Human rights instruments supporting motherhood

This page is not regularly updated so links and data may be out of date.

There are at least 11 international declarations, resolutions and conventions supporting parents, mothers and their children. These are listed below with some relevant extracts.

These uphold vital rights relating to for example natural childbirth, extended breastfeeding, cue breastfeeding, and safe co-sleeping with baby. They do this through codifying human rights such as the right to life, the right to health, the right to freedom of information and expression and the right to have or to adopt a belief of one’s choice.

The first section “Declarations, Resolutions and ILO (International Labour Organization) Conventions” looks at a range of international agreements, while the second section “UN Human Rights Treaties” looks specifically at human rights intruments which operate at the level of international human rights law.

For an overview of the effectiveness of UN instruments such as those listed below, please see my article human rights mechanisms and international law which assesses the legal status of various human rights instruments and illustrates the significant and growing impact of human rights on the development of international law.

Please also see my article Women’s rights are human rights: Has international human rights law failed women?


Declarations, Resolutions and ILO Conventions

Human Rights Council resolution June 2009: Preventable maternal mortality and morbidity and human rights “…most instances of maternal mortality and morbidity are preventable, and … preventable maternal mortality … requires the effective promotion and protection of the human rights of women and girls, in particular their rights to life, to be equal in dignity, to education, to be free to seek, receive and impart information, to enjoy the benefits of scientific progress, to freedom from discrimination, and to enjoy the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health, including sexual and reproductive health.”


Ilo LogoC183 Maternity Protection Convention, 2000

Article 3: “… pregnant or breastfeeding women are not obliged to perform work … prejudicial to the health of the mother or the child…”

Article 4: “a woman … shall be entitled to a period of maternity leave of not less than 14 weeks.”

Article 8.2: “A woman is guaranteed the right to return to the same position or an equivalent position paid at the same rate at the end of her maternity leave.”

Article 10.1: “A woman shall be provided with the right to one or more daily breaks or a daily reduction of hours of work to breastfeed her child.”

Article 10.1: “…These breaks or the reduction of daily hours of work shall be counted as working time and remunerated accordingly.”


MDG LogoMillennium Development Goals 2000

The Millennium Development Goals were adopted at the UN Millennium Summit of 2000, and are aimed at slashing poverty, hunger, disease, maternal and child deaths by 2015.

GOAL 4: Reduce Child Mortality GOAL 3: Promote Gender Equality and Empower Women GOAL 5: Improve Maternal Health


IUnicefnnocenti Declaration 1990: On the Protection, Promotion and Support of Breastfeeding

“Attainment of (the child-feeding ideal) requires … the reinforcement of a “breastfeeding culture” and its vigorous defence against incursions of a “bottle-feeding culture”. This requires commitment and advocacy for social mobilization, utilizing to the full the prestige and authority of acknowledged leaders of society in all walks of life.

“Efforts should be made to increase women’s confidence in their ability to breastfeed. Such empowerment involves the removal of constraints and influences that manipulate perceptions and behaviour towards breastfeeding, often by subtle and indirect means… Furthermore, obstacles to breastfeeding within the health system, the workplace and the community must be eliminated.”


Breast MilkInternational Code of Marketing of Breast-Milk Substitutes 1981

The 27th World Health Assembly in 1974 noted the general decline in breastfeeding related to different factors including the production of manufactured breast-milk substitutes and urged Member countries to review sales promotion activities on baby foods and to introduce appropriate remedial measures, including advertisement codes and legislation where necessary. As a result the Health Assembly debated and adopted the Code in 1981.

Please see my article: What can be done? Supermarket Promotes Infant Formula in Breach of International Guidelines


LogoGeneral Assembly of the United Nations 1948: Universal Declaration of Human Rights

Article 25: Motherhood and childhood are entitled to special care and assistance. Article 26.1: Everyone has the right to education.


UN Human Rights Treaties

IUnited Nations Logonternational Covenant on Civil and Political Rights 1966

Article 6 1. Every human being has the inherent right to life…

Article 18 1. Everyone shall have the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion. This right shall include freedom to have or to adopt a religion or belief of his choice.

2. No one shall be subject to coercion which would impair his freedom to have or to adopt a religion or belief of his choice…

4. …respect for the liberty of parents and … legal guardians to ensure the religious and moral education of their children in conformity with their own convictions.

Article 19 1. … the right to hold opinions without interference.

2. … the right to freedom of expression; this right shall include freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds…

Article 23 1. The family is the natural and fundamental group unit of society and is entitled to protection by society and the State.

4. States Parties to the present Covenant shall take appropriate steps to ensure equality of rights and responsibilities of spouses…


IUnited Nations Logonternational Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights 1966

Article 10 1. The widest possible protection and assistance should be accorded to the family … particularly for its establishment and while it is responsible for the care and education of dependent children. 2. Special protection should be accorded to mothers during a reasonable period before and after childbirth… working mothers should be accorded paid leave or leave with adequate social security benefits.

3. Special measures of protection and assistance should be taken on behalf of all children and young persons…

Article 12 1. …the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health.

2. The steps to be taken … shall include those necessary for: (a) The provision for the reduction of the stillbirth-rate and of infant mortality and for the healthy development of the child…

Article 13 1. … the right of everyone to education.

3. …respect for the liberty of parents and… legal guardians to choose for their children schools, other than those established by the public authorities…

Article 15 1. … the right of everyone:… (b) To enjoy the benefits of scientific progress and its applications …


CedaConvention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women 1979

Article 2 States Parties condemn discrimination against women in all its forms, agree to pursue … a policy of eliminating discrimination against women…

Article 5 States Parties shall take all appropriate measures:

(a) To modify the social and cultural patterns of conduct of men and women, with a view to achieving the elimination of prejudices and customary and all other practices which are based on the idea of the inferiority or the superiority of either of the sexes or on stereotyped roles for men and women;

(b) To ensure that family education includes a proper understanding of maternity as a social function and the recognition of the common responsibility of men and women in the upbringing and development of their children…

Article 11 2. In order to prevent discrimination against women on the grounds of marriage or maternity and to ensure their effective right to work, States Parties shall take appropriate measures:

(a) To prohibit … dismissal on the grounds of pregnancy or of maternity leave and discrimination in dismissals on the basis of marital status;

(b) To introduce maternity leave with pay or with comparable social benefits without loss of former employment, seniority or social allowances;

(c) To encourage the provision of the necessary supporting social services to enable parents to combine family obligations with work responsibilities and participation in public life, in particular through promoting the establishment and development of a network of child-care facilities;

(d) To provide special protection to women during pregnancy in types of work proved to be harmful to them.

Article 12 1. …eliminate discrimination against women in the field of health care in order to ensure, on a basis of equality of men and women, access to health care services, including those related to family planning.

2. …ensure to women appropriate services in connection with pregnancy, confinement and the post-natal period, granting free services where necessary, as well as adequate nutrition during pregnancy and lactation.

Article 16 1. …eliminate discrimination against women in all matters relating to marriage and family relations and in particular shall ensure, on a basis of equality of men and women: …

(c) The same rights and responsibilities during marriage and at its dissolution;

(d) The same rights and responsibilities as parents, irrespective of their marital status, in matters relating to their children; in all cases the interests of the children shall be paramount;

(e) The same rights to decide freely and responsibly on the number and spacing of their children and to have access to the information, education and means to enable them to exercise these rights;

(f) The same rights and responsibilities with regard to guardianship, wardship, trusteeship and adoption of children … in all cases the interests of the children shall be paramount;

(g) The same personal rights as husband and wife, including the right to choose a family name, a profession and an occupation.


Convention on the Rights of the Child 1989

Article 1 …a child means every human being below the age of eighteen years unless under the law applicable to the child, majority is attained earlier.

Article 3 2. … to ensure the child such protection and care as is necessary for his or her well-being..

Article 5 States Parties shall respect the responsibilities, rights and duties of parents … or legal guardians … to provide, in a manner consistent with the evolving capacities of the child, appropriate direction and guidance in the exercise by the child of the rights…

Article 6 1. …every child has the inherent right to life.

2. States Parties shall ensure to the maximum extent possible the survival and development of the child.

Article 17 States Parties … shall ensure that the child has access to information and material … especially those aimed at the promotion of his or her social, spiritual and moral well-being and physical and mental health.

To this end, States Parties shall:…

(e) Encourage the development of appropriate guidelines for the protection of the child from information and material injurious to his or her well-being…

Article 18 1. … the principle that both parents have common responsibilities for the upbringing and development of the child. Parents or … legal guardians, have the primary responsibility for the upbringing and development of the child. The best interests of the child will be their basic concern.

2. … States Parties shall render appropriate assistance to parents and legal guardians in the performance of their child-rearing responsibilities and shall ensure the development of institutions, facilities and services for the care of children.

3. … children of working parents have the right to benefit from child-care services and facilities for which they are eligible.

Article 19 1. … to protect the child from all forms of physical or mental violence, injury or abuse, neglect or negligent treatment, maltreatment or exploitation…

Article 23 4. States Parties shall promote … the exchange of appropriate information in the field of preventive health care and of medical, psychological and functional treatment of disabled children…

Article 24 1. … the right of the child to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of health and to facilities for the treatment of illness and rehabilitation of health…

2. States Parties shall pursue full implementation of this right and, in particular, shall take appropriate measures:

(a) To diminish infant and child mortality;

(b) To ensure the provision of necessary medical assistance and health care to all children with emphasis on the development of primary health care;

(c) To combat disease and malnutrition, including within the framework of primary health care, through, inter alia, the application of readily available technology and through the provision of adequate nutritious foods and clean drinking-water…

(d) To ensure appropriate pre-natal and post-natal health care for mothers;

(e) To ensure that all segments of society, in particular parents and children, are informed, have access to education and are supported in the use of basic knowledge of child health and nutrition, the advantages of breastfeeding, hygiene and environmental sanitation and the prevention of accidents;

(f) To develop preventive health care…

3. States Parties shall take all effective and appropriate measures with a view to abolishing traditional practices prejudicial to the health of children…

Article 27 1. … the right of every child to a standard of living adequate for the child’s physical, mental, spiritual, moral and social development…

Article 28 1. States Parties recognize the right of the child to education


Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities 2006

Article 23 1. … to eliminate discrimination against persons with disabilities in all matters relating to marriage, family, parenthood and relationships, on an equal basis with others…

3. … children with disabilities have equal rights with respect to family life… States Parties shall undertake to provide early and comprehensive information, services and support to children with disabilities and their families.

Article 24 1. … the right of persons with disabilities to education. … States Parties shall ensure an inclusive education system at all levels and life long learning directed…

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Photo Daria Obymaha