25 Years of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child: What Next?

by Amber Grant, Amnesty Youth Activist.

Last year was very much an Amnesty year for me, with my involvement within this incredible movement growing in so many ways. The pinnacle of that year came when I was invited to speak on the panel at the event celebrating the Convention on the Rights of the Child’s twenty-fifth birthday.

To say that I was nervous was probably an understatement. I was a young person sitting amongst the leading experts on all aspects of the convention and the other speakers took views on the birth of the convention; the USA’s failing to ratify and the UK’s current failings in regards to the CRC today. However, I wanted to take the discussion more onto the future of the convention, as well as to discuss it from a young person’s perspective. It was only when I read the convention online that I realised where it needed to be taken next.

Article 42 is at the beginning of the second section of the convention and it states: “States Parties undertake to make the principles and provisions of the Convention widely known, by appropriate and active means, to adults and children alike.”

My issue with this is that I don’t feel like the UK government is doing enough to tell children and parents about the convention. I don’t know about other countries and so I cannot generalise here, but I can talk about what I have experienced within my generation and below. I spent the entirety of my childhood covered by the convention, and yet I didn’t learn about it until I was in secondary school when I saw a poster of it on a classroom wall. Even then, I could not tell you the details. While researching my speech I learnt just how many protections are laid out for the most vulnerable and voiceless in our society, and that made me so frustrated when I realised that the majority don’t know about it.

While I was preparing for the panel I visited a secondary school, and so to test the level of knowledge I asked if anyone had heard of the convention, and in a room full of the very group protected by the convention, none of them knew about it. What’s worse is they were all young human rights activists, even worse they were the school’s Amnesty group, and they are the ones who will carry the torch for us to their generation. I must say I wasn’t surprised but I just wanted to test my theory. When I told them about the convention, I saw them seem really surprised, even the teachers looked as if they weren’t aware of it.

So isn’t it this lack of knowledge the real dilemma facing us, the supporters of this convention, in the future?

Now, I’m sure when the convention was created a quarter of a century ago there was press coverage and general condemnation of governments that failed to meet the requests of the convention. Yet today, in a world where daily outrage is bought by those in the media who want a quick sell of headlines; where is the condemnation of countries like the USA who haven’t ratified the convention? In fact - where is the headlines about those governments who are state parties to it, yet don’t get the condemnation they deserve when they fail to meet its high and vital standards.

I don’t have all the answers. But I know this; something has to change.

So how can we change this ignorance that I feel ripples outside in the public sphere? We have the knowledge of the conventions existence and how crucial it is for the children of today. We now need to use it to make a difference. And although I don't have a perfect plan, I do have a few ideas.

Firstly, we as human rights activists have to take on the role of spreading the word to as many people as possible, if the state won't tell us as it is supposed to, the responsibility falls to us. To assist us in this we urgently need to find a way to translate the nearly 8,000 word convention into simplified language and a fully accessible format, so that we can explain, with clarity, the convention to the younger generation. That way no one will spend more time without the knowledge of their rights than they already do. Amnesty and other human rights organisations do have versions that you can find, but I believe there should be a way that all parents should get a copy too so they can be informed and help their children understand their rights.

My second suggestion is that we need to hold our politicians accountable to what they do and promote. The USA not ratifying the convention twenty five years on is not ok. But it is not just far afield. Our government needs to be reminded that recent headline cases of child abuse, cannot happen under the rules of the convention, and must be prevented in the future.

The convention in its entirety protects the children of the world from all number of abhorrent crimes and out of the fifty four articles, the reason I highlight the forty second is simple: it is the challenge we face next.

In fact I challenge all of you, and myself too, to tell as many people as we can about the convention. And then, due to that lovely statistical multiplier effect, perhaps when, in another twenty five years, someone talks to the next generation about the convention, they will no longer be faced with blank expressions, but a knowing look that says “we are grateful for the protection we have been given and we know how to challenge anything that fails to meet what we expect”.

I hope the future is bright, that is why I am here, doing what I do because for me, one of my goals is to communicate human rights to the youth of today so that they are able to pass on that knowledge and make the world a better place for all. They are called human rights for a reason.

From my generation who had the privilege of being protected under the convention, I want to say thank you, for realising that we needed further safeguards than the Universal Declaration gave us, even if we had no idea about the work that was done before we were born.

To the leaders of countries yet to ratify it, or to any country which should be held accountable for its failings, I say this, if it was your son or daughter that was having their rights violated, wouldn’t you do anything to protect them? I think you would. So this is your moment to make a change. Educate yourself and your children about the convention and do not fail it. Let’s be bold and stand up for what we believe in.

I thank Amnesty for having me speak at the panel and write this blog and hopefully in the future we will be praising not just the past but, what we achieved from this day forward.

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Our blogs are written by Amnesty International staff, volunteers and other interested individuals, to encourage debate around human rights issues. They do not necessarily represent the views of Amnesty International.
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