The rights of the child: A guide for parents

The UN convention of the rights of the child, is a funny document. It lays out only the most basic or fundamental of rights and yet many parents remain opposed to it without understanding it. Parents of children who have learned about the convention have been outraged that their child 'came home thinking they had rights' as though there is something fundamentally wrong with children having rights and being aware of them.
Every child however is entitled to fulfilment of his or her needs as a right and as such it is important that all parents and other members of society know the rights of the child.

In fact, for a parent trying to follow evidence rather than media reports or opinions, it can be something of a gift. Here is what the evidence thinks are priorities for your child's life, things you should value above all others. Even the articles that do not directly apply to you, may help you make sense of government programs, rules and other issues you will run up against.
Many of the articles on the rights of the child involve the actions of governments or other major corporations. Others only apply to vulnerable children or children living in poor environments. The articles that are most relevant to parents to know are the following.

Article 6: Children have the right to live a full life..... should ensure that children survive and develop healthily.
In order to have full rights, the child's right to health is required for the enjoyment of the other rights stated in their convention.
Under the health subheading, there are many associated areas which need to be addressed.

  • Gender-based discrimination: attention should be focused on the differing needs of girls and boys, the impact of gender related social norms and values on child's health behaviour and development.
  • Mother's health: A significant number of infant deaths are related to the poor health of the mother. Health-related behaviours of parents and other adults can have a major impact on children's health.
  • Mental health: A need for public health and psychosocial support to address mental ill-health and invest in early detection and treatment. 
  • Obesity: Exposure to 'fast foods' should be limited, its marketing regulating and availability controlled.
  • Breastfeeding: Should be protected and promoted. In particular the recommendation is exclusive breastfeeding up to 6 months of age and complementary breastfeeding until two.
  • Teen pregnancy: Girls should be able to make autonomous and informed decisions about reproductive health. Education, awareness and dialogue on sex and reproduction should be available to both genders. Teenagers should be provided with health services including family planning and abortion services.  Short term contraception including condoms, hormonal methods and emergency contraception should be easily and readily available to sexually active adolescents. 
  • Information: All children should be provided with health-related information in a manner that is understandable and appropriate to their age and education. Life skills educations should address health issues including health eating, physical activity, accident and injury prevention, sanitation, alcohol and drug use. Children should also be provided with information about their body including physiological and emotional aspects. This includes information related to sexual health and well being. 
  • Corporal punishment: In light of its impact on children's health, corporal punishment and other cruel or degrading forms of punishment should not be allowed in any setting including the home.

Article 9: Children should not be separated from their parents unless it is for their own good. For example, if a parent is mistreating or neglecting a child. Children whose parents have separated have the right to stay in contact with both parents, unless this might harm the child.

Article 12: Children have the right to say what they think should happen when adults are making decisions that affect them and to have their opinions taken into account. 
 This does not mean that children can dictate what others should do but instead encourages adults to listen to the opinions of children and involve them in the decision making process. The level of a child's participation should be appropriate the child's level of maturity.

Article 13: Children have the right to get and to share information, as long as the information is not damaging to them or to others. They may share information in any way they choose. This right also gives them the responsibility to respect others rights, freedoms and reputations. 

Article 14: Children have the right to think and believe what they want and to practise their religion, as long as they are not stopping other people from enjoying their rights. Parents should guide children on these matters. 
This does not prevent parents from bringing their children up within a religious tradition but as children mature and can form their own views it supports the right to examine the beliefs and question certain religious practices or cultural tradition
Article 15: Children have the right to meet with other children and young people and to join groups and organisations, as long as this does not stop other people from enjoying their rights. 

Article 17: Children have the right to get information that is important to their health and well-being. Governments should encourage mass media – radio, television, newspapers and Internet content sources – to provide information that children can understand and to not promote materials that could harm children. Mass media should particularly be encouraged to supply information in languages that minority and indigenous children can understand. Children should also have access to children’s books. 

Article 18: Both parents share responsibility for bringing up their children and should always consider what is best for each child. Governments should help parents by providing services to support them, especially if both parents work.

Article 19: Children have the right to be protected from being hurt and mistreated, physically or mentally. 
This does not specify what form of punishment parents should use, however  discipline involving violence is considered unacceptable. It recommends discipline that is non-violent, appropriate to the child's level of development and take the best interests of the child into consideration.

Article 24: Children have the right to good quality health care, clean water, nutritious food and a clean environment so that they will stay healthy.

Article 28: Children have the right to an education. Discipline in schools should respect children’s human dignity.

Article 29: Education should develop each child’s personality and talents to the full. It should encourage children to respect their parents, their cultures and other cultures. 

Article 31: Children have the right to relax, play and to join in a wide range of leisure activities. 
Children require time to play in unstructured activities, have leisure time (time and space without obligations, entertainment or stimulus which they can fill as they wish) and rest.  This may be one of the greatest issues for more developed countries where play is considered wasted time and more priority is placed on studying or economic work. The UN warns against over structuring time and reminds parents that children are entitled to time where they are not controlled by adults. 
In order for children to exercise this right they require freedom from stress, an accessible safe environment and opportunities to be free from adult control and management.
Associated issues include:
  • Age appropriate play: In older children opportunities are required to being provided with places socialise as is developmentally necessary for adolescents. Greater recognition and respect for  this need is required.
  • Friendships: children have the right to exercise choice in the friendships including peers of both sexes as well as people of different abilities, classes, cultures and ages. 
  • Organisations: Children may establish, join and leave associations. They should never be compelled to participate or join organisations. 
  • Location: Fears over risks can lead to increased monitoring and surveillance restricting children's ability to play. The UN suggests that although children should not be exposed to harm, risk and challenge is essential to play. The best interests of the child and listening to children's experiences and concerns can help to mediate these risks. 
  • Commercialisation: There is a warning against products that are harmful to children's development or impede creative play including products promoting television programmes, toys with microchips which leave children only as a passive observer, kits with a predetermined pattern of activity, toys promoting gender stereotypes, toys that sexualise girls, toys containing dangerous parts of chemicals, realistic war toys and games.
Article 36: Children should be protected from any activities that could harm their development.



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