Children’s rights are everyone’s responsibility

We all have a role in supporting and advocating for the rights of children, writes Megan Mitchell.

It’s now 25 years after Australia signed on to the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which provides universally agreed set of non-negotiable standards and obligations about the treatment of all children.

The Treaty is more than just words.MM

Children must be supported in daily practice by those who work with children and those who develop policies that affect them.

In fact children’s rights are the paramount consideration for us all.

As National Children’s Commissioner, I report annually to Parliament on the exercise and enjoyment of human rights by children in Australia.

In my 2013 report, I noted the limited knowledge that many children and young people, as well as adults, have about children’s rights.

One of the ways that I have addressed this during 2014 has been in my work with Early Childhood Australia (ECA) and the preparation of Supporting young children’s rights: Statement of intent (20152018) which will provide guidance and support to the early childhood sector to put these fundamental rights into practice.

The early childhood years are critical for laying the foundations for the sound development of a child.

The United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child has outlined developmental reasons why early childhood is a critical period for the realisation of children’s rights. These include that children:

  • experience the most rapid period of growth and change during the human lifespan, in terms of their maturing bodies and nervous systems, increasing mobility, communication skills and intellectual capacities, and rapid shifts in their interests and abilities
  • form strong emotional attachments to their parents and other caregivers, from whom they seek and require nurturance, care, guidance and protection, in ways that are respectful of their individuality and growing capacities
  • establish relationships with children of the same age, as well as younger and older children. Through these relationships they learn to negotiate and coordinate shared activities; resolve conflicts, keep agreements and accept responsibility for others; actively make sense of the physical, social and cultural dimensions of the world they inhabit; and learn progressively from their activities and their interactions with others children and adults
  • form the basis for their physical and mental health, emotional security, cultural and personal identity and developing competencies in their earliest years (CRC, 2006, p. 3).

Young children’s experiences of growth and development vary according to their individual nature, as well as according to gender, living conditions, family organisation, care arrangements and education systems. Their experiences of growth and development are also powerfully shaped by cultural beliefs about their needs and proper treatment, and about their active role in family and community (CRC, 2006, p. 3).

The importance of early childhood for the health and wellbeing of children and future adults has been recognised by federal, state and territory governments in the National Early Childhood Development Strategy (COAG, 2009). This national strategy is a response to evidence about the importance of early childhood development and the benefits, including cost-effectiveness, of ensuring that all children experience a positive early childhood.

Quality early childhood education and care is one critical component of effective early childhood development. It can play a significant role in enhancing children’s learning and socialization, as well as acting as a strong protective measure.

The Australian Early Years Learning Framework provides guidance for early childhood education and care for children in Australia. It states that ‘early childhood educators will reinforce in their daily practice the principles laid out in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child’ (DEEWR, 2009, p. 5).

Supporting young children’s rights: Statement of Intent (20152018) outlines concrete steps that early childhood educators can take to reinforce children’s rights in their daily practice. Using my 2013 report to Parliament, ECA has identified five priority areas for action and these are:

  • the right to be heard
  • freedom from violence, abuse and neglect
  • the opportunity to thrive
  • engaged civics and citizenship
  • action and accountability.

The Statement is a very practical tool designed to help early childhood educators understand Australia’s obligations to children, and to realise children’s rights in their services. Resources will also be identified and developed to support teachers, educators, families and children to implement the identified areas for action under the Statement of Intent.

Because children’s right to be heard is the gateway to all other rights, consultations were also held with children in developing the Statement and their views were incorporated in the Statement’s action areas.

This watershed document builds a strong foundation in supporting the rights of children in the early years and increases the opportunities to deliver positive outcomes for children.

It’s up to all of us to take up the challenge to become champions of children’s rights – in our words, our policies and our practice – so that each and every child can reach their full potential.

Megan Mitchell

National Children’s Commissioner

References

Committee on the Rights of the Child (CRC). (2006). General Comment No. 7, Implementing Child Rights in Early Childhood, UN Doc CRC/C/GC/7/Rev.1. Retrieved 1 October, 2014, from tbinternet.ohchr.org/_layouts/treatybodyexternal/Download.aspx?symbolno=CRC%2fC%2fGC%2f7%2fRev.1&Lang=en.

Council of Australian Governments (COAG). (2009). Investing in the Early Years—A National Early Childhood Development Strategy. Retrieved 1 October, 2014, from www.coag.gov.au/node/205.

Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations (DEEWR). (2009). The Early Years Learning Framework for Australia. Retrieved 1 October, 2014, from education.gov.au/early-years-learning-framework.

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Megan Mitchell

Megan has had extensive experience in issues facing children and young people, having worked with children from all types of backgrounds, including undertaking significant work with vulnerable children. She has practical expertise in child protection, foster and kinship care, juvenile justice, children’s services, child care, disabilities, and early intervention and prevention services. Megan’s previous roles include NSW Commissioner for Children and Young People, Executive Director of the ACT Office for Children, Youth and Family Support, Executive Director for Out-of-Home Care in the NSW Department of Community Services and CEO of the Australian Council of Social Service. Megan also holds qualifications in social policy, psychology and education, having completed a Bachelor of Arts from the University of Sydney (1979), a Diploma of Education from the Sydney Teachers College (1980), a Master of Arts (Psychology) from the University of Sydney (1982) and a Master of Arts (Social Policy) from the University of York (1989).

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