“there is a moral and ethical responsibility to advocate on behalf of young children.”
Twenty-five years ago, the United Nations drafted a human rights treaty to frame and guide international thinking about the treatment of children (United Nations, 1989). While Australia was an early adopter of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC), ratifying it in November 1989, we have been one of the last countries to implement or to regularly report on its implementation. In developing the UNCRC the United Nations aimed to set globally agreed standards for children worldwide to challenge the respect accorded to children, their treatment and to influence decisions relating to children, no matter the moral or cultural frame of the ratifying country (Thomas, 2011).
The UNCRC provides governments and organisations like Early Childhood Australia (ECA) and its membership, with a longstanding and internationally agreed set of standards against which to take check of ourselves, to check on how far we have come and where we need to work harder to support and advocate on behalf of children. This year, on the 25th anniversary of the adoption of the UNCRC, it is fitting that ECA and the recently appointed National Children’s Commissioner joined together with you, ECA members, advocates, experts in the field and (to some extent) children themselves, to collaboratively develop a statement of intent on supporting young children’s rights. Supporting young children’s rights: Statement of intent , focuses on how we as professionals working with children can support, promote and advocate for children.
Today’s generation of children (in OECD countries) are the first to spend the majority of their time, not in their own homes with their families, but in some form of child care. Almost 80 percent of three to six year olds in OECD countries are in some form of early childhood education and care setting and between 25–50 percent of under three year olds.(UNICEF, 2008)
As a nation that supports and promotes the merits and use of children’s services, with 37 per cent of children aged under four years attending some type of formal care (ABS, 2011), there is a moral and ethical responsibility to advocate on behalf of young children. The children’s services sector has many advocates who work on behalf of professionals, families, service providers and service funders. In Supporting young children’s rights: Statement of intent, ECA and the Human Rights Commission provide guidance and assistance to reflect on day-to-day practices, and to advocate from the perspective of, and on behalf of children.
There is much to be celebrated, when you consider Australia’s progress in the area of young children’s rights. The United Nations Committee commended Australia on the implementation of the National Quality Framework for early childhood education and care (United Nations, 2012). The Education and Care Services National Law (C’wth, 2010) and Regulations (C’wth, 2011) recognise that:
- the rights and best interests of the child are paramount (reflecting UNCRC, 1989, Article 3)
- children are successful, competent and capable learners (reflecting Committee on the Rights of the Child, 2005, General Comment 7)
- the principles of equity, inclusion and diversity underlie this Law (reflecting UNCRC, 1989, Article 1)
- Australia’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures are valued (reflecting UNCRC, 1989, Article 30)
- the role of parents and families is respected and supported (reflecting UNCRC, 1989, Article 5)
- best practice is expected in the provision of education and care services (reflecting UNCRC, 1989, Article 28).
The curriculum document, the Early Years Learning Framework, guides educators’ day-to-day practice and recognises and promotes the fundamental principles within the UNCRC.
Early childhood educators guided by the EYLF will reinforce in their daily practice the principles laid out in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. The Convention states that all children have the right to an education that lays a foundation for the rest of their lives, maximises their ability, and respects their family, cultural and other identities and languages. The Convention also recognises children’s right to play and be active participants in all matters affecting their lives. (DEEWR, 2009, p. 5)
While much has been achieved for young children in Australia, the UNCRC also helps us to identify where more can be done to advocate for young children. For instance, the United Nations’ concluding observations of Australia (United Nations, 2012) identify that further work is needed in relation to:
- promoting the inclusion of children’s voices and children’s participation in decision-making processes, and enabling greater opportunities to hear from children
- creating better connections between families and family support services
- issues faced by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children
- domestic laws allowing corporal punishment
- rights education
- supporting children to develop basic skills to be safe from harm.
Taken together, the observations by the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child (2012), the thoughts, ideas and feedback gathered from the ECEC sector during consultation and, to some extent, the voices of children themselves, have contributed to collaboratively develop a statement of intent. Supporting young children’s rights: Statement of intent (2015–2018) sets out goals for what we can collaboratively aim to achieve to advocate for young children’s rights over the next few years.
Further resources on supporting children’s rights are available here.
Adamson, P. (2008). The childcare transition: A league table of early childhood education and care in economically advanced countries. Florence: UNICEF Office of Research.
Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS). (2011). Paper no. 8146.0—Household Use of Information Technology, Australia, 2010–11. Canberra: Australian Bureau of Statistics.
Committee on the Rights of the Child (2005). General Comment No. 7: Implementing Child Rights in Early Childhood, CRC/C/CG/7.
Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations (DEEWR). (2009). Belonging, Being and Becoming: The Early Years Learning Framework for Australia. Barton, ACT: Commonwealth of Australia.
Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations (DEEWR). (2012). National Quality Framework for Early Education and Care Services. Barton, ACT: Commonwealth of Australia.
Thomas, N. (2011). Children’s rights: policy into practice. New South Wales: Southern Cross University Publications.
United Nations. (1989). The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. New York: UNICEF.
United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child. (2005). General Comment No. 7: Implementing Child Rights in Early Childhood, CRC/C/CG/7. Retrieved 10 December, 2014 from http://www2.ohchr.org/english/bodies/crc/docs/AdvanceVersions/GeneralComment7Rev1.pdf.
United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child. (2012). UN Committee on the Rights of the Child: Concluding Observations, Australia. Retrieved 10 December, 2014 from www2.ohchr.org/english/bodies/crc/docs/co/CRC_C_AUS_CO_4.pdf.
UNICEF Office of Research (2008). The childcare transition. A league table of early childhood education and care in economically advanced countries. Innocenti Report Card 8, UNICEF Office of Research, Florence.