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The rights of Indigenous children around the world – still far from a reality
  1. Sarah L Woolley
  1. Sarah L Woolley, Bristol Royal Hospital for Children, Upper Maudlin Street, Bristol BS2 8HW, UK; davidandsarahsmith{at}

Statistics from

The principle of “all children, all rights” is still much too far from being a reality. (General Kofi Annan)

There are approximately 300 million Indigenous peoples, defined as those peoples who “consider themselves distinct; and are determined to preserve, develop and transmit to future generations their ancestral territories, and their ethnic identity in accordance with their own cultural patterns, social institutions and legal systems”,1 and they live in nearly every country on earth.2 In some countries they are a majority and in others, a minority.

Recognising their special status, international law entitles Indigenous peoples to specific rights and protection including the rights to enjoy their culture, religion and language, and to preserve their collective identity. International awareness of Indigenous peoples’ rights has increased significantly in recent years, yet Indigenous children remain amongst the most marginalised groups in society. With higher birth rates than national populations, children make up a higher proportion of Indigenous populations3 and, wherever they live, Indigenous children share the common bond of social disadvantage. Compared to non-Indigenous children, they have lower birth registration rates, lower vaccination rates, a higher incidence of malnutrition, higher mortality rates, lower rates of school enrolment, higher rates of school dropout and a greater chance of being placed in the child protection system.4

This article examines the status of Indigenous children internationally and reviews the human rights instruments available to protect them. It aims to complement an article published in 2007 on child protection in South Asia.5 Discussion on all children’s rights is complex and immense. This article focuses on some of the basic rights that all children are entitled to.


Colonisation has had a dramatic impact on Indigenous peoples and internationally they struggle for survival. Child removal, social dislocation, community dislocation, mental health problems, marginalisation from core …

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