Children's Rights: Equal Rights and Equal Opportunities?

Posted by under Human Rights Education on 26 September 2003

The Un Convention on the Rights of the Child, adopted in 1989, was a watershed in the recognition of Children's right. The governments and civil society organisations are challenged to enforce the principle of non-discrimination, to promote diversity and ensure that all children are afforded equal rights and equal opportunities in life. Singapore ratified the Convention in 1995.

The Convention formally identified children as the bearer's of rights, established an internationally accepted framework for the treatment of all children and created a stronger global commitment to safeguarding their rights. However, we find that children all over the world continue to face inequalities in their everyday lives.

The Reality of Discrimination

Almost every country in the world has ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child - only the USA and Somalia have failed to do so. In ratifying, they have made a commitment to protect the rights of all children within their jurisdiction without discrimination. It is a dramatic achievement. But, to date, the reality falls far behind the rhetoric.

Discrimination continues to dominate the lives of millions of children throughout the world. It occurs at all levels of society. It can be practised by governments themselves, by adults against children, by one community against another, or by one group of children against another. It can result from active, direct and deliberate actions, and it can happen unconsciously through insensitivity, ignorance or indifference. The global experience of discrimination indicates a predisposition in all communities to reject those who are different.

Groups of children who experience discrimination

Children suffer discrimination on many grounds. The following groups have been identified by the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child as vulnerable to discrimination in the exercise of their rights (they are listed in no particular order of significance):
children not registered at birth
children born a twin
children born on an unlucky day
children born in abnormal conditions
orphans
displaced children
homeless children
abandoned children
children placed in alternative care
ethnic minority children placed in alternative care
institutionalised children
children living and/or working in the streets
non-nationals, including immigrant children, illegal immigrants, children of migrant workers, refugees/asylum-seekers including unaccompanied refugees
children affected by natural disasters
children living in poverty/extreme poverty
children involved in juvenile justice systems; in particular, children whose liberty is restricted
children affected by armed conflict
working children
children subjected to violence
child beggars
children affected by HIV/AIDS
children of parents with HIV/AIDS
young single mothers
minorities, including Roma children/Gypsies/Travellers/nomadic
children and children of indigenous communities
children affected by economic problems/changes
non-marital children (children born out of wedlock)
children of single-parent families
children of incestuous unions
children of marriages between people of different ethnic/religious groups or nationalities.

Discrimination Impacts on all Rights

The following examples illustrate the nature of discrimination against children in many countries.

Article 1 - rights extend to all children under 18 It is common for the age at which girls can marry or give sexual consent to be lower than that for boys.

Article 6 - the right to life and optimum development Infanticide is still practised against both disabled children and girl babies.

Article 7 - the right to a name and nationality Full citizenship may be denied to children whose parents are not citizens, and also the right to inherit nationality from the father for non-marital children.

Article 8 - the right to preservation of identity Some countries have procedures for adoption that deny children the right to knowledge of their identity.

Article 9 - the right to non-separation from parents Unmarried mothers may be forced to give their babies away for adoption, and girls may be placed into domestic labour, thus denying them the right to family life.

Article 10 - the right to family reunification Some countries fail to provide opportunities for refugees to bring their children into the country, denying this particularly vulnerable group the right to family life.

Article 12 and 13 - the right to hold and express views Boys may be given greater opportunities to participate in decision-making process than girls, and the views of disabled children are often completely disregarded.

Article 14 - the right to freedom of religion State funding may be given to schools run by some religious groups but not others. Children are sometimes penalised in school for practising their religion.

Article 15 - the right to freedom of association Curfews may be imposed on children, the impact of which falls disproportionately on poor children.

Article 16 - the right to privacy Children in institutions are often denied privacy in respect of correspondence, personal belongings, visits, and files.

Article 17 - the right to information The media may promote and perpetuate negative images of minority groups, even inciting racial hatred. Even more widespread is the implicit affirmation of stereotypes of girls, disabled children or minority groups through their portrayal or, indeed, absence in the media.

Article 19 - the right to protection from all forms of violence The practices of female genital mutilation and honour killings of girls are extreme but prevalent examples of violation of the right to protection from violence. Discrimination is also evident in the differential protection of children from corporal punishment according to where they live - at home, in care, or in penal institutions.

Article 20 - the right to alternative care Children in care often suffer discrimination in schools and are denied their liberty and family contact. Disabled children in many societies are abandoned and forced to live in institutions purely because of their disability.

Article 21 - the right to promotion of best interests in adoption Children of poor mothers in some societies are tricked, bribed, or cheated into giving up their babies for adoption. No account is taken of the children's best interests: they are merely a commercial commodity.

Article 22 - the equal rights of refugee children Refugee children may be denied their rights to education, health or other care on the basis of their refugee status.

Article 23 - the right of disabled children to the fullest possible social integration Disabled children are frequently denied the right to education, are offered less access to healthcare, and are denied the right to family life.

Article 24 - the right to the best possible health Children living in poverty, girls, children in rural areas, minority ethnic groups, indigenous children, asylum-seeking and refugee children and illegal immigrants are frequently denied equal access to healthcare and consequently to the best possible health.

Article 25 - the right of children in institutions to periodic review Legislation governing reviews is often different according to the institutions in which the child is placed, giving some children far less protection than others.

Article 26 and 27 - the right to benefit from social security and to an adequate standard of living Asylum-seeking children sometimes receive lower rates of state benefits than other families. Indigenous or minority groups are disproportionately likely to experience poverty, reflecting discrimination in access to education, training, employment and housing.

Article 28 - the right to education Girls are frequently denied access to education, as are many disabled children, or children from minority groups. Separate schools are sometimes provided for different ethnic communities, which are not funded equitably and offer an inferior quality of education.

Article 29 - the right to an education promoting fullest potential and respect for human rights Educational materials often exclude reference to minority groups, present a version of history that denies the experience of indigenous populations, and confirm stereotypical images of girls.

Article 30 - the right to respect for culture, language and religion Children of minority and indigenous communities are often denied the right to speak their own language at school, their culture is not reflected in the curriculum and they are refused the right to practise their religion.

Focus

Article 12 - the right to be listened to and be taken seriously

The suffering of children who experience discrimination - from abuse, bullying, humiliation, social isolation, neglect - is too often unheard. This silence contributes to the persistence of discrimination against them. It is only through listening directly to children that adults can work effectively to tackle the roots or the impact of discrimination. Furthermore, children are usually highly successful advocates on their own behalf when the opportunities are created. At the Committee on the Rights of the Child's General Discussion Day on the rights of disabled children in 1997, two girls from South Africa made an impassioned plea for the right to be included and to be listened to. Despite the strength of the adult presentations also made during the day, it was this powerful presentation that left an enduring imprint on participants' minds.

Article 12 provides that all children have the right to express their views on all matters of concern to the and to have those views taken seriously in accordance with their age and maturity. In other words, children have the right to be consulted when decisions affecting them are being made. This radical recognition of children as active participants in their own lives provides a powerful tool through which children can challenge discrimination. The obligation on governments to acts to tackle it can only be achieved effectively if strategies are developed in the light of children's unique expertise.

Sources and Relevant Links:

Save the Children: Children's Rights: Equal Rights? Editor: Sarah Muscroft

United Nations: Cyberschoolbus on human rights

United Nation Kidsconference

United Nations What's going on?

Think Centre Children's Day Installation art application rejected again?

Think Centre IWD, Dolls & Authorities


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