We have just celebrated National Children’s Week, a yearly acknowledgement of the importance of child rights in Australia. 2015 was a particularly auspicious year, as it marked 25 years since the creation of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC). The theme was “Children’s Rights are Human Rights”.
This critical document outlines a number of fundamental rights that every child in one of the signatory countries can expect to be met. 25 years isn’t so long in human history, but it’s worth acknowledging that even in that period of time a number of positive gains have been made in the experience of children around the world.
There is of course still a long way to go. You’d be hard pressed to find a day without another story of children’s rights being ignored or violated, whether in war zones, refugee camps or even Australian educational settings.
So it’s important that Children’s Week serves a specific purpose – a reminder to the entire country that children have fundamental human rights. But to me, there’s something just as important – that those rights have to be taken seriously by adults. Our societies and communities are adult-centric, children rely on adults to ensure their rights are being upheld. It is crucial that those of us who work with young children in early childhood education and care settings advocate for children and their rights to be taken seriously.
Take a look back at what your service can planned for last week. Were there “Crazy Hair Days”? “Dress-Up Days”. Bouncy castles, face-painting, pyjama days? These are the common activities we associate with Children’s Week. It’s time to ask, is that good enough?
Put those activities alongside some facts about children in Australia today. 205 children are currently in Australian immigration detention facilities, including 92 on Nauru. 1 in 5 children are starting school developmentally “vulnerable”. Indigenous Australian children are 10 times more likely to be represented in the juvenile detention system than non-Indigenous children.
These are significant issues affecting Australian children, today. These facts would not be in evidence if children’s rights were taken seriously. Perhaps they would be taken more seriously if their advocates, such as ourselves, put away the hair colour and sparkles and wackiness and seriously examined how the rights of children are enacted (or not) in our communities.
I was proud to be part of an organisation that undertook a significant project on Children’s Rights last week. There were no colourful displays and “hilarious” photos of children and staff. Each day of the week, we focused on a single Article of the UNCRC and discussed how it was being enacted in our centres. We invited contributions from children and their families, and had some incredible conversations and discussions.
We came away from it not only knowing more about our own approach to respecting the dignity and rights of all children (and how we still have a lot to improve on), but we also committed to embracing our roles as advocates – with the families we work directly with, and through them the wider community.
We do have the power to change how children are viewed in Australia today. We can change attitudes, and help others to take children and their rights seriously.
But we can only do it by taking them seriously ourselves.