Engaging Children with their Human Rights

I’ve created this blog post as a resource for people who are passionate about Human Rights and want to bridge the divide between the dense wording of legal documents and the every day language children can grasp. Though simplified versions of the convention exist, this blog attempts to take it a step further by suggesting ways to create dialogue around the articles in those conventions.

I will also be highlighting some of the problems that each article presents when trying to implement and facilitate these rights on a local, national and global level both practically and philosophically.

I’m going to start off with the UNCRC. UNCRC – United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (1989). This convention is signed by EVERY SINGLE country in the world except …. drum roll…. the USA. If you are interested, let me know and I can write a little more about the USA rationale behind not signing this.

The UNCRC has 54 articles. However, only Article 1-42 are about children’s rights, whereas Articles 43-54 explain how governments and international organisations like UNICEF will work to ensure children are protected with their rights.

DO SHARE IF YOU THINK THIS IS USEFUL – the post will be updated every few days till all articles are covered.

ARTICLE 1 (definition)

Engaging Younger Children:

  • Can you name some of your friends under 18 this convention is for?
  • Go through a list of babies, toddlers, children, teenagers and adults and ask the child to say whether this convention is for them or not

Engaging Older Children:

  • When do you think childhood begins?
  • When do you think childhood ends?
  • Do you agree that you should be made criminally responsible before you are legally able to drive, or have sex, or vote?
  • Can you do some research of countries where the legal age of becoming an adult is not 18? Can you find countries where childhood begins before a baby is born or much later?
  • How can this be implemented and monitored?

The first Article stipulates the age of the people that are protected by the rights of this convention. To most, this appears very straight forward and not controversial at all.

However, when Childhood begins and ends is super problematic… a whole discipline exists that focuses very much on this question – the Anthropology of Childhood! In some tribes, you are not considered a human being till you are 2 years old – the belief is that babies born are connected to the spirit world for 2 years before they decide to stay or return (some researchers argue this is a way they have come to deal with their grief over a high number of infant mortality rates that it became such an intrinsic part of their belief and tradition – “The Afterlife is where we Come From” is a great book if you’re interested)… some argue you are a child before you are born, and this is relevant because this gives a foetus rights against abortion, for example.

But not only when childhood begins is in question, but also when it ends… in Article 1 of the UNCRC, countries have signed up to 18years old… but in many countries it is still 21. This is almost made irrelevant because throughout the UNCRC, government are free not to ratify (agree to) articles that don’t suit them… and this usually about age where children can work, go into the army, get married… so a country where 16 year olds join the army, according to the UNCRC, they are child soldiers… so you see… is can get messy!

Children’s activists that work to get children’s voices heard earlier and have a say in politics ask question like – how is it, in the UK for example, legal to have sex and become a parent at 16, yet you cannot vote till you’re 18? How is it the age of criminal responsibility is 10 (YES TEN) but you cannot have a say in how your local authority manages services till 8 years later?

What do you think? Was it straight forward when you first read it? What ages do you think the UNCRC should cover? Is it problematic? Or is it just a good place to start?

ARTICLE 2 (non-discrimination)

Engaging Younger Children:

  • Go through a list of children the child is familiar with who are different to them in some way until it is clear this convention applies to all of them.
  • Present the child with a globe and search for pictures of children in that country explaining the rights covered in the convention apply to them

This is a good opportunity to introduce protected characteristics to children.

Engaging Older Children:

  • Can you try to write a list of protected characteristics?
  • Do you think the rights in the convention should apply to all children? Why? What about children who do something wrong?
  • What do you think about giving children rights who have parents who have done terrible things or broken the law some how?
  • Can you think of examples of indirect discrimination?
  • How can this be implemented and monitored?

Article 2 is a good starting point for conversations about how human rights are applicable to ALL and not to particular groups or “deserving” groups.

Some forms of discrimination that article 2 would cover include:

• Sexism

• Ableism

• Racism

• Sectarianism

• Homophobia

Direct and Indirect Discrimination

Article 2 covers both indirect discrimination and direct discrimination. Direct discrimination is when a person is treated differently because of the way they are and their protected characteristics. Indirect discrimination is when a rule applies to everyone in the same way, but affects some people unfairly.

To understand indirect discrimination a little better, we just need to remind ourselves that equality and equity are not the same. So a rule that applies to everyone, may disadvantage some groups more than others (e.g. no one being allowed to use the lift, that would disadvantage disabled children more than able bodied children).

Also there are instances where what our family members are up to does influence how a child is treated or what opportunities and access are available to that child… for instance:in some countries, if your parents are of a particular religion or race/cast your access to particular activities or jobs or marriage becomes limited… and though the country has signed the convention which makes this illegal, it has an obligation to enforce this and make it applicable and punishable on a local and national level if it is not adhered to.

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