I’d been a parent for about three and a half years before I snapped. Having followed and engaged in the ‘parenting discourse’ on social media, read blogs, books, researched the history of childhood, child development, education and family policy. Having done my best to get to the bottom of what and why we treat children in the way we do, I sat on my sofa, laptop on lap, and said to the Gods:
“Don’t children have any rights?”
Maybe they actually do, I thought. So I got googling, and guess what, low and behold, there they were.
The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.
With nervous anticipation I started to go through the UNCRC.
Children are people, it said. Not people of the future, but in there here and now.
Everyone under 18 has the right to be listened to, and to have their opinion taken seriously.
Children have the right to be free from discrimination of any kind, and to be treated as individuals.
The best interests of children must be a primary concern in all the decisions made that affect them. They have the right to a say in those decisions.
Children have the right to be protected from all emotional and physical harm, including neglect.
Children should be treated with dignity and respect, they have the right to privacy. They have the right to information, they have the right to play.
In all of the discussion and debate about parenting, parenting styles, and parental choice, one thing was always missing.
The rights of the children themselves.
And here, in front of me, was a 25 year old agreement between almost all of the countries in the world, saying that children are in fact rights holders. That they are entitled to agency and voice. That they are people, not the possessions of their parents or the state. That their best interests matter, their voices matter.
Listening to and respecting your children, advocating for their best interests wasn’t a type of parenting. It was respecting children’s rights.
I thought I had found the magic key to it all. I thought this webpage I front of me was the great panacea to the marginalisation and normalised mistreatment of babies, toddlers, children and young people in our society. But I was wrong.
This agreement had been signed 25 years ago, but had anyone heard of it? Had anything been done with it? Noticeably, I mean, in the public sphere? Where were children’s rights in the everyday mainstream? It was the first time I had heard of them. I started asking around. I even went to the UNICEF HQ in London to ask them what was going on.
I struggled to find anyone in the mainstream who had any awareness of the UNCRC or the concept of children’s rights. I asked other parents, I asked teachers, I asked childcare workers. The people who have the most everyday contact with children.
It seemed like children’s rights were the best kept secret ever.
I got into the politics of it. The Department for Education are responsible for ensuring everyone knows about the UNCRC. They decided not to put it on the national curriculum.
I realised that the DfE wasn’t interested in promoting or even raising awareness of children’s rights. I realised that plenty of adults are uncomfortable with the idea of children as rights holders.
I educated myself about the historical roots of this and the causes of the sustained oppression of children’s rights. I soon realised that this was a social justice issue of epic scale.
And I came to the conclusion that, the most useful thing I could do, was to respect and promote the rights of my own children, the rights of other young people, and to invite other people to do the same.