The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child is an international treaty that sets out universally accepted rights for children. It is a benchmark against which a nation’s treatment of its children can be measured. It brings together in one comprehensive code the benefits and protection for children hitherto scattered in a variety of other agreements, including the Declaration of the Rights of the Child adopted in 1959. The UN Convention also affirms that human rights contained in other treaties apply equally to children.
The Convention was officially approved by the United Nations in 1989 and has been ratified by every country in the world but two (currently 194). Ratification of the Convention is a commitment by these nations to comply with the articles of the treaty and thereby to protect and enhance the basic rights of children through their policies, programs and services.
This remarkably comprehensive treaty not only incorporates current thinking with regard to children’s rights but also demands that the world think more deeply about children’s position as citizens and more broadly about their development than has commonly been the case. It asks that we look holistically at children’s lives and hear their own perspectives on issues affecting them.
As a result it is leading many nations to address elements of children’s lives that have hitherto been ignored but that represent our fundamental humanity. One of these – at the heart of children’s lives everywhere – is the right to play.
“That every child has the right to rest and leisure, to engage in play and recreational activities appropriate to the age of the child and to participate freely in cultural life and the arts.
That member governments shall respect and promote the right of the child to participate fully in cultural and artistic life and shall encourage the provision of appropriate and equal opportunities for cultural, artistic, recreational and leisure activity.”
Indivisibility of Convention Articles
The rights of the Convention are indivisible and interdependent. The articles of the Convention represent all aspects of the life of a developing child. While a focus on a particular issue is sometimes necessary and desirable, it is important to begin work on any one article from a knowledge of the whole Convention. They are interrelated and mutually supportive.
Of particular importance are the General Principles:
- Article 2: Ensuring all children’s rights without discrimination.
- Article 3: Ensuring that best interests of children is a prime consideration.
- Article 6: Ensuring the survival and development of the child.
- Article 12: Ensuring that children (as individuals and as a group) have the right to express their views on matters of concern to them.
Value of Article 31 Across the Convention
It is important to position article 31 centrally within the fuller context of the Convention’s overall children’s rights perspective. Article 31 is about all children everywhere and in all situations and is therefore central to the realization of many other rights.
In addition to the above-noted General Principles, article 31 is closely related to:
- Article 13: respect for freedom of expression
- Article 15: respect for the right of freedom of association
- Article 17: entitlement to information and materials of social and cultural benefit
- Article 27: right to a standard of living adequate for their physical, mental, spiritual, moral and social development.
- Article 29: education being directed to the child’s personality, talents, and mental and physical to their fullest potential.
- Article 30: children’s right to enjoy their own culture
- Article 32: right to protection from work which is potentially harmful to their development
Article 31 is an important component of children’s mental and physical health and therefore to their well-being. It also has significant therapeutic and rehabilitative benefits.
Implementation of Article 31
Issues that could be raised by article 31 advocates
Article 31 has become known as ‘the forgotten article of the Convention’.
Very few of the national reports to the UN Committee (required by signatories of the Convention) have included article 31 in their reports and those which have done so have largely focused on children’s physical activity and not embraced all components of the article.
Article 31 advocates can do a number of things to raise awareness its importance.
Here are some suggestions:
- It is important for article 31 to be included in the national UNCRC implementation plans that are mandatory when a nation ratifies the UN Convention.
IPA Branches, member groups and all relevant groups should promote the inclusion of article 31 in national plans or through their official report or through their NGO coalition.
Locate your national NGO coalition, or coalitions, which produces a regular report to the UN Committee at about the same time as their national government one (approximately every five years).While the UN Committee encourages such coalitions, not all countries yet have them. Reports from single or groups of NGOs are therefore also received.
IPA representation on NGO coalitions, or at least a close contact with them, would be an advantage for greater recognition and implementation of article 31.
- The range of government ministries or departments, which should be included in article 31 implementation, is a particular challenge. It makes sense for article 31 supporters to help identify key players and organize discussion groups about its implementation priorities.
Given the article 31 components of rest and leisure, play and recreation, culture and the arts, there would be a wide range of government departments involved. Those with a responsibility in this field would include, for example, education, recreation, health, social services, labour, social and physical planning, culture, and sports, as well as those concerned with transport, housing and sanitation.
- A goal of IPA Branches and groups would be to support the development of a national policy or framework for article 31.
Identify the nation’s relevant government departments – as above – and other key national non-government organizations, such as IPA, and encourage comprehensive discussions about article 31.
Implementation of the Convention through policy is essential. It can be developed to interpret or build on legislation, or to set out the direction of government or non-governmental organizations in the absence of legislation.
Since policy also guides the delivery of programs and services, implementation of the Convention becomes possible through day-to-day practice. (For example: Wales Play Policy, 2002.)
- Orientation and training on article 31 should be accessible for all professionals working with or for children.
Is the status of national training, particularly with regard to play, known to IPA Branches, member groups and all relevant groups involved in Article 31?
What steps could be taken to improve this? Do you have information that would be useful to other countries?
Website Information: Article 31 Promotion
Share information with regard to overcoming challenging situations, monitoring article 31 implementation, access to useful material and so on… ValerieFronczek_ipa@shaw.ca
- Examples of promotion activity of ipa national branches and groups… forthcoming