The challenge of children’s rights

Since its adoption in 1989 after more than 60 years of advocacy, the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) has been ratified more quickly and by more governments – all except Somalia and the US – than any other human rights instrument.

The basic premise of the convention is that children (everyone below the age of 18) are born with fundamental freedoms and the inherent rights of all human beings. Many governments have enacted legislation, created mechanisms and put into place a range of creative measures to ensure the protection and realization of the rights of those under 18. Each government must also report back on children’s rights in their country.

The rights contained in the CRC fall into four broad categories:

  • subsistence rights, including the rights to food, shelter and health care;
  • development rights, which allow children to reach their fullest potential, including education and freedom of thought, conscience and religion;
  • protection rights, such as the right to life, and to protection from abuse, neglect or exploitation;
  • participation rights, which allow children to take an active role in community and political life.

York’s Vanier College is sponsoring a conference on children’s rights titled The Challenge of Children’s Rights. The conference which will take place March 1 to 3, from 12:30 to 4:30pm, features a series of keynote speakers who will address all aspects of children’s rights in Canada and the world. All presentations will take place in Room 152, Founders College, Keele campus.

Amnesty International (AI) has often highlighted individual cases of children who have been the victims of human rights violations such as torture, ill-treatment or extrajudicial execution. Guided by the framework of the CRC, AI is seeking to develop its work on children around three key themes: juvenile justice; children in armed conflict; and children in the community and family. A representative from AI will deliver the introductory address to conference participants on March 1, to be followed by a group discussion and reception.

Right: Street children in Jakarta, Indonesia

On March 2, Professor R. Brian Howe and Katherine Covell from the University College of Cape Breton (UCCB) will discuss children’s rights both in Canada and globally. Howe and Covell are the directors and cofounders of UCCB’s Children’s Rights Centre. Both are internationally recognized experts on children’s rights. Howe is an associate professor of political science and Covell is a professor of psychology at UCCB. Together, they authored many articles and two books in the area of children’s rights, including The Challenge of Children’s Rights for Canada, which has been shortlisted for several awards including the Donald Smiley Prize and the Canadian Policy Research Foundation’s Outstanding Research Contribution Award.

On March 3, Senator Landon Pearson will be giving the conference’s keynote presentation regarding what action Canada must take to ensure that children’s rights are to be taken more seriously. Pearson has been actively involved with children and issues associated with young people for more than 40 years. As the spouse of a Canadian diplomat, she worked with children’s groups in France, Mexico, India and the Soviet Union. In addition to numerous articles on child development and policy questions, she has written Children of Glasnost: Growing up Soviet (1990). Pearson is Vice-Chair of the Centre for the Study of Children at Risk at McMaster University and a member of the Board of the Canadian Paediatric Foundation. She was a Canadian delegate to the Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing in Sept.1995 and to the First World Congress against Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children in Stockholm in Aug. 1996.

The conference will wrap up with a panel discussion on March 3. The panelists include human rights activist Morgan Whitfield, from the University of Guelph; Professors Howe and Covell; children’s lawyer Michael Freeman and Osgoode Hall Law School Professor Roxanne Mykitiuk.

For more information, e-mail Brian Bridson, special events coordinator, Vanier College.