Basic Human Rights Denied to Children Growing up Without Families

In honor of Universal Human Rights month, we're taking a look at a group of people routinely denied access to basic necessities.

Jennifer S. Jones December 23, 2017

There is no question that childhood is a special time. Countless professionals have examined how the physical, emotional, and mental development of a human being during the first few years of life lay the groundwork for that individual’s life. Children need care. They need care to survive physically and they need care to develop mentally and emotionally. Children need the security of growing up in a safe environment with access to food, clean water, and clothing. But for many children growing up without families, these basic human rights are denied.

What are "basic human rights"?
1. What are "basic human rights"?

The term “basic human rights” came from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). The Declaration was drafted by the United Nations General Assembly in 1948 and has since been used as a common standard for all peoples of all nations. Article 25 of the UDHR speaks directly to the rights of children, stating, “Childhood is entitled to special care and assistance. All children, whether born in or out of wedlock, shall enjoy the same protection.”

In 1990, the United Nations went even further and drafted the Convention on the Rights of the Child. The preamble of the Convention states that “the child, for the full and harmonious development of his or her personality, should grow up in a family environment, in an atmosphere of happiness, love, and understanding.” The Convention goes on to highlight several rights, including the right to care and protection, the right to the best health care possible, the right to safe water to drink and food to eat, the right to food, clothing, and a safe environment, and the right to play and rest.

There are millions of voiceless children.
2. There are millions of voiceless children.

The Convention has become the most widely ratified human rights treaty and has been adopted by 194 countries (Somalia, South Sudan, and the United States have yet to ratify the treaty). Even still, countless children are denied these basic human rights. Due to abandonment, poverty, conflict, violence, and HIV/AIDS, millions of children worldwide are at risk. According to UNCIEF (The United Nations Children’s Emergency Fund), there are 153 million orphans worldwide. Of those roughly, 15.1 million are double orphans*, and of these, an estimated 2-8 million children are in institutional care or living on the streets. (The reason for the large estimated span is that many countries underreport, or don’t report at all, children in institutional care.)

*UNICEF defines “orphan” as a “child under 18 years old who has lost one or both parents.” The reason for this definition dates back to the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the mid-1990s. During this time, many children lost one parent to the disease. The children would then either remain with the surviving parent or, more often, go on to be raised by extended family. Double orphans refer to children who have lost both of their parents and are effectively alone.

International adoption provides one solution.
3. International adoption provides one solution.

Some organizations will argue that taking a child from their country of origin is against Article 15 of the UDHR, as such an adoption would deny the child their birthright heritage. But both the UDHR and the Convention on Children’s Rights state “the child’s best interest should be the guiding principal” in any decision. Leaving children in institutional care, or on the streets, is a denial of their basic human rights. In recent years, one of the things we have learned is that early trauma lingers well beyond childhood. Children who experience a lack of security and a lack of access to the most basic provisions (like clean water, food, and a place to sleep) take years to recover from the experience, if recovery is even possible.

The chance to be placed with a forever family and to begin to heal from the traumas these children have faced should trump any sovereignty claim. Such claims are not in the best interest of the child and more importantly, do not take the child’s basic human rights into account: the right to be healthy, the right to basic securities, and the right to live in a safe, loving environment where they can blossom and grow with their forever families.

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Jennifer S. Jones

Jennifer S. Jones is a writer, performer, storyteller and arts educator. She holds an MFA (Playwriting) from NYU Tisch. She has written numerous plays including the internationally renowned, award-winning Appearance of Life. Her amazing transracial transcultural family was created through adoption from China and India. She is passionate about the adoption community and talks about the ins and outs, ups and downs, joys and "is this really us?!" whenever she can. She writes about her experiences at

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