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National Childhood Network (NCN)

Child’s Right To Play


United Nations Convention On The Rights Of The Child

The basic principle underlying the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, often referred to as the UNCRC, is that children (defined as being 18 years or under) are born with the same fundamental set of rights as all humans, with a number of additional rights due to their vulnerability.

The UNCRC contains a total of 54 articles which were formally adopted by the UN General Assembly in 1989. The United Kingdom government signed the Convention in April 1990, ratified it in December 1991 and it came into force for the UK on 15 January 1992.

As a signatory to the convention at national level, all branches of government across the UK (including the NI Assembly, government departments and local councils) are obligated to full implementation of the UNCRC.

Article 31 – The Child’s Right To Play

Article 31 of the UNCRC formally enshrines the child’s right to play and the right to engage in other recreational activities, including participation in cultural activities and the arts. Article 31 states:


1. States Parties recognize the right of the child to rest and leisure, to engage in play and recreational activities appropriate to the age of the child and to participate freely in cultural life and the arts.


2. States Parties shall respect and promote the right of the child to participate fully in cultural and artistic life and shall encourage the provision of appropriate and equal opportunities for cultural, artistic, recreational and leisure activity.

Child’s Right To Play
Child’s Right To Play

Article 31 – The Child’s Right To Play

Article 31 imposes three obligations on state parties to guarantee that the rights it covers are realised by every child without discrimination:


The obligation to respect which requires government to refrain from interfering directly or indirectly in the enjoyment of the rights contained within Article 31;


The obligation to protect which requires government to take steps to prevent third parties from interfering in the rights contained within Article 31;


The obligation to fulfil which requires governments to introduce the necessary legislative, administrative, budgetary and other measures aimed at delivering full enjoyment of Article 31 rights by all children and young people.

General Comment 17 On Article 31

In March 2013, the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child released General Comment 17 which focuses on Article 31. The release of the General Comment has been highly significant in that it:


  • Clarifies the meaning and importance of Article 31;


  • Helps to define the key elements of the Article;


  • Explains the importance of play, recreation, cultural and artistic participation to the growth, development and wellbeing of children; and


  • Provides a series of actions which are required in order to fully realise the rights enshrined in Article 31.