Realising The Rights Of Young Children: Progress And Challenges

When thinking about rights in relation to very young children, the crc must always be considered in conjunctionwith General Comment No. 7 (gc7)of the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child. gc7 sets outauthoritatively on how the crc should be interpreted when it comes to the very young children. We start thisedition (p. 3) with a refresher on what gc7 is all about.Few people were more involved with the development of gc7 than our keynote interviewee, Lothar Krappmann, internationally renowned researcher on childhood matters and a member of the Committee on the Rights of the Child since 2003. He gives Early Childhood Matters an overview (p. 5) of what impact the crc has had so far, and explains the challenges faced by the Committee on the Rights of the Child in ensuring that public understanding of children’s rights keeps pace with the changing nature of childhood.

We then move on to Eastern Europe and the plight of young children from the Roma minority. Their relativelylow level of participation in education is often viewed as an issue of human capital development – but as theInternational Step by Step Association (p. 12) explains, viewing the issue instead through the prism of children’srights shows it in a very different light, especially the unlawful discrimination embodied by segregated schools for Roma children.

There are few more challenging places to implement child rights than in emergency situations: after natural disasters, or in environments of conflict. With examples from Haiti and Gaza, Save the Children (p. 18) depictshow an appreciation of children’s rights brings a new perspective to emergency relief work. With the use of Child-Friendly Spaces in emergency zones becoming more common, attention is now turning to defining how emergency relief agencies can most effectively meet the rights of the very young children.

Not all of the rights advocated by the crc have received equal attention over the last two decades. On p. 24 the International Play Association focuses on the “forgotten article” of the crc – article 31, which deals with restand leisure. In particular, the right to free play – that is, play initiated and controlled by children and undertaken purely for pleasure (its own sake), rather than play structured by adults with learning goals in mind – is identified as the most overlooked and underappreciated aspect of the rights endorsed in this article.

Finding appropriate spaces for play is just one of the many challenges of meeting children’s rights in urbanenvironments, the subject of our next article (p. 29). unicef’s Child-Friendly Cities initiative is helping both citywide authorities and, increasingly, local communities to make urban environments responsive to children’s rights. As the world passed a turning point in 2007 when, for the first time, more than half the global population became urban, the challenge of making cities child-friendly can only become increasingly important in the future.For children’s rights to be realised in practice depends on the understanding of a diverse range of professionals, from doctors and social workers to the police and judiciary. The problem is that training in child rights tends to attract only those who are already motivated. On p. 36 Gerison Landsdown and Bo Damsted describe the progress ofefforts in Tanzania to put together an early years training curriculum for professionals, drawing out some early lessons learned.

Realising children’s rights also depends on recognising children as capable of participating actively in decisions affecting them, even from 2 | Editorial a young age. Our next contribution (p. 42) describes how this has been made a reality in a slum area of Rio de Janeiro through the creation of a Centro Cultural da Criança (ChildCultural Centre) where children aged 2 to 10 can gather get together inter alia to draw, read, dance, sing, play instruments, use computers and socialise.

It may be difficult to explain the concept of child rights in a way that meets with acceptance in local cultures. On p. 49 chetna, a long-standing partner of the Bernard van Leer Foundation in India, describe how they go about popularising the concept of child rights in their own particular cultural context by emphasising that rights are basic needs and also imply responsibilities. Our final contribution (p. 53) returns squarely to the difficulties ofmeasuring progress in implementing the crc and gc7 by addressing the question of indicators. Monitoring ofany development goal depends on the existence of adequate indicators, but until recently there were no indicatorsspecifically on how well rights were being realised in early childhood. The Early Childhood Rights Indicators Group is engaged in putting this right.