7. The 1959 Declaration of the Rights of the Child

The Declaration of the Rights of the Child evolves into the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child

In 1978, the UN Commission on Human Rights put forth a draft of a Convention on the Rights of the Child for consideration by a working group of Member States, agencies and intergovernmental and non-governmental organisations. A year later to mark the twentieth anniversary of the 1959 Declaration of the Rights of the Child, the United Nations General Assembly declared 1979 as the International Year of the Child, in which UNICEF plays a leading role. It would be another decade before the Convention on the Rights of the Child is adopted by the United Nations General Assembly and widely acclaimed as a landmark achievement for human rights, recognising the roles of children as social, economic, political, civil and cultural actors. The Convention guarantees and sets minimum standards for protecting the rights of children in all capacities. UNICEF, which helped draft the Convention, is named in the document as a source of expertise.

South Africa ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) on 16 June 1995. (It was the first international treaty that the new democratic government ratified.) The UNCRC became the first legally binding international convention to affirm human rights for all children.

The 1990 African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child (ACRWC)

In addition South Africa is a signatory to the ACRWC, a regional commitment advancing the rights of children in Africa. 


Audio Visual

President Mandela gives his State of the Nation address in Parliament. Mandela ends his address with the words, “Let us all get down to work”.

“We must construct that people-centred society of freedom in such a manner that it guarantees the political and the human rights of all our citizens.”– President Mandela, extract from State of the Nation Address, 24 May 1994

President Nelson Mandela announces his cabinet. It includes members of the African National Congress, National Party and Inkatha Freedom Party.

“There was pride in serving in the first democratic government in South Africa, and then the additional pride of serving under the iconic leadership of Nelson Mandela … [He] represented the hopes of not just our country, but of oppressed, marginalised and the poor in the world.”– Jay Naidoo, then Minister of RDP housing
“We place our vision of a new constitutional order for South Africa on the table not as conquerors, prescribing to the conquered. We speak as fellow citizens to heal the wounds of the past with the intent of constructing a new order based on justice for all.”– President Nelson Mandela, 10 May 1994