The Human Rights Imperative

The continuing medical neglect of child TB, resulting in millions of avoidable deaths, constitutes a human rights violation by any reasonable measure. Multiple international agreements state that equal access to medical care is a basic human right, along with the right to enjoy the highest level of personal health possible. These treaties are considered legally binding on all signatory nations. Furthermore, many signatories have passed laws to bring their national constitutions into alignment with these international obligations. Set out below is a digest of key treaties with specific articles and addenda relating to children’s rights and health as a human right.

Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC)

Committee on the Rights of the Child

Article 6: States Parties shall ensure, to the maximum extent possible, the survival and development of the child.

Article 24: States Parties should recognise the right of the child to the highest attainable standard of health and to facilities for the treatment of illness and rehabilitation of health. States Parties shall strive to ensure that no child is deprived of his or her right of access to such healthcare services… States Parties shall pursue full implementation of this right and, in particular, shall take appropriate measures to: (a) diminish infant and child mortality… (c) combat disease and malnutrition, including within the framework of primary healthcare and, among other things, the application of readily available technology.

Comment 4.4 (B): Accessibility. Health facilities, goods and services should be known and easily accessible (economically, physically and socially) to all adolescents, without discrimination.

Comment 5.8: Whatever their economic circumstances, states are required to undertake all possible measures towards the realisation of the rights of the child, paying special attention to the most disadvantaged groups. In case of any conflict in legislation, predominance should always be given to the Convention, in the light of article 27 of the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties, while only states are party to the Covenant and thus, ultimately, accountable for compliance with it. All members of society and individuals, including health professionals, families, local communities, inter-governmental and non-governmental organisations and civil society organisations, as well as the private business sector, have responsibilities regarding the realisation of the right to health…

Comment 15 (IIB): In order to fully realise the right to health for all children, State Parties have an obligation to ensure that children’s health is not undermined as a result of discrimination, which is a significant factor contributing to vulnerability. Children in disadvantaged situations and under-served areas should be a focus of efforts to fulfil children’s right to health. (IIIA): Children are entitled to quality health services, including prevention, promotion, treatment, rehabilitation and palliative care services. At the primary level, these services must be available in sufficient quantity and quality, be functional, be within the physical and financial reach of all sections of the child population, and be acceptable to all.

1996 Revised European Social Charter (ESCR)

European Committee of Social Rights

Article 1.11: Everyone has the right to benefit from any measures that enable him to enjoy the highest possible standard of health attainable.

Article 7: Children and young people have the right to a special protection against the physical and moral hazards to which they are exposed.

Article 11.3: …to prevent as far as possible epidemic, endemic and other diseases…

Article 13.1: …to ensure that any person who is without adequate resources and who is unable to secure such resources – either by his own efforts or from other sources, in particular through benefits under a social security scheme – be granted adequate assistance and, in case of sickness, the care necessitated by his condition…

Article 17: Mothers and children, irrespective of marital status and family relations, have the right to appropriate social and economic protection.

American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man (ADRDM)

Inter-American Court of Human Rights

Article VII. All women, during pregnancy and the nursing period, and all children have the right to special protection, care and aid.

Article XI. Every person has the right to the preservation of his or her health through sanitary and social measures relating to food, clothing, housing and medical care, to the extent permitted by public and community resources.

American Convention on Human Rights (ACHR)

Inter-American Court of Human Rights

Article 19. Every child has the right to the measures of protection, required by his condition as a minor, on the part of his family, society and the state.

Additional protocol 10.1: Everyone shall have the right to health, understood to mean the enjoyment of the highest level of physical, mental and social well-being.

Additional protocol 10.2: (a) primary healthcare, which is also essential healthcare, is made available to all individuals and families in the community; (b) extension of the benefits of health services to all individuals subject to the state’s jurisdiction; (c) universal immunisation against the principal infectious diseases; (d) prevention and treatment of endemic, occupational and other diseases; (e) education of the population on the prevention and treatment of health problems, and (f) fulfilment of the health needs of the highest risk groups and of those whose poverty makes them the most vulnerable.

Additional protocol 14.1: (b) to enjoy the benefits of scientific and technological progress…

African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights (ACHPR)

African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights

Article 13.2: Every citizen shall have the right of equal access to the public services of his country.

Article 16.1: Every individual shall have the right to enjoy the best attainable state of physical and mental health.

Article 16.2: States Parties to the present charter shall take the necessary measures to protect the health of their people and to ensure that they receive medical attention when they are ill.

Article 18.3: The state shall ensure the elimination of every discrimination against women and ensure the protection of the rights of women and children as stipulated in international declarations and conventions.

International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR)

Human Rights Committee

Article 24.1: Every child shall have, without any discrimination as to race, colour, sex, language, religion, national or social origin, property or birth, the right to such measures of protection as are required by his or her status as a minor, on the part of his family, society and the state.

International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (ICESCR)

Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights

Article 12.1: States Parties to the present Covenant recognise the right of everyone to the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health.

Article 12.2: (a) the provision for the reduction of the still born rate and infant mortality, and for the healthy development of the child… (c) the prevention, treatment and control of epidemic, endemic, occupational and other diseases; (d) the creation of conditions which would ensure access to all medical services and medical attention in the event of illness.

Article 15.1: (b) to enjoy the benefits of scientific progress and its applications…

Comment 14: …access to health facilities, goods and services on a non-discriminatory basis, especially for vulnerable or marginalised groups; the provision of essential drugs, as defined according to the World Health Organization’s Action Programme on Essential Drugs; equitable distribution of all health facilities, goods and services; adoption and implementation of a national public health strategy and plan of action that is based on epidemiological evidence, and which addresses the health concerns of the whole population…

Comment 14.12: (b) non-discrimination: health facilities, goods and services must be accessible to all, especially the most vulnerable or marginalised sections of the population, in law and in fact, without discrimination on any of the prohibited grounds…

Comment 14.17: …provision of equal and timely access to basic preventive, curative, and rehabilitative health services and health education; regular screening programmes; appropriate treatment of prevalent diseases, illnesses, injuries and disabilities, preferably at community level; the provision of essential drugs; and appropriate mental health treatment and care.

Comment 14.22: Article 12.2 (a) outlines the need to take measures to reduce infant mortality and promote the healthy development of infants and children. Subsequent international human rights goals recognise that children and adolescents have a right to the highest standard of health, as well as access to facilities, in the treatment of illness.

Beyond the basic right to healthcare, these international agreements also emphasise additional overlapping obligations on the state and private sector alike, including mandates to measure and report diseases,  reach underserved populations — notwithstanding cultural, ethnic, or regional differences — protect the rights of women within the family, and ensure the rights of prisoners and others in state custody to judicial intervention. The treaties state the obligation of signatory countries to pass domestic laws to give weight to these promises and emphasises that the treaties prevail over existing laws in case of conflict.