Attitudes towards children have undoubtedly moved on significantly in the last century. From objects of concern who were seen as the property of their parents, to subjects and beings in their own right, our children’s place in society continues to develop. International human rights legislation, largely introduced after the atrocities of the Second World War, have always applied as equally to children as it does to those over the age of 18. However, the clear aim of such treaties was to prevent events like the indiscriminate murder of innocent people by leaders like Hitler, it wasn’t to further the rights of young people in society and challenge society’s attitudes towards them. Nonetheless, in 1989, the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) sought to provide a paradigm to underpin the special rights status which our young people are seen to possess. This convention is the most widely ratified, with only the United States choosing not to adopt its principles.
As welcome and crucially important as these international steps have been in progressing the collective, outward-facing attitudes towards children, I have become increasingly aware of the attitudes towards issues relating to children’s rights on a lay-person level.
Global Citizenship and Refugees in Afghanistan
My 8 year old son recently started his school topic on ‘Global Citizenship and Refugees in Afghanistan’. While some parents reacted in horror at the news that their child was going to be exposed to the horrors which exist in what they perceive to be another ‘world’, I was encouraged and enthused by the idea of my son learning more about the plight of other children. It was also good to know that my collection of child friendly ‘global citizenship’ and UNCRC books could help to educate another group of young people.
Having sponsored a little girl in Mozambique for the last 3 years, I have always been keen for Aidan to be aware of the plight of others who have less than us. For that same reason, we frequently give to a local children’s charity for disadvantaged children and go and speak to and donate to the lovely ‘Big Issue’ seller every week. I believe it is just as important for our young people to have empathy and a passion to help others as it is for them to have basic literacy, numeracy and social skills.
A few months ago, Aidan had been in the car with my granny (his great granny). Aidan had said that he felt sad about the refugees who were leaving their homes and dying while searching for safety. My granny had replied that it wasn’t our problem to solve and that their individual governments should do more. At 8 years old, Aidan said, ‘if I needed help, I would want someone to help me, so if we can help these people then we should’.
This is a conversation I would have avoided having with my Granny, and indeed with any of my family members. I have completely different views on these topics and sadly I don’t know many people out with academia who are passionate about promoting the rights of others. However, Aidan and other children like him are ready to have that conversation about rights and equality now. The suggestion that children don’t know what they are talking about simply because they are young, and haven’t spent as much time on earth is hugely misguided. In reality, they bring a fresh set of perspectives and judgement free opinions – this is something we should use to the advantage of society!
In reality, Aidan’s school topic has advanced his knowledge of the struggles faced by refugees and increased his empathy for those less fortunate than himself, while also boosting his literacy and love of books through the Michael Morpurgo book ‘Shadow’.
Children are our future
We could all learn a lot from the way our young people react to the suffering of others. Invariably, their response is to feel empathy for those less fortunate than themselves, regardless of the difference which adults perceive to exist. Whether focussing on children within our own jurisdictions or further afield, the UNCRC applies to every single one of our children. They are our future and we should learn from them.
We should use their wisdom and fresh eyes to further both their rights and our understanding of the issues which effect them – and by ‘them’ I mean all children. They are a collective group who largely have empathy for one another. We should encourage this and use it to shape our attitudes.
While many of us are passionate about human rights, and children’s right in particular, the most passionate and persuasive children’s rights campaigners are our children. We should listen to them, and follow their lead to help give them as loud a voice as possible, after all we are talking about the founders of the future – a powerful and influential group, if we let them be.