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The Rights of the Child

All of us know that we have certain "rights" and needs in the society we live in, and that these will be met. We know we have the right to live peacefully and enjoy our life, we have the right to live without fear and harassment, the right to education and good health, the right to express our views, the right to choose how we want to live our lives - we have many other rights and needs that we are met on a daily basis. However, children have to rely on adults to meet their needs, and even work out what the children's needs are. Adults talk "for" children, adults make executive decisions regarding the children's daily lives, adults make rules for children to follow, adults decide what children can and can't do. All adults act in the "best interest" of the children in their care.

Let's take a look at that last statement. DO adults always act in the "best interest" of the children in their care?

  1. Adults can abuse their power over children. Adults in positions of power over children can exploit and abuse that power to the detriment of children's well being. Particularly shocking is the realisation that babies,toddlers and children are not exempt from abuse in the domestic and professional environment: children can be subjected to shouting, smacking, intimidation, food issues, being ignored and not listened to, being "talked over", being forced to join in with activities, as well as physical and sexual abuse. Children are systematically disbelieved in favour of adult accounts.
  2. Parents' rights are protected over those of children. In 2000, the Government issued a consultation paper in order to comply with the findings of the European Court of Human Rights that the law in the UK failed to protect a child from inhuman and degrading treatment (ie smacking and physical punishment). Although there was considerable pressure on the government to change the law to give children the same protection from all forms of assault as adults, the Government refused to do so. International law recognises that the continued practice of hitting children represents a breach of human rights.
  3. Children's interests are often disregarded in public policy. One in three children in the UK are living in poverty. The detrimental consequences of child poverty are profound, and have the following negative impact on a child's life - on his/her educational attainment, physical and mental health, emotional well-being and employment opportunities.

Can you think of any further instances? At a collective level our society has failed to promote and protect the welfare of children. It is clear that it is not sufficient to rely exclusively on adults to define children's needs and be responsible for meeting them. In order to meet children's needs and for them to be protected, they need to be recognised as subjects of rights, a concept that has culminated in the 1990 UN Convention on the Rights of the Child . It is a comprehensive human rights treaty, respecting children's human rights. It means accepting that children, even very small children, are entitled to be listened to and taken seriously, and that as they grow older they can take greater responsibility for exercising their own rights.

There is a continuing resistance to the concept of rights for children in this country, shared by many parents, politicians, policy makers and the media. It derives, at least in part, from a fear that children represent a threat to stability and order if not kept under control. It reflects the strong cultural tradition that children are "owned" by their parents.A commitment to respecting children's rights means promoting their welfare by adherence to the human rights standards defined by international law.

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