Speech of the Commissioner for Children’s Rights Mrs Koursoumba to the 3rd Grade Students of GC School of Careers
It is my great pleasure to visit today your school and to have the opportunity to talk to so many children about their rights.
The last fifty minutes you all had the opportunity to take part to an interactive workshop facilitated by officers working at the Commissioner’s for Children’s Rights Office. I hope you have enjoyed it.
Through this workshop you had a quick taste of Human Rights Education (HRE), one of the major tools we have in order to promote, among children but also among young people and adults, human rights in general and children rights in particular. Human Rights Education (HRE), as a process whereby people learn about their rights in a participatory and interactive learning manner, is based on the principle that Human Rights is not only about what we say; is also – and I would say mainly – about what we do. Through HRE, children and adults acquire skills and abilities, develop attitudes of respect of human dignity and become empowered so they can claim their rights and defend the human rights of other people.
In my short talk I will try to put into a theoretical context what you have discussed with my colleagues during the workshop.
More particularly I will clarify the concept of human rights and I will explain why the international community has taken the decision to daft a Convention on Children’s Rights. After this I will elaborate a bit on the content of the Convention and what does that mean for you and all the other children around the world.
Human Rights are for all people
Human rights are not gifts; they are not τo be given to some people and not to other. They are values and principles that all people have to respect and all the governments are legally obligated to apply. Human rights are, all these rights to which every person is entitled simply because she or he is a human being. That means that all people, men, women, children and adults, girls and boys, regardless of their ethnic origin, their skin color, their language, their religion, their social status, their nationality or their country, have exactly the same rights, which we call universal human rights. Generally speaking, rights correspond to very basic needs that all human beings have. They are absolutely applied to everyone and everywhere in order to organize our personal and social life in a way that every person can enjoy the necessary conditions, to be protected and to live in dignity without fear.
Why then, Children’s Rights
If all human beings have the same rights regardless of age, race, sex or religion, what do we need children’s rights for, then? The United Nations assets that child’s rights are necessary because of children vulnerability. Children must rely on adults for their nurture and they need guidance to grow towards independence. As many other powerless social groups, children, need special help and protection to make sure their rights are upheld. In the past, due to their physical and social dependence on adults, children were considered to be, as not complete adults but as “not yets”, as “human beings in the making”. Not anymore!
Children as bearers of rights
In November 1989, after nearly a decade of negotiations, the United Nations General Assembly unanimously adopted the Convention on the Rights of the Child—the CRC. For the first time in history, an international treaty brings together the children’s human rights articulated in other international instruments and spells out that children are not possessions, but people that have human rights. The CRC lays the foundation for a new concept of children and childhood. Children should be perceived as bearers of rights “entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights” CRC, Preamble rather than the property of their parents or the helpless recipients of charity. The conception of children as subjects of rights grants them a more equal role in their relationship with adults.
The Convention, according to which any human being under the age of eighteen is considered to be a child, covers every aspect of the lives of children. The 54 articles of the CRC can be broken down into the three following, partly overlapping, categories, commonly known as the three P’s of the CRC : Protection Rights, Participation Rights and Provision Right.
Protection Rights: These rights include protection from all forms of child abuse, neglect, exploitation and cruelty, including the right to special protection in times of war and protection from abuse in the criminal justice system.
Participation Rights: The particular cluster of rights support and promote children as active social agents from an early age in all the social groups they are members: within the family, the school, the community. The particular cluster includes the right of forming and expressing freely an opinion, and this opinion be taken into consideration in any matter that concerns children, the right to have access to information, the right of conscience and religion.
Provision Rights include all services, resources, skills, contributions and goods necessary for the survival and full development of the child. This cluster of rights includes rights to adequate food, shelter, clean water, formal education, primary health care, leisure and recreation etc.
A hallmark of the CRC is the indivisibility and interdependence of its provisions. CRC, as any other human rights international instrument, is not a mere list of articles embodying divergent or independent principles, but a coherent and well structured text. The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, in an effort to secure a holistic approach to children’s rights, has identified four Articles which should be considered as “general principles” and taken into account in the implementation of all other provisions of the Convention.
These principles are:
(A) Non-discrimination (Article 2). Children, without any exception, should enjoy their rights; no child should be discriminated against or excluded from opportunities irrespective of “the child’s or his or her parent’s or legal guardian’s race, color, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national, ethnic or social origin, property, disability, birth or other status”.
(B) Best Interest of the Child (Article 3). The best interests of the child shall be a primary consideration in all actions and decisions affecting children, whether undertaken by public or private social welfare institutions, courts of law, administrative authorities or legislative bodies.
(C) The Right to Life, Survival and Development (Article 6). State Parties recognize that “every child has the inherent right to life” and “shall ensure, to the maximum extent possible, the survival and development of the child.” In this context, development should be interpreted in a broad sense to mean, not only physical health but also mental, emotional, cognitive, social, moral, spiritual and cultural development.
(D) The right of the child to freely express his or her views and have them given due weight in all matters affecting the child (Article 12) - i.e. participation rights. Participation is a human right for all children – and as such, it is not a gift or privilege bestowed by adults on children, but the right of every child capable of expressing a view.
CRC is a unique and extremely important tool for all of us working for the promotion of children’s rights in Cyprus and internationally. However, going back to what I told you at the beginning of this talk, human rights are not only about what we say. Human rights are also - and mostly - about what we do. In this respect, even such a valuable international instrument as the CRC is, is not sufficient to ensure in practice the full implementation of children’s rights. In order to do this we need to work hard for the development of a culture of human rights in our society. We need to incorporate human rights in our attitudes and behavior and we should have them as a constant reference for our everyday life.