This year is an important anniversary for children, because in November the UNCRC turns thirty.
UNCRC stands for the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. It’s an international treaty that sets out all that children need in the form of 54 articles – the rights. These include obvious things like the right to life (article 6), the right to medical care (article 24) and the right to an education (article 28). They also include rights that recognise the subtleties of what it means to be a human being: the right to be with your friends (article 15), the right to have a name, a nationality and an identity (articles 7 and 8), and the right to engage in cultural activities like music, sport and drama (article 32).
The convention isn’t bland or high minded; it acknowledges the dark side of human behaviour and how children become enmeshed in that darkness. Article 22, for example, entitles refugee children to special protection; article 33 gives the right to protection from dangerous drugs; and article 34 from sexual abuse. All children, but especially those who are most vulnerable, such as refugees, ethnic minorities, children with disabilities and child soldiers, are offered protection under the convention.
All in all, the convention describes the gold standard of decent human behaviour. It’s a powerful treaty – no other piece of international legislation has been ratified by so many countries. Only one UN member has failed to ratify it – the US. And yet in 2019 there are children all over the world who don’t have even the most basic of rights.
Shamefully, we don’t have to look beyond the boundaries of this country – one of the wealthiest in the world – to find children whose rights, as specified in the UNCRC are being ignored. There are children in the UK right now who are hungry, there are refugee children who have been separated from their families, there are disabled children who do not receive the special care they need.
I could go on and I’m sure you could add your own examples to such a list. This is simply unacceptable. Governments argue that resources are tight, too tight it seems to provide proper social care, healthcare, housing and education. The result is that in spite of the promises to which the UNCRC ties them, the UK government daily flaunts its responsibilities to the children of this country and countries around the world where its economic influence is felt.
So what I’d like to suggest is that this year, as the UNCRC turns 30, us as adults must take on the task of telling children about their rights – about the depth and breadth of the rights that their government promised to provide for them when it ratified the UNCRC. And we should also tell them that the convention specifies their right to a voice, their right to be heard and listened to, and, should their government fail in its obligations, their right to appeal directly to the UN.
There has never been a more important time for children’s voices to be heard, and the anniversary of the UNCRC is the perfect opportunity to empower our kids to speak up and speak out.
Every Child A Song by Nicola Davies (illustrated by Marc Martin) is published by Wren and Rook (£12.99)
Illustration by Marc Martin