by Theresa Casey, President, International Play Association
There is a special relationship between children’s rights and Geneva – described as ‘the centre of gravity for children’s rights’ – so I was honoured to be there on the 20th November 2014, to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.
An impressive array of NGOs, UN agencies and honoured guests gathered together in the Palais de Wilson, home of the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, to mark the occasion, organised by Child Rights Connect and UNICEF. We heard from a number of speakers whose words suggested common threads: that progress has been made, particularly in a shift from focussing on children’s needs to the responsibility to uphold children’s rights.
Nigel Cantwell, one of the people originally involved in drafting the Convention, highlighted that it was when the human rights bodies and the children’s NGOs came together that considerable progress and momentum was created (up until then there had been a slow start). Cantwell urged us to reinvigorate the understanding that children’s rights aren’t separate and special – they are human rights. The historical insight was very interesting given IPA’s acknowledged role at the time of drafting in ensuring play was included in the Convention. Now, a Convention of Children’s Rights without play is unthinkable.
Flavia Pansieri, the Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights, also drew attention to children’s rights within the domain of human rights when she remarked on recent Resolutions adopted by the Human Rights Council pertaining to children. I was delighted to hear her draw special attention to the Resolution on children’s right to play and her comment:
“It is very important – children are children after all.”
Her words echoed those of IPA in the work we have done on the path towards a General Comment on article 31 (the right to play) when above all we have emphasised that children have a right to enjoy their childhood.
I was lucky to have a free day in Geneva to walk around and see the sights under a typically lucid blue Geneva sky, with the snow-tipped mountains in the background. It was a really nice chance to remember IPA days in Geneva over the last few years. Most of these memories involve Valerie Fronczek, IPA’s late Vice President, striding out purposefully always with a mission in mind – fun or food and a glass of red, and (always) a mission to persuade and engage.
I remember sitting with Valerie and Jan van Gils (former IPA President) preparing to present directly to the UN Children’s committee in request of the General Comment. I sat next to Jean Zermatten, the Chair of the Committee, who passed along a box of sticky Middle Eastern sweets that promptly stuck to our teeth and made talking impossible – as if it wasn’t scary enough speaking to the Committee of experts and ranks of translators!
Valerie wasn’t able to be with us when IPA brought together our Working Group on the General Comment in 2012 but she would have been truly exhilarated as we worked together with the Committee’s focal group to finalise the GC wording. And she would have laughed at, but probably not have had much truck with, the amount of crying that went on the next day when it hit us that we were nearly there (Marilena Flores Martins and I being the weepiest).
And wow, we had a great celebration in Geneva, in 2013 to launch the General Comment itself. Although play people know how to enjoy themselves and are always in good company, it’s not always in such plush surroundings.
I was thinking about all of this as I strolled around Geneva on the 25th anniversary. One cannot sightsee on memories alone so I stopped for coffee and croissants. I had just sat down with my coffee when –and I swear this is true – ‘I’m on Top of the World’, the music from the IPA General Comment film, came on in the background. I’m not sure what the people sitting at the next tables thought when the woman sitting on her own looked up and smiled at everyone!
It was just such a lovely moment and made me think of all the times now I’ve seen people smiling, clapping and dancing along to the film, thanks to the vision of Cynthia Gentry (our Communications Officer) to reach out and capture the essence of what it’s all about.
So for me, Geneva is a place where IPA imagined a goal that seemed almost impossible, set itself to work, and did it; where we worked really hard and laughed quite hard too; where we brought friends and colleagues together – some of them now ‘absent friends’ to whom we raise a silent toast. And Geneva is the place where this generation of IPA people, carried on what the previous generation of IPA achieved when they ensured that play was included in the Convention.
It was great to be in Geneva on the anniversary of the Convention on the Rights of the Child. It helped me to understand IPA’s place in the historic continuum on children’s rights. I’m very, very proud of IPA and what it does for children and their right to play.
The 25th anniversary is a great milestone for children’s rights, and all credit to IPA for securing General Comment 17 last year too. This should prove to be an invaluable framework for advocates and policty makers alike.
There is still, however, a frankly arrogant disregard for children’s rights in many political spheres. We are used to it England, but I also came across it in Denmark, of all places, recently. When policy overlooks the rights agenda and focuses solely on need the next step is to look solely for ‘evidence-based interventions’ which reduces child policy to a perpetuation of the education / protection / children’s services model that is self-evidently failing.
I hope IPA and its allies in the international children’s rights movement can use the next 25 years to increasingly find ways to exert pressure on governments to fully adopt the CRC through national legislation and strategic action.
Theresa, I just came across your name and wonder if you are the same Theresa Casey that volunteered in Thailand with VSO back in 1997 or around there? I was the volunteer in the special education section at that time placed in Bangkok. We shared many good times exploring play spaces in Kling Tuey and near by factories in Bangkok. If I you are the same Theresa it looks as if you are coming to Canada in 2017? IPA and Tim Gill are very much a growing interest. My part of Canada, the Maritime coast has yet to develop some good adventure playgrounds but we have begun a Forest School which is drawing kids into play experiences in the great outdoors. Small steps but progress none the less in a risk averse culture! Hope to hear back from you if you get this comment. All the very best, Jacqui Reeves