“No Duty More Important”: Why We Must Treat Children’s Rights as Fundamental Human Rights
By Julia Mancini (Intern, APA Office on Children, Youth and Families)
“There is no trust more sacred than the one the world holds with children. There is no duty more important than ensuring that their rights are respected, that their welfare is protected, that their lives are free from fear and want and that they can grow up in peace.” — Kofi Annan
Where exactly do human rights begin? Sunday, December 10th, 2017 is International Human Rights Day. #HumanRightsDay is celebrated in conjunction with the anniversary of the day the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which will reach its 70th anniversary this coming year. The Declaration seeks to uplift individuals from all walks of life across the world and protect our kinship and dignity as human beings. However, how far does this kinship and dignity extend?
We cannot protect the rights of all people if we do not respect the rights of the youngest and most vulnerable. In November of 1989, the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC). It acknowledges young people as change agents of society and holders of rights1.
Some might consider children bystanders in their own lives, directed always by the decisions caregivers and governments make for them. In considering children active agents of society, we respect their dignity and give them a voice to speak on the difficult situations they face so that we might better support them.
Adults often have legal, developmental, social, and monetary advantage over children. It is not mistaken that adults support children in ways they are not able to do for themselves. The goal is not to take away caregivers’ rights but to instead retain the balance between the rights of children and the rights of families3.
What exactly do those rights include? According to the UN, all children have a right to:
a safe physical environment,
freedom of expression,
freedom of association,
On International Human Rights Day, let’s remember that children’s rights are human rights. If we assume the capacity of a child, we often underestimate the contribution they offer to our society and submit their autonomy to a third party or adult with more power. It is important to balance this agency with protection from harm for those who cannot protect themselves2. This pertains especially to the most vulnerable children throughout the world – the ones who often face the most adversity and discrimination, namely disabled, displaced, impoverished, and minority children. It is important that when we speak of the rights of marginalized groups throughout the world, we also give a voice to children within these groups who might be forgotten or exploited.
The American Psychological Association has endorsed the principles and spirit of the CRC and thus recognized the importance of the rights of children. This issue is important because, as a society, if we were more aware of what children are entitled to as citizens of the world, there would be opportunity for social justice changes that could have an inter-generational and global impact.
It is, of course, essential that adults take a primary role in ensuring their children’s well-being, but it is our international responsibility to ensure that governments and caregivers are doing this in a way that fits the child’s best interests. If we understand and advocate for children’s rights in the present, there will be a better future for not only these individuals, but on an international level as well.
Join the conversation on social media:
Celebrate children’s rights and International Human Rights Day by telling the world that “children’s right are human rights” on your social media. Use the hashtags #HumanRightsDay and #childdevelopment.
Take part in our December 12 Twitter chat on the vital role scientists can play in promoting human rights. It will take place at 2 PM (ET) in partnership with the American Chemical Society and the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) Science and Human Rights Coalition.
1Ruck, M. D., Keating, D. P., Saewyc, E. M., Earls, F. & Ben-Arieh, A. (2014). The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child: Its relevance for adolescents. Journal of Research on Adolescence, 26(1) 16-29. doi:10.1111/jora.12172
2Smith, A. B. (2016). Achieving social justice for children : How can children’s rights thinking make a difference? American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 86(5), 500-507. doi:10.1037/ort0000191
3Huus, K., Dada, S., Bornman, J., Lynegard, F. (2016). The awareness of primary caregivers in South Africa of the human rights of their children with intellectual disabilities. Childcare, Health, and Development, 42(6) 863-870. doi:10.1111/cch.12358
Julia Mancini is currently a junior Psychology and Criminal Justice double major at George Washington University. Julia has a particular interest in children and families and is excited to be interning with the Children, Youth and Families office this fall. Julia has been involved with behavioral genetic research through The Boston University Twin Project. She also worked as a Clinical Research Intern at Safe Shores, DC’s Children’s Advocacy Center, investigating disparities in PTSD presentations among minority youth. This past summer Julia interned for the Child Protection Unit in the District Attorney’s office in her home state of Massachusetts. She also had the opportunity to work internationally with a non-profit in Cochabamba, Bolivia that provides psychological, legal, and social services to child survivors of sexual violence.