Children’s rights constitute an integral part of human rights; therefore, the first international documents that defined the current content of such rights are the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted in 1948, and the Covenant on Civil and Political Rights of 1952. The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, adopted in 20 November 1989 in New York, is an equally significant document on children’s rights. With the promulgation of Act LXIV of 1991, Hungary joined the Convention and thus all the documents listed above.

The Convention on the Rights of the Child specifies the prerequisite that the document has to be dealt with as a unified whole, and no parts or sections may be selected for implementation. Furthermore, the Convention may not be implemented at optional levels; it is to be implemented as a whole, at the economic and cultural level of the given society.

The Hungarian system of children’s rights is undergoing a continuous advancement. Its major elements include:

  • It is confirmed that the universal human rights apply to children as well. The Fundamental Law (e.g. Article XV (5)) protects children with specific measures.
  • The majority of those rights which apply exclusively or mainly to children (such the regulation of the relationship between child and parent, adoption and child protection) are specified by Act XXXI of 1997 on Child Protection and Custody Administration (hereinafter: ‘Child Protection Act’), by Act IV of 1952 on Marriage, Family and Custody (hereinafter: ‘Act on Family’) and by related implementing provisions.
  • As specified by the Civil Code, the Criminal Code, the Labour Act, the Health Act, the Act on Public Education and the Social Insurance Act, in certain fields, special regulations apply to children. The Act on the Support of Families and the legislation that implements certain international conventions contain the same provision, e.g. about the ban on the worst forms of child labour.

The Child Protection Act summarises children’s rights, the guarantees of the enforcement of such rights, the forms of the basic and specialised care aimed at the protection of children, the conditions for eligibility, the principles and institutional system of the financing such care, the main regulations on child protection care as an activity of the authorities and the administrative structure of custody. It also specifies the basic rights and obligations of children and parents, and defines the basic system of child protection within which municipal self-governments and institutions, guardian authorities, correctional facilities and probation officers work in order to fulfil their tasks related to the welfare and protection of children. Providers of healthcare (nurses, general practitioners), family assistance services and centres, institutions of public education (education counsellors, kindergartens and schools), the police, prosecution offices, courts and social organisations, churches and foundations also carry out activities in this field.

The implementation of the Child Protection Act is guaranteed by several governmental and ministerial decrees, such as the Government Decree 149/1997 (IV.10) on Guardianship Authorities, Child Protection and Custody Procedure.

The principal objective of the Act on Families is to protect marriage, family, children’s interests, the development and education of the youth, to promote the equality of spouses, to eliminate the negative discrimination of children born out of wedlock and to protect mothers.

This Act incorporates provisions that apply to all children or to a certain group of children (e.g. the regulation of adoption) and provisions that protect the children of divorced couples, and deals with the legal status of children born out of wedlock.

Other acts which are relevant for children's rights are Act LXXXIV of 1998 on the Support of Families, Act LXXXI of 1997 on Social Insurance and Act LXXIX of 1993 on Public Education, as well as Act CLIV of 1997 on Healthcare, which provides for the implementation of the right to healthy growth and development.

Finally, it is to be highlighted that in Hungary since 1908 different rules have been applied for adults and minors who have committed a crime. In substantive criminal law (Act IV of 1978), provisions on juveniles are specified by Chapter VII of the Criminal Code (amended several times). The Chapter contains a separate ministerial decree on the supervision of juveniles by probation officers.

Besides the acts mentioned above, there are several pieces of legislation that serve children’s interest. The existing Civil Code is one of them, inasmuch as it deals with legal capacity – defining capacity, limited capacity, incompetency, minority, custody that affects capacity and the cessation of legal capacity – and with natural rights.

Facts and figures that evidence the necessity of the advancement of children’s rights:

  • There were 264.981 vulnerable minors in 2000. In 2010, their number was 197,948, out of which 92,476 minors were registered as vulnerable due to financial reasons.
  • In Hungary, there were 2,733,832 children of 0-18 years of age in 1990. The ratio of this age group to the country’s total population is gradually decreasing: in 2000 and in 2010 there were 2,073,650 and 1,797,955 children of this age group, respectively.
  • The high number of divorces requires special attention in terms of children’s rights. The high number of divorces (cf. 44,234 and 35,520 marriages were concluded in 2005 and 2010, respectively; the number of divorces were 24,804 and 23,873 in 2005 and 2010, respectively) is one of the reasons why approximately 30-35% of children grow up in single parent families. It is also related to the fact that more than 20,000 children need child protection care or receive post-care assistance.
  • The number of criminal acts committed by juveniles has increased to a level which gives rise to concern. In 2006, there were 2,608 juvenile delinquents; by 2010, this number had increased to 3,871.
  • Unfortunately, drug abuse has gradually gained ground among the young generations since the mid-1970s. As to the degree of such abuse, no reliable data are available; however, it is a fact that in the last 10 years approximately 70% of those convicted belonged to the age group of 15-24 years.

Future tasks for the protection of children’s rights:

  • Full legal harmonisation is needed with regard to acts that contain provisions on children’s rights. Such a development would contribute to – among others – unified interpretation and implementation.
  • Fast reaction and professional amendments to remove legal loopholes and the quasi breaches of legislation that affect children unfavourably, and to eliminate all forms of the abuse of children.
  • The extension of the rights of children of minorities.
  • The enforcement of children's rights in social security.

The implementation of the acts require a new approach, highly qualified professionals with a high level of self-awareness and an increased recognition of such professionals.

Happy families who live at a standard of living of Western European middle-class families constitute a key factor of a balanced childhood and, then, of the child’s development into an adult who has successfully defined his or her identity. This, of course, is but a starting point of the enforcement of children’s rights.

Taking into consideration the extensive legal regulation detailed above and the existing legal guarantees, it can be concluded that the implementation of children’s rights in Hungary depends on legislation only to a small degree. Fortunately, legislation needs only minor amendments, for example, about the joint accommodation of mothers who deliver their babies in prison and their newborn babies, or the proper treatment of abused children.

The implementation of children’s rights depends mainly on the elaboration of the details of legislation, on raising awareness of the issue, and – to a similar degree – on the economic situation and the stress-bearing capacity of the country, which are factors that actually define a child’s quality of life.