Addressing the Lack of Child Human Rights
Written by: Matt Nathaniel, Regional NightCare Director
When we feel sorry for children who are ignored, uncared for, and abused, we are moved with compassion. This is a natural human response. Over the decades, individuals and social justice organizations have taken a compassion-based approach when working with children. Is it time to take a rights-based approach in addressing the injustices the children face?
This article will challenge you to go beyond taking a compassion-based approach to a rights-based approach.
The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, or UNCRC, is the most complete statement of children’s rights ever produced. It is the most widely ratified international human rights treaty in history.
The UNCRC defines the child as a person under 18 years of age. It acknowledges the primary role of parents and the family in the care and protection of children and the obligation of the State to help them carry out these duties.
The UN Convention consists of 41 articles, each of which details a different type of right. These rights are grouped under the following themes:
- Survival rights: include the child’s right to life and the needs that are most basic to its existence, such as nutrition, shelter, an adequate living standard, and access to medical services.
- Development rights: include the right to education, play, leisure, cultural activities, access to information, and freedom of thought, conscience, and religion.
- Protection rights: ensure children are safeguarded against all forms of abuse, neglect, and exploitation, including specialized care for refugee children; safeguards for children in the criminal justice system.
- Participation rights: encompass children’s freedom to express opinions, to have a say in matters affecting their own lives, to join associations, and to assemble peacefully.
Saving Moses works for children under five, who live in brothels and red-light districts. Following a recent focused group discussion conducted among its grassroots staff in three different countries, the following were some of the key findings:
- Mothers do not provide enough psychosocial support to their children.
- Children are exposed to theft, drugs, and violence – they are drugged in most cases.
- Children do not always experience genuine love and care.
- Children do not get proper nutrition, but often are malnourished.
- Children face a high risk of being stolen or sold, especially with very low, or no income for the mothers.
- Children are forced to sell condoms on the streets.
- Children are often physically abused.
Please note the above findings were from one context: the sex industry in the three countries Saving Moses works. When looking closely at the findings above, it is evident that children living in these places need rights to survive, develop, protect, and participate. We must acknowledge that mothers alone cannot ensure that their children’s rights are not violated. Many people are responsible for the safety and wellbeing of children living in these places. The mothers of the children, personnel from Saving Moses, community people the children often come across, clients who come to the red-light districts and brothels, professionals from government and other agencies who visit these places, and many others. It takes collective responsibility to ensure children enjoy their rights.
Parents have sufficient powers to fulfill their duties to the child. Parents uniquely affect the lives of children. Issues in the child-parent relationship include child neglect, child abuse, freedom of choice, corporal punishment, and child custody. Parents need to know they have a huge responsibility to fulfill their duties so that their children enjoy their rights.
We are the eyes and voice for children
The most powerless members of society are children. In most cases, they will not even realize that they are subjected to human rights violations. We must be their eyes.
Unlike adults, children cannot speak for themselves. It is the responsibility of adults to be vigilant about any possible child rights violations and be proactive in addressing them most appropriately. We must be their voice.
A call to collective response to address child rights violation
An African proverb goes like this, “It takes a village to raise a child.” That means an entire community of people must interact with children for those children to experience and grow in a safe and healthy environment. In a society that is becoming more and more individualistic, we must care for our neighbors and ensure we play a part in making sure children are safe. It is a collective responsibility of a whole community to ensure children exercise their rights to survival, development, protection, and participation.
When a child is subjected to a violation of child rights, we should both be moved with compassion and fight for the rights of the child. It must be a collective response of a whole community. Let us address the child rights violations today so that we create a safer and healthier tomorrow for our children.