The 25th anniversary of the Convention on the Rights of the Child

In children’s hearts lies the hope of a world of peace, of friendship, and of love

November 20, 2014 marks the 25th anniversary of the Convention on the Rights of the Child. This occasion must serve as a reminder that we must ensure that all families be respected and supported by fair family policies designed in the spirit of human rights. We must end bullying and discrimination, and support parents as the first partners for their children’s academic success. And we must promote cooperation among learners, and friendship among children of all backgrounds, so that all children can enjoy life!

“I’ve changed so much. I used to feel like I mattered less than other children. But in getting to know others, I realized that no one matters less than others. We’re all equal.” —Fatima, El Salvador

“I’ve learned that we can have friends from different social backgrounds, like from Urkupina [a low-income district] and from the French School of Bolivia [in a wealthy part of La Paz] because children from both places were playing traditional musical instruments together. That really made me think.” —Mireya, Bolivia

Children living in poverty ask us not only to respect their rights, but also to help them see the value and potential in themselves, and to help them make friends with children from different backgrounds. They also ask us not only to support their families, but to draw on what their parents have to offer the world: their experience, their values, and their intelligence. Children hope that all children be able to live with their families; that all families be supported by friendships that can overcome discrimination and social exclusion; and that all families be supported by fair family policies designed in the spirit of the indivisibility of human rights and the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

The worldwide commitment to the Convention on the Rights of the Child, 25 years ago, marked a sea change in the protection of children’s health and well-being, and in understanding the importance of listening to children’s voices. In addition, five years ago the UN Guidelines for the Alternative Care of Children further advanced the understanding that “financial and material poverty, or conditions directly and uniquely imputable to such poverty, should never be the only justification for the removal of a child from parental care.” In 2012, the Guiding Principles on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights were adopted. They state: “In line with the obligation to protect the best interests of the child in any child protection proceedings, efforts should be directed primarily towards enabling the child to remain in or return to the care of his or her parents, including by tackling the material deprivation of the family.”

And yet, around the world, well-intentioned policy-makers or non-profit groups continue to respond to poverty with the misguided idea that separating children from low-income families is the best way to help them. International adoption continues to be “a boom-and-bust market for children [… where] potential for fraud and abuse is high.” Too many children offered for adoption in fact still have at least one of their parents. Social services in countries seeking to reduce their rates of “child poverty” often remove children from parental care on grounds of “neglect”—which often means lack of financial means in situations with no evidence of abuse. It is the children themselves who tell us how damaging it is to know that their parents are looked down on, considered incompetent, and treated without dignity. They say:

We ask you to allow children to live with their parents. If it isn’t possible for us to stay with our families, it’s important for our well-being that we keep in touch with them, because there is always a piece of our hearts that stays with our families. If we can’t keep in touch, we’ll always be sad, even if it doesn’t show.

The United Nations and national and local authorities should commit to implementing the UN Guidelines for the Alternative Care of Children, with the participation of parents living in poverty to ensure that all children and their families are respected and that available resources are invested in supporting these families rather than in placing them with other families or in institutions.

Children living in low-income families sense the pervasive disrespect of their parents early on in their lives. When they are able to attend school, too often they see this attitude in the way their parents are spoken to by their teachers. In some countries, the very school curriculum dates from a colonial era and gives value only to knowledge that is useful for urban, administrative work. Not only does this fail to prepare children to address the challenges their communities face today, but its disregard for their families’ knowledge and experience can force them to choose between academic success and their sense of belonging to their community. Educators should learn to notice and support efforts and initiatives that parents take for their children’s future. Raising awareness that parents are the first partners for their children’s academic success makes it possible for teachers and children’s extended families to act in a spirit of cooperation and complementarity.

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The worldwide commitment to the Convention on the Rights of the Child, 25 years ago, marked a sea change in the protection of children’s health and well-being, and in understanding the importance of listening to children’s voices.

Discrimination, stigmatization, and bullying in places of learning increase children’s fear of failure and prevent parents from communicating with educators. It is important to promote cooperation among learners and to be creative in addressing the fact that competition can undermine the school experience for both its “winners” and “losers,” as noted by teachers during the project “Together, Building a School Where Everyone Succeeds,” [1] and by young people and adults living in poverty in the evaluation of the Millennium Development Goals, in particular with regards to a project where the pedagogy of non-abandonment was shown to enrich education for all. In addition, the Tapori Children’s Movement is a key tool for ending bullying. Through Tapori, children from all backgrounds get to know one another and develop friendships, through a newsletter and through common projects. In this month’s issue, children from many countries share their ideas about the rights of the child and their experiences of helping one another.

Tapori children say:

Through our actions, we gain respect for our rights and defend everyone else’s rights too. Our actions are no longer too small to matter when 100,000 of us are all taking action. Thanks to friends, we can forget our worries and sadness and become stronger. Everyone should have a friend to play with. We try to accept other people as they are and we try to stop judging them without getting to know them. At school, whenever children are alone, we go to them. We also help each other so we can learn together. Tapori children who do go to school share what they learn with those who don’t: new words, songs, poems…. Some of our parents are weighed down by life, so we lighten their load by helping out. We help each other out in order to work more quickly so we can talk and play together afterwards. We think that all people who live in poverty don’t need only a home or a job; they should be able to enjoy life. In our hearts lies the hope of a world of peace, of friendship, and of love. But we cannot succeed on our own. We must pool our efforts and ideas. Without solidarity, we will not be able to fight against poverty. Let’s get together so the world becomes better and there’s no more unfairness. We’re counting on you!

May this 25th anniversary spur us all to heed these children’s appeal. We must ensure that all families be respected and supported by fair family policies designed in the spirit of human rights. We must end bullying and discrimination, and support parents as the first partners for their children’s academic success. And we must promote cooperation among learners, and friendship among children of all backgrounds, so that all children can enjoy life!

—Diana Skelton, Deputy Director General ATD Fourth World

[1] This French project is documented in a book by Régis Félix and eleven teachers, all members of ATD Fourth World. Tous peuvent réussir ! Partir des élèves dont on n’attend rien. Published in 2013 by Editions Quart Monde and Chronique Sociale.