of rights and good early years experiences increase the chances of children being able to realise their rights through childhood. 

Human rights for 0-2s         

What’s most important at this age?

The most important relationship in a baby’s life is the one with their parents or carers.  A child’s survival and growth depends on the care and nurturing the child receives within the family.  Love and responsive care, accepting relationships and being involved in everyday routines are important for babies.  This is how they begin to make sense of the world.  

Babies can express their interests through gaze, movement, facial expressions, noises and sounds.  It is important that they are given the opportunities to make decisions and to express themselves as they begin to realise their rights.  They can do this through exploration and play, by being offered and making choices and by being allowed to participate freely.  They need to develop a sense of their own agency and show their individual personality. 

An image of the Commissioner and staff talking with some younger children.

Human rights for 3-5s

What’s most important at this age?

This is the perfect starting point to engage young children in discussion and to increase awareness of their own rights.  They can learn how to build relationships, become responsible, manage their moods, develop a feelings vocabulary, make good choices, solve problems and feel that they and others belong.

Play is an important part of any very young child’s life.  It can help them learn to move, share, negotiate and to take on board others’ points of view.  It can give them a chance to make decisions, express themselves, develop a sense of agency and show their individual personality.  Article 31 of the UNCRC says that children have the right to relax, play and take part in artistic and cultural activities.  Play is essential to the health and wellbeing of children and is the main way that very young children can engage with their rights.

Article 12 of the UNCRC says that children have the right to have opinions and for these opinions to matter.  It says that the opinions of children should be considered when adults make decisions about them. As holders of rights even the youngest children have a right to express their view.  By the age of 3 most children can communicate ideas and thoughts in words.  They also communicate through play, body language, facial expression, drawing and painting.  They are able to make choices, express preferences and demonstrate an understanding of their environment.

It is the responsibility of adults to provide opportunities for children to express their views.  Adapting the child’s interests, levels of understanding and preferred ways of communicating.

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