GENERAL COMMENT article on31 of theonConvention the Rights of the Child
General Comment Summary
W ales –
a country serious about play
WHERE THE U.S. STANDS
O N CH I L D R E N ’ S R I G H T S ISSUE 1:13 SEPTEMBER 2013
International Play Association Promoting the Child’s Right to Play
Board and Council OFFICERS
President Theresa Casey Scotland Vice President Robyn Monro-Miller Australia Secretary Margaret Westwood Scotland Communications Cynthia Gentry USA Treasurer David Yearley UK C O U N C I L B OA R D - R E P R E S E N TAT I V E S
Mike Greenaway Wales Kathy Wong Kin-ho, Hong Kong Strategic Planning Ric McConaghy Australia REGIONAL VICE PRESIDENTS
Latin America Graciela Bottini de Barucca Argentina North America/Caribbean Georgianna Duarte USA East Asia/Pacific Susie See Ching Mey Malaysia Australasia Robyn Monro-Miller Australia Africa Pamela Kola Kenya Europe Ute Navidi M E M B E R S - A T- L A R G E
USA Anna-Marie Millbank Hong Kong Kathy Wong Kin-ho Sweden Catherine Coutourier
USA (Editor) Cynthia Gentry
Argentina Australia* Belgium Bolivia Brazil* Bulgaria Canada* Chile Colombia Costa Rica Denmark* England, Wales, N. Ireland(EWNI)* Germany Hong Kong* India* Ireland Isle of Man Israel Italy Japan* Kenya Korea Malaysia* Mexico Netherlands New Zealand Nicaragua Norway Peru Portugal Scotland* Spain* Sweden* Thailand Turkey Uruguay USA*
E D I TO R I A L T E A M ( 2 0 1 3 ) :
Australia Ric McConaghy Spain Esther Hierro
Beatriz Caba Barbara Champion Jo van den Bossche Celia Ferrufino Andrew Swan Ivaylo Sirkarov Pierre Harrison Malva Villalon Pedro Luis Espinosa Adriana Alfaro Carsten Jessen Perry Else Holger Hofmann Dr. C.B Chow Rajani Konantambigi Richard Webb Chris Gregory Yaara Basham Haham Arnaldo Barni Hiroyuki Kasama Pamela Kola Sun-hwa Yoon See Ching Mey Lilian Montesino Froukje Hajer Tina Dyer Harry Shier Frode Svane Martha Llanos Carlos Neto Andrew Shoolbread Esther Hierro Anna Lenninger Kreangkrai Chaimuangdee Mine Göl-Güven Fabian Vilas Dorothy Sluss
Brazil Andrew Swan UK Ute Navidi
Magazine feedback: The Editorial Team welcomes your comments and suggestions. firstname.lastname@example.org All inquiries regarding the reproduction of any material which appears in PlayRights for any purpose whatsoever should be directed in writing to the editor. The views expressed in articles within PlayRights are those of the authors and not necessarily those of IPA. The publishers, authors and printers cannot accept liability for errors or omissions. © 2013 IPA
Promoting the Child’s Right to Play
International Play Association
IPA: PROMOTING THE CHILD’S RIGHT TO PLAY
What the International Play Association is and how you can join IPA is a dynamic international organisation with members in five continents and more than 40 countries. It has active groups throughout the world and enthusiastically welcomes new members and new energy!
IPA is an interdisciplinary organisation bringing together people from all professions working for and with children. For over fifty years national groups have initiated a wide variety of projects that promote the child’s right to play.
IPA’s purpose is to protect, preserve and promote the child’s right to play as a fundamental human right. The organisation was instrumental in establishing “play” (article 31) in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.
IPA’s worldwide network promotes the importance of play in child development, provides a vehicle for interdisciplinary exchange and action and brings a child’s perspective to policy development throughout the world.
IPA recognises that the well-being of children is a global issue, and that opportunity for play is an important element of well-being. Play is children’s natural behaviour and their healthy development is dependent upon sufficient time and opportunity to play.
IPA welcomes you, or your organisation, to join its international network and participate in its campaign to promote the value of play around the world.
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You can contact IPA through your national representative listed on our website, or via the IPA Membership Secretary at email@example.com.
Ta b l e o f C o n t e n t s
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LETTER FROM THE EDITOR
GENERAL COMMENT ON ARTICLE 31 OF THE CONVENTION ON THE RIGHTS OF THE CHILD IPA has created a Summary document for better understanding.
RESPECT, PROTECT AND FULFIL A helpful primer on the General Comment and how to use it to benefit children.
A COUNTRY SERIOUS ABOUT PLAY The Children’s Commissioner of Wales reflects on his country’s work on behalf of children
THE ELEPHANT IN THE PLAYROOM A law professor examines the U.S. government’s role in advancing the rights of children including the right to play.
A N IN-DEPTH LOOK A former member of the U.N. Committee on the Rights of the Child takes a deep look at the new General Comment.
BRINGING THE CHILDREN TOGETHER Disabled and non-disabled children come together in play.
ORGANIZATIONAL NEWS XIX Triennial World Conference, Istanbul
Photography: Steve McCurry SEPTEMBER 2013
Article 31 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child 1. States Parties recognize the right of the child to rest and leisure, to engage in play and recreational activities appropriate to the age of the child and to participate freely in cultural life and the arts. 2. States Parties shall respect and promote the right of the child to participate fully in cultural and artistic life and shall encourage the provision of appropriate and equal opportunities for cultural, artistic, recreational and leisure activity. Â´ 4 â&#x20AC;&#x192; P L A Y R I G H T S â&#x20AC;˘ I P A W O R L D . O R G
from the president
My children spent the evening playing a joyous game of ‘apple wars’ with other local children. The summer evenings are shortening again but it’s still light until after nine o’clock in the evening and the children are enjoying the last few days of the summer holidays before going back to school for the new term. I’m not sure how ‘apple wars’ erupted but children from seven years old to 13, boys and girls, were chasing each other around the local streets, holding, losing and gaining territory with the aid of hard little crab apples fallen from the trees. The sight and sound of the children playing this game would gladden all but the hardest of hearts (if causing a moment’s disquiet to the car owners seeing the projectiles whizzing past wing mirrors and car bonnets). It was a game somehow reminiscent of a childhood past – played fiercely with gusto, hilarity and urgent competitiveness. I’m grateful beyond words that my children’s experience of conflict is restricted to games like ‘apple wars’ and the kind informed reportage that they see – and then talk about – on children’s television. Even their father’s hair-raising stories of growing up in a violently conflict-riven country have a certain fairytale quality to the children. They have never run in real fear of their lives or had to pick out a safe enough place to play in the aftermath of conflict or natural or man-made disasters. Because in the last few years I have been immersed in the world of the General Comment on article 31, I’m more aware than ever that my children are extraordinarily lucky in that by chance they are growing up taking peace and security for granted.
When circumstances or environments are dangerous and difficult, supporting children’s ability to exercise their right to play is vital. This is something we want to highlight going forward. The General Comment has given us a really strong basis for those discussions and calls for actions; and, next year’s conference in Istanbul is going to be an excellent platform for exploring these issues further. In the meantime, for us the summer evenings draw in and the children drag their feet back to school confident that the world is safe, secure and happy as it should be for all children.
Theresa Casey IPA President
“Governments MUST find ways to get rid of things that get in the way of time for play.” – Welsh children discussing article 31
from the editor
Every night I watch the news flickering across my television from around the world. Images
seen that should never be seen rip at my heart. A Syrian father holds a tiny beloved body, now limp, when instead that body should be hugging him back - full of life, running races, playing silly games, laughing. Families huddle on a piece of cardboard in what passes for a refugee camp. Threats of new war come from all corners. The world seems to grow darker every day. Yet, in the midst of this seemingly downward spiral, the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) adopted General Comment #17, placing a long-needed emphasis on the oftcalled “forgotten” article 31 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC). This officially says to the world that play IS important. Rest and leisure are important. Participation in arts and culture – important! In the midst of the darkness the UNCRC has refortified IPA’s purpose “to protect, preserve and promote the child’s right to play” illuminating the path ahead and giving us hope and motivation to continue our work. This is a critical turning point for IPA. With the General Comment (GC) adopted, our work is not over. It has just begun. In the US there is a saying to “put your money where your mouth is.” It basically means to “stop talking and show us what you really believe.” For IPA, now is the time for us to spring into action in every single country on the planet. (Yes, even the three countries that have not yet ratified the CRC.) Our purpose needs to inspire our actions every day. For this special edition of PlayRights that focuses on the GC, we have been honored to use the photographs of Steve McCurry, one of the world’s most famous and lauded photographers. You may recall his photograph of a young Afghan girl with amazing eyes on the cover of National Geographic Magazine. It was recently voted the most famous magazine cover of all time. Consider this issue a gallery of the gift of his pictures flowing through the articles. Working with these amazing photographs of children has been a moving experience for me personally. I am a relatively new grandmother with two outstanding grandsons (one is two years old, the other eight months). I look at the children in the photographs - children who are someone else’s grandbabies, and I wonder how these beautiful children and war can exist on the same planet at the same time. For me, giving children the time and space to play is one of the most loving things you can do for them. So I look at each one of these pictures as a call to fulfill IPA’s purpose. Now, we have a General Comment we can hold forth and say, “You see? This child has the right to play!” I hope we will not stop until every grandbaby is hugging back, laughing, playing, and full of joy. Cynthia Gentry Communications Officer
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The Swing How do you like to go up in a swing, Up in the air so blue? Oh, I do think it the pleasantest thing Ever a child can do!
Up in the air and over the wall, Till I can see so wide, River and trees and cattle and all Over the countryside –
Till I look down on the garden green, Down on the roof so brown – Up in the air I go flying again, Up in the air and down! Robert Louis Stevenson The Child’s Garden of Verses, 1885
United Nations General Comment No. 17 on the right of the child to rest, leisure, play, recreational activities, cultural life and the arts (article 31)
International Play Association Promoting the Child’s Right to Play This summary was produced by the International Play Association: Promoting the Child’s Right to Play (IPA) to assist with the dissemination of the General Comment and to highlight children’s article 31 rights. The summary is freely available to download from our website at www.IPAworld.org and share for those purposes. Please contact: communications@ ipaworld.org if you would like to make a translation of the summary. The full text of all General Comments can be found at: www2.ohchr.org/english/bodies/crc/ comments.htm
Article 31 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) recognizes the right of every child to rest, leisure, play, recreational activities and free and full participation in cultural and artistic life. However, the Committee on the Rights of the Child is concerned by the poor recognition given by Governments to these rights.1 Rising urban populations, violence in all its forms, the commercialization of play provision, child labour and increasing educational demands are all affecting children’s opportunity to enjoy their article 31 rights. In general, where investment is made, it is in the provision of structured and organized activities, but equally important is the need to create time and space for children to engage in spontaneous play, recreation and creativity, and to promote societal attitudes that support and encourage such activity. To address these concerns, the Committee has produced a ‘General Comment’ that explains in detail measures governments are urged to take to ensure implementation of the rights in article 31 for all children. The General Comment was adopted by the Committee at its sixtysecond session (14 January – 1 February 2013). 1
The Committee on the Rights of the Child is the international body responsible for monitoring governments’ implementation of the CRC.
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summary The General Comment has three core objectives: • to enhance understanding of the importance of article 31 for children’s well being and development. • to ensure respect for and strengthen the application of the rights under article 31, as well as other rights in the Convention. • to highlight the implications for the determination of obligations of governments, the roles and responsibilities of the private sector, and guidelines for all individuals working with children. The Committee recommends that it is widely disseminated in accessible forms and made available to all interested members of society, including children. This summary provides a short overview of the full text of the General Comment.
Significance of article 31 in children’s lives Play, recreation, rest, leisure, arts and culture are all interlinked and together serve to describe conditions necessary to protect the unique and evolving nature of childhood. Article 31 needs to be understood as a whole. • Play and recreation are essential to children’s health and well-being. They promote the development of creativity, imagination, self-confidence, self-efficacy and physical, social, cognitive and emotional strength and skills. They contribute to all aspects of learning. They are also a form of participation in everyday life, and are of intrinsic value to the child, purely in terms of the enjoyment and pleasure they afford. • Involvement in cultural and artistic life is important for children’s sense of belonging to their family, community and society and to their own sense of identity. Children reproduce, transform, create, and transmit culture in many ways. With their peers, they also create a ‘culture of childhood’. Children are at the forefront of using digital platforms, such as social media and virtual worlds, to establish new cultural environments and artistic forms. Children’s participation in cultural activities also provides opportunities to learn from other cultural and artistic traditions, contributing towards mutual understanding and appreciation of diversity. • Rest and leisure are vital to children’s development. Lack of sufficient rest will have a physical and psychological impact on children’s health, well-being, and development.
Children also need leisure time to fill as actively or as inactively as they choose.
Interpreting article 31 The Committee has interpreted the different terms used in article 31 as follows: • Rest: Sufficient respite from work, education or any other exertion to ensure optimum health and well-being, as well as the opportunity for adequate sleep. • Leisure: Free time, without obligations, in which play or recreation can take place. • Play: Children’s play is any behaviour, activity or process initiated, controlled and structured by children themselves. Play is non-compulsory, driven by intrinsic motivation and undertaken for its own sake, rather than as a means to an end. It may take infinite forms but the key characteristics of play are fun, uncertainty, challenge, flexibility and nonproductivity. While play is often considered non-essential, the Committee reaffirms that it is a fundamental and vital dimension of the pleasure of childhood and is an essential component of children’s development. • Recreation: A broad umbrella term for voluntary activities or experiences chosen by the child for immediate satisfaction or perceived personal or social value. While many such activities may be organized and managed by adults, recreation should be a voluntary activity. • Appropriate to the age of the child: The age of the child must be taken into account in respect of: time afforded; nature of spaces; degree of adult oversight; safety; risktaking and challenge; and socializing. • Cultural life and the arts: The means through which children and their communities express their identity and the meaning they give to their existence, and build their worldview. Culture emerges from within communities, and can be expressed and enjoyed in multiple environments and forms. • To participate freely: Governments must respect, abstain from interference in, and prevent others from interference in, children’s exercising of article 31 rights. • To participate fully in cultural and artistic life: In order to take part in cultural and artistic life, children must have opportunities to access arts and culture, to participate in
summary creative activities, and to contribute to expressions of culture and the arts.
Challenges to be addressed in the realization of article 31
• Encourage the provision of appropriate opportunities: Governments must provide all the necessary preconditions to facilitate and promote opportunities for the realization of all article 31 rights.
Children throughout the world face significant barriers in realizing their article 31 rights. The challenges differ across regions, but include:
• Equal opportunities: Every child must be afforded equal opportunities to enjoy his or her rights under article 31. It is important to recognize that all rights in the Convention are indivisible and interdependent. Article 31 is central to the realization of many rights. Equally, other rights must be respected in order to guarantee the realization of article 31.
Creating the context for the realization of article 31 Children have a spontaneous urge to play and participate in recreational activities, and will seek out opportunities to do so even in the most unfavourable environments. However, certain conditions need to be assured if they are to realize their article 31 rights fully: • Freedom from stress, social exclusion, prejudice or discrimination. • An environment secure from social harm and violence, and sufficiently free from pollution, traffic and other hazards that impede free and safe movement. • Availability of rest and leisure time, as well as space that is free from adult control and management. • Space to play outdoors in diverse and challenging physical environments, with access to supportive adults, when necessary. • Opportunities to experience interact with and play in natural environments and the animal world. • Opportunities to invest in their own space and time so as to create and transform their world, using their imagination and languages. • Opportunities to explore and understand the cultural and artistic heritage of their community, participate in, create and shape it. • Opportunities to participate with other children in games, sports and other recreational activities, supported, where necessary, by trained facilitators or coaches. • Recognition by parents, teachers and society as a whole of the value and legitimacy of the rights provided for in article 31.
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• Lack of recognition of the importance of play and recreation. • Unsafe and hazardous environments. • Resistance to children’s use of public spaces. • Balancing risk and safety. • Lack of access to nature. • Pressure for educational achievement. • Overly structured and programmed schedules. • Neglect of article 31 in development programmes. • Lack of investment in cultural and artistic opportunities for children. • Growing role of electronic media. • Marketing and commercialization of play.
Children requiring particular attention to realize their rights under article 31 • Girls: Girls often have less time and freedom than boys to enjoy their rights to play, rest, leisure and recreation, especially in adolescence, whether because of domestic responsibilities, child or family care responsibilities, protective concern from parents, lack of facilities, or cultural assumptions on the behaviour of girls. Commercial producers of games and toys, the media, parents and caregivers often reinforce gender differentiation, directing girls towards the domestic sphere, whereas boys’ games prepare them for success in a wide range of work and other settings in modern society. • Children living in poverty: Home environments with little scope for play and recreation, lack of access to facilities, inability to afford the costs of participation, dangerous and neglected neighbourhoods, the necessity to work, and a sense of powerlessness all serve to exclude the poorest children from realizing article 31 rights. Children without parents, or those living or working on the streets are particularly vulnerable. • Children with disabilities: Multiple barriers impede children with disabilities from their article 31 rights, including exclusion from school, informal and social arenas where friendships are formed and where play and recreation take place; isolation at the home; cultural attitudes an negative
summary stereotypes which are hostile to and rejecting of children with disabilities; and physical inaccessibility of many environments. Lack of assistive technologies can also impede children with disabilities’ access to media. • Children in institutions: Children living in residential homes and schools, hospitals, detention centres, remand homes and refugee centres may have limited, or be denied, opportunities for play, recreation and participation in cultural and artistic life. • Children from indigenous and minority communities: Hostility, assimilation policies, rejection, violence and discrimination may result in barriers to enjoyment by children of indigenous communities of their own cultural practice, rituals and celebrations, as well as participation in sports, games, cultural activities, play and recreation alongside other children. • Children in situations of conflict, humanitarian and natural disasters: Play, recreation and cultural activities are often given a lower priority in emergency situations than provision of food, shelter and medicines. However they can perform a significant therapeutic and rehabilitative role in helping children recover a sense of normality and joy after experiencing loss, dislocation and trauma.
Government Obligations 1. The obligation to respect article 31 rights
• Legislation to guarantee access for every child, without discrimination on any ground, to article 31 opportunities. • Regulation of non-state actors, to ensure that all members of civil society, including the corporate sector, comply with the provisions of article 31, including in relation to: employment; safety and accessibility of facilities, toys and games; obligations to include provision in urban and rural development proposals; protection from cultural, artistic or recreational material which might be injurious to children’s well-being; and prohibiting the production of realistic war games and toys for children. • Introduction of child protection measures and professional codes for all adults working with children in the field of play, recreation, sports, culture and the arts. • Measures to promote on-line access and accessibility, as well as safety for children including: reducing impunity of abusive adults; limiting access to harmful material and gaming networks; improving information for parents, teachers and policy makers to raise awareness of risks; and developing strategies for promoting safer and attractive options for children. • Development of measures in post conflict situations to restore and protect article 31 rights such as using play and creative expression to promote healing, creating or restoring safe spaces for play and recreation, and removal of landmines and cluster bombs.
Governments should adopt specific measures aimed at achieving respect for the right of every child, individually or in association with others, to realize his or her rights under article 31, including:
• Review of policies relating to commercialization of toys and games to children, including through children’s television programmes and directly related advertisements, in particular those promoting violence, girls or boys in a sexual way, and gender or disability stereotypes.
• Support for caregivers, including guidance, facilitation and support about article 31 which could be in the form of practical guidance.
• Introduction of effective and independent complaints mechanisms for children who feel their article 31 rights have been violated.
• Awareness-raising to challenge widespread cultural attitudes which attach low value to the rights provided for in article 31, including public information on the significance of article 31 and measures to challenge pervasive negative attitudes, especially towards adolescents.
2. The obligation to protect article 31 rights Governments need to take action to prevent other people or organizations interfering in or restricting the rights provided for in article 31. This will include:
3. The obligation to fulfil article 31 rights Governments must introduce a wide range of measures to ensure the fulfilment of all article 31 rights, in full consultation with children. This includes, in particular: • Legislation and planning for ensuring that every child has sufficient time and space in their life for their article 31 rights, together with a timetable for implementation.
summary • Disaggregated data collection and research to find out how far children are able to engage in play, recreation and cultural and artistic life, and to use the results to inform planning and measure progress. • Development of cross-departmental collaboration in national and municipal government to ensure a broad and comprehensive approach to implementing article 31. • Review of budgets to ensure that allocation for children is inclusive and consistent with their representation as a proportion of the population as a whole, and distributed across the provision for children of all ages, with consideration given to the cost of measures required to ensure access for the most marginalized children. • Investment in universal design to promote inclusion and protect children with disabilities from discrimination. • Municipal planning that places a priority on the creation of environments which promote the wellbeing of the child, including: inclusive parks, playgrounds and sports and
community centres; zones with priority for pedestrians, players and bikers over motorized traffic; access to landscaped green areas, open spaces and nature, with affordable transport; road safety measures; clubs and facilities for children of all ages; and dedicated and affordable cultural activities for children of all ages. • School environments that provide a major role in article 31 rights, including: physical environments for play, sports, games and drama; active promotion of equal opportunities to play for boys and girls; safe playgrounds and equipment, accessible for all children; adequate time during the school day for play and rest; a curriculum which includes cultural and artistic activities; and a pedagogy which offers active, playful and participatory activities and learning. • Training and capacity building on the rights of children including those embodied in article 31 for all professionals working with or for children, or whose work impacts on children.• Disaggregated datw far
IPA believes that the rights embodied in article 31 are central to childhood itself: they contribute to the joy, fun and sheer pleasure of growing up. Furthermore, their implementation will contribute to children’s development, not only as individuals, but also as competent members of society aware of the perspectives of others, and capable of co-operation and conflict resolution. Article 31 contributes to the social, cultural and economic development of society as a whole. The right to play, recreation, rest, leisure and participation in cultural and artistic life is not only a fundamental right of every child, but its realization will bring significant individual and societal benefits. IPA calls on all Governments to fulfill their obligations elaborated in this General Comment. www.ipaworld.org June 2013
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Respect, Protect and Fulfil Children’s Right to Play
A Brief Introduction to Using the General Comment on Article 31 Theresa Casey
What are UN General Comments? UN General Comments are official documents of the United Nations, representing the UN’s interpretation of the content of human rights treaties. The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child (the UN Committee) publishes General Comments in relation to the Convention on the Rights of the Child. General Comments are directed to the States Parties (Governments) of those countries which have ratified the Convention (currently all but USA, Somalia and South Sudan). Their purpose is to deepen understanding of a particular aspect of the Convention, and to reflect the changing conditions under which children grow up. General Comments set out the standard to which Governments will be held to account. Governments are expected to use the General Comment to guide their implementation of children’s rights and they should use them as a key reference point when they
report to the United Nations. They are referred to frequently in the UN Committee’s Concluding Observations (recommendations) are sent to Governments after their submitted reports are reviewed. The General Comment on article 31 The General Comment on article 31 is the 17th General Comment published by the UN Committee. It has a number of sections that support each other to build an understanding of article 31 and to clarify the consequent obligations on Governments. These sections are: • Introduction and objectives • The significance of article 31 in children’s lives • Legal analysis of article 31 • Article 31 in the broader context of the convention • Creating the context for the realisation of article 31
c os innt ge ntthse g e n e r a l c o m m e n t u • Children requiring particular attention in order to realise their article 31 rights • States parties’ obligations • Dissemination The sections leading up to the Obligations provide an authoritative statement on the various dimensions of article 31 including its meaning and its importance in the lives of children and young people. They demonstrate that realisation of article 31 rights is fundamental to the quality of childhood, to children’s entitlement to optimum development, to the promotion of resilience, and to the realisation of other rights (paragraph 8). Suggestion on Using the General Comment • A good place to start is to really familiarise yourself with the General Comment and its structure. • Quoting the General Comment to help make the case for children’s rights. In order to advocate for children’s article 31 rights we have always had to gather our arguments and state them clearly - now the United Nations has made those arguments for us. The General Comment makes strong and authoritative statements which you can draw on and apply to your own situation, organisation or campaign. • Use the GC to examine the aims and practice of your own work or organisation - the GC makes clear statements about issues such as inclusion, universal design, non-discrimination, budgets and children’s participation which may prompt re-examination of policies and practices. • Echoing the language of the GC in your documents, policies and discussions is a helpful way for the messages behind the GC to filter into mainstream thinking. • The General Comment lends weight to requests and campaigns of children and young people, as individuals or groups, in relation to their article 31 rights. Assisting children and young people to access the General Comment and understand it will help them to make their case more powerfully. • Children and young people can be given assistance, if they require it, to give their own interpretation of, or response to, the General Comment as applied in their local situation/context. • Paragraph 32 ‘Factors for an optimum environment’ is ripe for application to local and national situations. IPA would be very interested to hear about examples in which this section of the GC has been put use. Obligations The GC does not place new obligations on Governments – the obligations already exist in article 31 itself. What is new is that the General Comment explains these obligations fully, making it clear what is expected of Governments.
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• This provides clarity to Governments across the world. • It helps the Committee monitor implementation consistently. • It allows civil society groups and organisations to identify the ways in which they can support Governments’ implementation of article 31. Article 31 imposes an obligation on Governments to guarantee that the rights it embodies are realised for every child without discrimination. As with all other rights, it imposes three types of obligation: to respect, to protect and to fulfil. The obligations to respect, to protect and to fulfil in relation to article 31 are explained fully in the General Comment (see paragraphs 54-59). The General Comment contains a reminder that the Convention provides for ‘progressive realisation’ of economic, social and cultural rights, and recognises the problems arising from limited resources (paragraph 55). However, it also reminds us that Governments have a specific and continuing obligation to ‘strive to ensure the widest possible enjoyment of the relevant rights under the prevailing circumstances’ even where resources are inadequate. No regressive measures in relation to the Article 31 rights are permitted. If any such deliberate measure were taken, the Government would need to prove that it had undertaken careful consideration of all alternatives. This includes giving due weight to children’s expressed views on the issue, and demonstrating that the decision was justified bearing in mind all other rights in the Convention. Suggestion on Using the General Comment • The General Comment can be used to review the policies, programmes and actions of Governments to assess where they are now in implementing article 31 – are their policies and programmes creating conditions in which children are able to exercise their article 31 rights to the fullest possible extent? • A review may reveal examples of effective action being taken, gaps in implementation, the effectiveness and impact of current legislation and policies, infringements of children’s rights (either directly or indirectly), groups of children who need particular attention. • Your country may already have a children’s rights alliance (usually made up of non-governmental organisations), a Children’s Commissioner or Ombudsman or other group which monitors children’s rights. If so, it would make sense to link with them in order to make such a review. • Celebrating success is very important so where Governments are taking effective action you might take the opportunity to highlight it. • Case studies showing how other bodies, civil society
contents organisations, communities and children and young people themselves are supporting children’s article 31 rights can be used to show how it can be done. Politicians, policy-makers and planners should use the General Comment to inform their decision-making The General Comment seeks to enhance the understanding of the importance of Article 31 for children’s well-being and development, to ensure and strengthen the application of, and respect for, children’s article 31 rights and for the realisation of other rights in the Convention (paragraph 7). In this respect it explains the obligations of States in relation to implementations measures including strategies and programmes aimed at the realisation and full implementation of the rights of the child. Suggestion on Using the General Comment • Governments should be strongly encouraged to use the General Comment as a reference point and guide to implementation. • One way is to point out how helpful it is to them. Although play can seem as natural to children as breathing, steps to implementation of article 31 are complex and not always obvious. The General Comment is there to assist them. • Another way is to find those examples of how what they are doing aligns with the General Comment and publicly applaud it. • And having done that, look at what the next steps are in working towards greater implementation for all children, what they need to do and who can help. • Where implementation is falling short, that needs to be pointed out – the testimony of children and young people is important to this. The General Comment should be used as a key reference point in reporting the United Nations The UN encourages Governments to report fully to the Committee on the Rights of the Child on the measures they have adopted to encourage the full implementation of Article 31 for all children (paragraph. 61). Governments are provided with guidance on how and when to report and the Committee strongly recommends that all Governments report to it in accordance with the guidelines and in a thorough and timely manner. Suggestion on Using the General Comment • You can find out when your country’s government is next due to report to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child on the UN website. Reporting takes place approximately every five years. • Some governments encourage participation in the drafting of (continued on page 37)
The Making of a General Comment A Timeline of Events Theresa Casey
Jacob Doek former chair of the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child describes article 31 as the ‘forgotten article’ of the UN convention in his key note speech at the IPA World Conference Hong Kong; he advises IPA to encourage countries to report properly on article 31 to the UN and to seek a UN General Comment on article 31.
February and March 2008
IPA makes contact with international organisations that might support the request for a General Comment.
Seven international organisations become co-signatories to IPA’s request for a UN General Comment.
IPA writes to Professor Yanghee Lee, Chair of the UN Committee, requesting that the Committee draft and adopt a UN General Comment on article 31. There are seven international co-signatories to the request: Right to Play International World Leisure Organization International Pediatrics Association International Council on Children’s Play World Organization for Early Childhood Education (OMEP) International Toy Library Association European Child Friendly Cities Network.
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Aug 2008, Dec 2008, May 2009, Aug 2009, Dec 2009
IPA writes requesting that the UN Committee draft and adopt a GC on article 31. IPA forms a small group of Theresa Casey, Valerie Fronczek, Roger Hart, Selim Iltus to build the case for the General Comment.
Support from the Bernard van Leer Foundation(BvLF) allows IPA to commission research to strengthen our case: Children’s Right to Play: the Importance of Play in the Lives of Children Worldwide (Lester and Russell, 2009). Published by BvLF in English and Spanish and available on IPA and BvLF websites. We write to the UN Committee and tell them about it.
IPA meets UN Committee member, Professor Lothar Krappmann, during an official visit to Scotland and take him to hear from a group of mothers and children campaigning for children’s right to safe places to play in their neighbourhood. Professor Krappmann becomes IPA’s friend and ally on the Committee.
IPA launches its Global Consultation on Children’s Right to Play with a meeting and pilot consultation in South Africa.
Working closely with regional partners, IPA consultations are held in Lebanon, Thailand, Bulgaria, Kenya, Mexico and Japan. The results are compiled into country reports and the 115 types of infringement of article 31 identified are organised into 15 strands. We write to the Committee and tell them about it.
IPA creates a structure for the drafting including a small core group, a Working Group and Pool of Experts. IPA is careful to ensure that these groups include people with expert knowledge and experience of all aspects of article 31, children and young people of different backgrounds and ages growing up in a wide range of situations across the world.
July and August 2012
Theresa Casey and Valerie Fronczek (IPA President and Communications Officer, respectively) are invited to present the findings of IPA’s research and consultations to the UN Committee in person. IPA President and Communications Officer and Jan van Gils (ICCP) are invited back to present to the Committee a draft outline of possible content for a General Comment.
In February 2011, the UN Committee make the decision to draft and adopt an UN General Comment on article 31.
IPA announces this decision to members at its Triennial World Conference in Cardiff, Wales while celebrating IPA’s 50th anniversary.
IPA is invited to manage the drafting process on behalf of the UN Committee working closely with their Focal Group. The Focal Group is made up of UN Committee members, chaired by Awich Pollar from Uganda.
IPA manages a year long programme of drafting and with the support of the Bernard van Leer Foundation. With their support, IPA is able to engage child’s rights expert Gerison Lansdown as the consultant to the project. IPA supports the engagement of children and young people in reviewing drafts of the General Comment. IPA works with partner organisations to engage directly with children and young people in Brazil, Thailand, Kenya, Scotland, Sierra Leone and Lebanon.
The Working Group and UN Focal Group meet in Geneva to finalise the draft and to discuss implementation strategies.
The General Comment on article 31 adopted by the Committee at its sixty-second session (14 January – 1 February 2013) becoming General Comment no. 17.
The General Comment is released online at http://www2. ohchr.org/english/bodies/crc/comments.htm
meet many children and young people in my role as the Children’s Commissioner for Wales and I am acutely aware of how important play is to them. In fact there are two main things that children of primary school age talk to me about. The first is how important it is to feel safe and the second is play. Very often these two things go hand in. Feeling safe in school and learning through play is one example and playing outdoors, maybe on our streets, without being worried by disapproving adults is another. In a period of financial constraint I am concerned that provision for play may be viewed as an added extra rather than as the right of every child. The Play Sufficiency Duty we have in Wales is a milestone in the journey from the policy commitment that the Welsh Government has made to the realisation of that right for children. Wales is an interesting country as far as children’s rights are concerned. It was the first country in the UK to establish the role of Children’s Commissioner. An independent role that was set up to stand up and speak out about children’s rights so their voice could always be heard. It was also the first country in the UK to legislate in favour of the UN Convention of the Rights of the Child (UNCRC).
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A COUNTRY SERIOUS ABOUT PLAY
Keith Towler, Children’s Commissioner for Wales
Government Ministers have to pay due regard to the UNCRC when it makes decisions, creates policy or passes further laws. So Wales is a country where children are clearly recognised as rights holders. What’s happening in Wales on children’s play? Given its commitment to the UNCRC it follows that Wales would take its obligation towards the realisation of Article 31 very seriously indeed. The benefits of play in terms of promoting the wellbeing of children and young people are well evidenced and understood as are the negative impacts of play deprivation. I recognise, as does the Welsh Government, that children and young people from low income households are restricted in their access to structured play and leisure opportunities because of transport and access costs. The issue of cost as a barrier to participation in structured activities is accentuated where clubs or groups ask for a term’s costs in advance, a cost that low income families on a tight weekly budget cannot meet. Although children and young people may have access to opportunities for community based freely chosen play, children and young people from disadvantaged communities commonly report that they do not feel safe and/or are not welcomed by adults in the community spaces where they would like to play. Wales has become the first country in the world, but let’s hope not the last, to establish a duty in law in relation to play within its legislative framework through the Children and Families (Wales) Measure 2010. It was imperative that Welsh Government provide local
wales authorities with the direction they needed to implement the provisions for play within the 2010 Measure. To that end it issued draft regulations and statutory guidance setting out the range of matters that local authorities, and their partners, need to consider in completing a play sufficiency assessment to comply with the first part of the duty contained in the 2010 Measure. The second part of the duty on local authorities is to secure sufficient play opportunities in their areas for children, so far as reasonably practicable, having regard to the assessments, and the duty to publish information about play opportunities for children in their areas and to keep the information up to date. This will be commenced after full consideration has been given to the assessments and the local authorities’ plans for securing sufficient play opportunities. When you reflect on this commitment and the work that is going on in Wales on the play sufficiency assessments it really does begin to take your breath away. The challenge to get this right for children though still exists. The assessments will only be as good as the play opportunities they afford to children. As part of my Child Poverty Strategy my office have taken on a number of actions last year, including the following:
• To review the outcomes of the implementation of the Play Sufficiency Duty across local authorities in Wales with a particular focus on the attention given to the needs of children and young people from disadvantaged communities and households; this evidence will inform the annual update of the Commissioner Child Poverty Strategy;
• To monitor the information brough t to the attention of the office of the Commissioner in relation to any loss of play provision, including provision for disabled children and young people as a result of changes in funding, planning and partnership arrang ments and this evidence will inform the annual update of the Commissioner Child Poverty Strategy.
My role is to speak out on behalf of children but it is also to hold duty bearers to account so it will be really interesting to see how this progresses over the next year or two. Of course part of my work will include listening to the views of children so I can see through their eyes if all the commitments we are making have resulted in providing sufficient play opportunities. I rather take the view of course that children will determine what is sufficient.
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Why is the General Comment so significant? In February 2011 the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child announced that they would prepare a General Comment on Article 31 of the Convention. I was really pleased when this was announced not least because the central message of Article 31 is that the right to play, recreation, rest, leisure, art and culture are all interlinked and together serve to create an environment in which children can thrive. Article 31 states: 1. States parties recognise the right of the child to rest and leisure, to engage in play and recreational activities appropriate to the age of the child and to participate freely in cultural life and the arts. 2. States parties shall respect and promote the right of the child to participate fully in cultural and artistic life and shall encourage the provision of appropriate and equal opportunities for cultural, artistic, recreational and leisure activity. It had become obvious to the UN Committee however that Article 31 was perhaps not that well understood or appreciated by adults involved directly with children. The hope therefore was that by producing a general comment that States Parties across the world would give greater attention to children’s Article 31 rights. The International Play Association (IPA) were asked by the Committee to take a lead role in the organisation and development of the General Comment. I was delighted to be invited to join an international working group to assist in the drafting which was adopted by the UN Committee on 1 February 2013. The IPA did a fantastic job in pulling all this together and the strength of the final General Comment owes a lot to the dedication and professionalism of those involved. Worldwide campaign on Article 31 Wales and the Welsh Government have taken great strides in promoting and implementing play as the right of every child and are viewed very highly on the international stage. Here in Wales and across the world, however, the publication of the General Comment on Article 31 provides an opportunity that the children of the world deserve. It is an opportunity for every child in every school, in every community, to exercise their right to play.
So how can we achieve this? We need to build a worldwide campaign on Article 31. I know that colleagues in the IPA are working in their countries to raise awareness and to share their progress so we can build a greater level of acceptance and tolerance to children’s play. The publication of the General Comment provides an ideal opportunity to further raise awareness of the importance of Article 31 with State Parties, government departments, civil society and the general public across the world. In Wales, I’m looking forward to continuing to work with stakeholders to do just that. We need to ensure that influential people such as local elected politicians, for example, have adequate resources and support so that they fully understand the nature of the Play Sufficiency Duty. We also need to raise awareness within families and the wider community so that Wales becomes a country that enjoys seeing its children playing outdoors. When I became the Children’s Commissioner five years ago I regularly met children who told me they “were not allowed” to play outside and that “adults don’t like it when we are outside having fun in case we make too much noise.” My hope is that a successful campaign to realise the ambition set in the General Comment on Article 31 will do two things. Firstly, it will make all adults recognise that all our public spaces must be viewed as places where children can play free from ridicule and disapproving comment. And second, it will make State Parties recognise that they must do more to make good structured play opportunities available to all children. If we get this right we could see children across the world enjoying their right to play. Last week, I was on a school visit in north Wales and I was asked something that sounded to me like a really good campaign chant: Child: As the Children’s Commissioner for Wales what do you want? Me: All I want is for all children in Wales to be happy. Child: When do you want it? Me: Now! If we managed to implement the vision set in the General Comment on Article 31 we would have happy children, learning through play and realising their individual potential. If that sounds too idealist for you perhaps you should go and do something else. If that sounds pretty good to you, then welcome to the campaign!
THE ELEPHANT IN THE PLAYROOM The U.S. Government’s Role in Advancing Children’s Rights Jonathan Todres
When I travel overseas for work or research on children’s rights, I am always asked why the United States has not ratified the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC). It is a question probably every American child advocate hears when traveling abroad. After all, 193 countries have ratified the CRC, making it the most widely accepted human rights treaty in history. Only the United States, Somalia, and now newly independent South Sudan are not a party to this historic treaty that enshrines children’s civil, political, economic, social, and cultural rights. Why won’t the United States support the most important instrument for advancing children’s rights? How can the United States ask other countries to do more to fulfill the CRC’s mandate when it will not participate at all? The United States’ lack of participation is the proverbial elephant in the room, and no discussion of children’s rights ends before someone asks why the United States remains on the sidelines. That the U.S. stance on the CRC puzzles many child advocates and parents is understandable. The CRC has fostered positive changes in law, policies and attitudes towards children in many countries, indicating the value of the CRC framework. Moreover, U.S. law and the CRC are largely compatible, reflecting the fact that many of the rights contained in the CRC (including freedom of religion and freedom of expression) were included as a result of U.S. proposals. Indeed the U.S. government was arguably the most active delegation during the drafting phase, submitting proposals and textual recommendations on 38 of 40 substantive CRC provisions. Yet despite the similarities between the CRC and U.S. law and policy and despite the positive impact of the CRC in other countries, the U.S. government has made no progress toward ratification since signing the treaty in 1995. (Signature indicates support for a treaty and means the country agrees not to act in a way that would defeat the object and purpose of the treaty, but does not make the treaty legally binding on the country; ratification creates a legally binding effect.) The CRC has been swept up in a much broader political and cultural battle in the United States, frustrating efforts to ensure the rights and well-being of children in the United States and around the globe. This article aims to step back from the current contentious political divide in the United States and reflect on the importance of the CRC and the value of U.S. participation, both for children in the United States and for children in other countries.
united states Progress on Children’s Rights In the 24 years since the adoption of the CRC, the international community has made important progress on improving the lives and well-being of children. Numerous countries that have ratified the treaty have strengthened laws related to children’s health and education rights, their right to live free from abusive labor practices and other forms of exploitation, the administration of juvenile justice, and many other issues affecting children. Dozens of countries have incorporated provisions of the CRC directly into their national law, and in a number of countries, children’s rights have been enshrined in new constitutions. Progress has not been limited to law and policy initiatives. The world has become a better place for millions of children. The number of children who die before their fifth birthday has dropped from 12.5 million in 1990 (the year the CRC entered into force) to 6.9 million in 2011, according to the World Health Organization. As a result, every year approximately 5.5 million children are able to realize their most precious right – their right to life – when previously their lives and contributions to their families and communities would have been lost. Significant progress has also been made in education. According to UNESCO, the number of primary school age children out of school declined from 103 million in 1999 to 67 million in 2009, and the percentage of primary school age children who are not in school has dropped from 16% to 10%. In these and other respects, life has improved for many children and their families. The CRC Framework The achievements of the past two decades also highlight how much work remains. Tens of millions of children still experience violations of their rights on a regular basis. Many have not reaped the benefits of recent progress. Similar to civil rights legislation in the United States and other countries, the CRC has spurred progress; however, work remains to be done in order to fully realize every child’s rights. Moving forward, the CRC itself provides a reminder of what is most important. First, the CRC framework is built upon four foundational principles that reinforce what must be the central guiding principles in law, policy, and programs affecting children: • Every child is entitled to special assistance, as needed, to ensure her survival and to give her the opportunity to develop to her fullest potential; • Every child has the same rights, and no child should be discriminated against or denied his or her rights;
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• In all policies and programs concerning children, the best interests of the child must be a primary consideration; and • Children’s views have value, and children should be afforded an opportunity to participate in decisions that affect their lives, in a manner consistent with their age and maturity. These core principles establish a framework for treating children with dignity and ensuring their rights and well-being. As Nelson Mandela, former president of South Africa, has stated, “There can be no keener revelation of a society’s soul than the way in which it treats its children.” The CRC’s core principles provide the basis for achieving a society that honors children. Second, the comprehensive nature of the CRC provides another important reminder. Children’s issues are not limited to the narrow set of issues typically associated with childhood. Children are growing, developing actors in their families and communities, and as they develop, they confront a broad range of challenges. The CRC recognizes the full range of rights held by each child. In doing so, it reinforces the holistic nature of human rights. Rights are interrelated and interdependent. Freedom from maltreatment and exploitation is essential to child well-being. Health status and health rights must be protected to ensure a child is able to realize his or her education rights. Education rights, in turn, position a child to better secure his or her rights as an adult. In other words, rights are of limited utility if some are ensured and others are not. All rights are important to providing children the opportunity to develop to their fullest potential. Spotlight on Play This theme issue of PlayRights Magazine highlights the value of the CRC with special attention to the right to play, a right found in article 31 of the treaty. Though children’s experts such as UNICEF explain that ‘[t]here is no such thing as a “small” right and no hierarchy of human rights,’ the right to play has often been relegated to the margins. To some extent, this is understandable. Though all rights are important, certain rights are essential to mere survival. If the right to survival is not protected, then other rights become superfluous. That said, the dismissal of article 31 of the CRC and the child’s right to play ignores three important points. First, article 31 does not speak only to the right to play. It encompasses that and much more. Article 31 reads: ‘1. States Parties recognize the right of the child to rest and leisure, to engage in play and recreational activities
united states appropriate to the age of the child and to participate freely in cultural life and the arts. 2. States Parties shall respect and promote the right of the child to participate fully in cultural and artistic life and shall encourage the provision of appropriate and equal opportunities for cultural, artistic, recreational and leisure activity.’ Play, rest, leisure, and participation in family and community cultural life are all connected and must be recognized. Second, this provision has its roots in the Universal Declaration on Human Rights (UDHR), adopted in 1948. Article 24 of the UDHR provides: “Everyone has the right to rest and leisure, including reasonable limitation of working hours and periodic holidays with pay.” Contrary to the assertion that this is a “new” right without precedent and only for children, it has its origins in the foundational document of the modern human rights movement, a document that was forged under the leadership of Eleanor Roosevelt. In other words, a similar concept was recognized more than 60 years ago for all human beings. Though the drafters of the UDHR and the early international human rights instruments tended to have adults in mind, children are people too. The UDHR applies to children fundamentally because human rights do not depend on governments granting rights; individuals have rights because they are human beings. Finally, inclusion of the right to play itself in the CRC reflects an even more significant point – this right is needed for the healthy development of the child. As Dr. Kenneth Ginsburg reports: ‘Play allows children to use their creativity while developing their imagination, dexterity, and physical, cognitive, and emotional strength. Play is important to healthy brain development. It is through play that children at a very early age engage and interact in the world around them. … Undirected play allows children to learn how to work in groups, to share, to negotiate, to resolve conflicts, and to learn self-advocacy skills… Play is integral to the academic environment. … It has been shown to help children adjust to the school setting and even to enhance children’s learning readiness, learning behaviors, and problem-solving skills.’ In short, play contributes in a multitude of ways to the healthy development of the child and can improve a child’s capacity to realize his or her right to education as well. Evidence of the importance of play and the rights to rest, leisure and play, in turn, reinforce a central idea in the CRC:
that a comprehensive framework addressing all rights of the child is vital to ensuring all children have the opportunity to realize their fullest potential. The U.S. Government’s Role As the sole superpower today, the United States has both the power and resources to dramatically improve the lives and well-being of children around the globe and within its own borders. U.S. ratification of the CRC is a vital step in the process and would serve these dual purposes. First, U.S. ratification of the CRC would reestablish U.S. global leadership on children’s issues. The United States has demonstrated its capacity to lead at many points in the past. For example, it was a pioneer in the use of the “best interests of the child” standard—a foundational principle of the CRC that has been used in U.S. law for over 100 years. In addition, the United States was also first to develop juvenile courts. Only more recently has the United States been on the sidelines. Ratification of the CRC would enable the United States to regain its position as a global leader on children’s rights and well-being. Active U.S. participation in the CRC would embolden the Committee on the Rights of the Child and enable it to press other countries to improve their treatment of children. U.S. ratification of the CRC would enable the international community to leverage the powerful influence of the U.S. government to further efforts to ensure child well-being. Second, U.S. ratification of the CRC is important for children in the United States. The CRC provides a template for addressing the rights and needs of children, and today many children in the United States are in need. Millions of children are not assured of the opportunity to reach their fullest potential. On issues such as health status, education, and child labor, the United States has room for improvement. For example, the United States performs more poorly than many other industrialized nations with respect to health indicators such as infant mortality, life expectancy, and premature and preventable deaths. It now ranks 41st among countries in under-five infant and child mortality. Millions of poor children still have no regular source of health care. Educational data reveal similar dismal news. The 2011 National Assessment of Education Progress Reading Test found that 24 percent of eighth graders in the United States scored below “basic level” for reading proficiency and only 34 percent of eighth graders read at or above grade level. In the 2009 Program for International Assessment, 15-year-old students in the United States continued to trail many of their peers in other Organization for Economic
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AN INALIENABLE HUMAN RIGHT Lothar Krappmann
Finally, a General Comment on the Child’s Right to Play For years many play experts and child-rights activists have hoped that the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child would issue a statement on children’s right to play.1 There is deep concern that children’s play and games are endangered by unfavourable developments in children’s living conditions almost everywhere in the world, e.g. housing, city planning, traffic, pressure for educational achievement, electronic media, commercialization, and tight daily and weekly time schedules of children. At the same time a growing body of research from many disciplines emphasizes that play activities – alone or in groups, indoor or outdoor, assisted or self-organized – are of utmost importance for children’s mental, neurobiological, social, moral and emotional development. The Committee on the Rights of the Child has shared these concerns for a long time. The Committee monitors the implementation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which includes an article on children’s right to play. According to the Convention a child is defined as a human being under the age of 18 years. Therefore adolescents also enjoy the right to play, which is incorporated in Article 31 of the Convention. Years ago the Committee included Article 31 in the long list of issues on which the Committee planned to elaborate through what is called a “General Comment” (lawyers would call such a document a legal opinion). Finally it happened! In its first session in the year 2013, the Committee adopted a well-prepared text, which details this focal right of children and puts it into the comprehensive context of other human rights of children.2 The explanations of the Committee clarify the nature and relevance of this right. It is important to keep in mind, that the right of the child to play is not just a right that may be imple-mented by governments at discretion. The right to play – recognized as a human right of children – is an inalienable human right, which means: No child may be denied the right to play in any situation and under any conditions of life so ever. Deprivation of play is no admissible disciplinary measure or means of punishment; play cannot be denied to children in detention. Play cannot be postponed to coming better days. On the contrary, in catastrophes, 2 6 P L A Y R I G H T S • I P A W O R L D . O R G
in hardship or in other stressful situations children should be supported when they wish to play as it is a means, which human beings need, to find their way back into normality and continued development. The General Comment The detailed explanation of this fundamental right to play is the subject of the General Comment. A General Comment is an authoritative statement of the Committee on the Rights of the Child, which gives guidance to governments and civil society organizations on how to appropriately implement the provisions of the Convention. The General Comment on the right to play is the General Comment no. 17 of the Committee. A General Comment of the Committee always has a twofold intention: It shall help all to better understand the rights of children recognized by the Convention, and it shall give support to advocating for the implementation of the rights of children, which the States have agreed to realize. Both intentions are pertinent with regard to children’s play. Obviously, too many people do not comprehend the essential role of play for children’s well-being and development. The consequence of this is that children’s opportunities to play are increasingly restricted or are reduced to the isolated use of electronic devices, which can be quickly turned on in gaps between other obligations. More detailed knowledge on children and play has to be disseminated, and advocacy for the implementation of this right has to be strengthened in order to convince all those, whose deci-sions influence children’s lives. They must understand that children have a right to play, which has to be respected, protected and fulfilled. Such advocacy is needed. The observation of shortcomings and deficits with regard to children’s opportunities to play called the Committee into action. It is not the task of the UN Committee to present a summary of research and good practice on children and play. The main task and duty of the Committee is to remind the State Parties to the Convention on the Rights of the Child of the obligations, which they themselves have accepted by the ratification of the Convention.3 In order to control the implementation of the Convention the States Parties have established this Committee on the Rights of the Child, an expert body of 18 elected members which meets about three months of the year in Geneva (Switzerland). State
Comprehensive information about the mandate and the work of the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child is available in the internet: http://www2.ohchr. org/english/bodies/crc/index.htm The Committee con-sists of 18 experts elected by the State Parties to the Convention on the Rights of the Child. More on the Convention and its monitoring committee will follow in this article. 1
Parties to the Convention have mandated the Committee to examine the progress made with regard to the implementation of child rights. Thus, they endowed the Committee with authority to assess and give recommendations and advice to governments how to go on in the implementation process. For this reason, General Comments of the Committee and also its General Comment on play have as their first addressees the State Parties to the Convention. But every general comment has also high relevance for civil society. The General Comment on play is particularly relevant for all adults living and working with children, for all institutions and organizations, which are involved in children’s care, development and education and, last not least, for children themselves, who should know that they have the right to play. Cooperation with civil society Civil society organizations have an important role in the implementation of children’s rights. The UN Committee is in contact with governments every five years only and mostly even less, when reporting is delayed. Civil society organizations, however, are in frequent contact and cooperation with their government and its respective department. Relying on the Committee’s authority and recommendations civil society organisations (non-governmental organizations) can continue the dialogue with the government during the reporting intervals to make sure that recommendations of the Committee which conclude the review process with the Committee in Geneva are not forgotten. Before the Committee meets with governments, it invites non-governmental organisations to learn how they consider the situation of children and their rights. Also when a General Comment is on the way, the Committee asks for the opinion of these organizations, which can present information and observations from closely working with children in many situations and settings. In the process of drafting this Comment on children’s play the International Play Association (IPA) had an outstanding role. For many years the IPA has worked to make the wider public and professionals aware of the right of the child to play and has defended children’s play and games against disregard, pressure and impediments of all sorts. It was extremely important that IPA and the UN Committee found each other. Both bodies established work groups, which set to work, were in intense interaction with another and this way brought the project to a good end. The United States of America is one of the three states which are not party to the Convention, although the USA were constructively involved in the drafting process. Yet the USA signed the Convention on February 16, 1995. By signing a Convention a State expresses that it will refrain from acts, which would “defeat the object and purpose of a treaty” (Vienna Convention, Art. 18). 3
The General Comment no. 17 (2013): “The right of the child to rest, leisure, play, recreational activities, cultural life and the arts” can be found under: http://www2.ohchr.org/ english/bodies/crc/comments.htm SEPTEMBER 2013
inalienable human rights As mentioned, the plan to issue a Comment on the right to play was on a list of the Committee for a long time. The project needed a propelling thrust, and I fit in a little story, which demon-strates that somehow children themselves helped to eventually initiate the elaboration of the General Comment. On a visit to Scotland some months after the review of child-rights im-plementation in the United Kingdom I had the opportunity to talk with Theresa Casey, president of IPA, and other play activists. Artfully this group had arranged this meeting on a meadow full of playing children a little bit outside Edinburgh. Soon, it started to rain and our group fled under a shelter while the children involved in their imaginative play did not mind the weather and joyfully continued their activities. What a convincing demonstration of the pre-eminent relevance which children assign to their play! In view of these playing children we confirmed that we would make a new attempt to convince the Committee, and IPA promised to assist the Committee in its plan to prepare and publish a General Comment on the Child’s Right to Play. The valuable support of the Bernard van Leer Foundation in The Netherlands has to be mentioned and gratefully acknowledged as the knowledgeable experts of the foundation contributed their experience and the foundation also financially supported the activities. Child rights – How states decided to make them an obligation Concerned debates that children must not be maltreated, exploited and misused reach back into the 19th century and even more into the past. Early regulations were adopted at that time limiting child labour and removing parental rights when they massively violated their children’s well-being. The claim for better child protection rose in cruel periods of war, persecution, flight and discrimination. Eglantyne Jebb from Great Britain and Janusz Korczak from Poland made the call for child rights to be heard in the 1920s. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights adopted from the Unites Nations in 1948 applies to adults and children. But disregard for and serious violations of children’s needs and best interests were often ignored. A declaration of the UN in 1959 was a signal, but it was not enough to bring change. Thus, at the end of the 1970s the member states of the United Nations decided to spell out human rights a second time in an international treaty focusing on children. A work group drafted a Convention, which specified children’s rights to provision, protection and participation. It was so crucial that this Convention not only prohibited maltreatment, exploitation and hu-miliation, but also ensured children’s right to development and learning, primary consideration of their best interests and recognized the right, that 2 8 P L A Y R I G H T S • I P A W O R L D . O R G
children’s views must be heard and given weight. These rights underlined that the child was seen as a human being who actively contributes to her/his development and is invited to participate at the social life in his/her community. It was consent that this Convention on the Rights of the Child also has to incorporate a right to play. In 1989, almost 25 years ago, the Convention on the Rights of the Child, was unanimously adopted by the General Assembly of the UN and meanwhile ratified by 193 states. Acceding states are under the obligation to implement the Convention article by article, including, as a matter of course, children’s right to play. The Convention established a Committee of independent experts, who have the mandate to review the efforts of State parties to implement children’s rights. Furthermore, the Committee asks UNICEF and other competent bodies, including non-governmental organizations, about their assessment of the child-rights practice in respective countries. All these aspects of monitoring implementation of the Convention also apply to article 31 and are described in the Committee’s General Comment no. 17 on this article. Article 31 – a wide-ranging article The background of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights can explain that the article of the Convention on the child’s right to play is not just exclusively an article on play. The article 31 of the Convention roots in Article 24 of the Universal Declaration: “Everyone has the right to rest and leisure.” It was common opinion that a right to play should be added when a Convention on the rights of the child would be drafted. But the new article became even more wide-ranging. In the end, the heading of article 31 of the Convention was: The right of the child to rest, leisure, play, recreational activities, cultural life and the arts. When we now often say, article 31 defines the right to play, it is just a short title. Child-rights activists meanwhile have realized that such an all-embracing perspective is totally appropriate in view of the strained lives of many children in all regions of the world. Many children are under multiple pressures in poverty, school, violence, environment, urbanization, so that an isolated appeal to create opportunities for play is vain. The Committee emphasizes in its Comment that all the constituent elements of the full title have to be respected and fulfilled for effective implementation, not in an additive way, but holistically. Rest, leisure, play, recreational activities, cultural life and arts are “mutually linked and reinforcing” (para. 8 of the Comment). Rest and leisure are essential for recreational activities, among which play in all its forms has an outstanding place. It entices children and adults away from pressures and routines of their everyday lives and elicits spontaneous, creative,
inalienable human rights cooperative and emotional activities, which help to recreate and balance one’s life also in ex-tremely difficult situations and circumstances. The capacities of the person, which are promoted in these playful activities, are capacities that are also needed when the child or the adult comprehends, reproduces, or creates culture and cultural artefacts. Research on children and play has confirmed that play is also contributing to many more significant aspects of human lives – to social relationships and cooperation, to health and rehabilitation, to learning and performing and overall to well-being and commu-nity. For this reason, the Committee underlines that article 31 of the Convention is intrinsically related to many other rights of children (para. 20ff ). What does the Committee recommend State Parties do The primary concern of the entire General Comment is to generate awareness of children’s right to play and to make clear that this right has the same weight as the other rights, which states have assured to implement. The Committee had to learn that most ignore the relevance of this right. Already in paragraph 2 of the Comment the Committee states that it “is con-cerned by the poor recognition given by States to the rights contained in article 31.” This concern is based on the observation that the regular reports, which State Parties send to the Committee, rarely address article 31. Sometimes they describe a number of nationwide activities like sport festivals or cultural competition for young people. Almost never, however, do they give thought to children’s play and games indoor or outdoor in the neighbourhood, in the streets or on playgrounds. Most probably there is no report, in which a government explained policies or measures to defend, make safe or expand and enrich children’s opportunities to play. Sometimes, but not very often, the committee members asked for further information. Now, in its General Comment, the Committee lists and comments all the aspects which are of serious concern with regard to a full realization of the right to play: lack of recognition, unsafe environments, restricted use of public places, risks, missing access to nature, educational pressure, programmed schedules, neglect of play in programmes for country development, lack of cultural investments, electronic media and commercialization (para. 33 - 47). The Committee does not forget to mention and explicate that there are children who require addi-tional attention in view of their access to play: Girls, children in poverty, children with disabilities, indigenous children, children from minority communities, children in institutions and children exposed to humanitarian conflicts and natural disasters (para. 46 -53).
This is the background for the Committee’s proposals of how State Parties could more effectively ensure that all children can enjoy their right to play by progressive step-by-step elimination of hindering factors: • The State Parties have to promote awareness of this right. The Committee expects from the States that they challenge widespread cultural attitudes, which devalue children’s play, lei-sure and cultural activities. The participation of children of all origins and backgrounds in play activities must be ensured by legislation, which guarantees open access without dis-crimination. In particular it is crucial to encourage and advice parents and caregivers on how to create environments, which facilitate children’s play, recreation and cultural activities (para. 56 (a) and (b)). • The State has to make sure that not only State actors, but also non-State actors, including the private business sector, comply with the requirements of article 31 (para. 57 (b)). Respective laws, regulations and guidelines have to be adopted and financial resources allocated. A monitoring mechanism has to be established. • A decisive issue is children’s safety, as children like to play at places where they are in some distance from adult overprotective control. But also when children conduct cultural, recrea-tional and other guided activities under the supervision of professionals, regulations, standards and ethic codes must be in force and compliance controlled. The Committee also points at violence among children, against which children must be protected as well. Also online safety is mentioned as field of State Parties’ responsibilities (para. 57 (c), (d) and (e)). • States also have responsibilities with regard to the commercialization of children’s toys and games in general and with regard to advertising, which permeates child-addressing cultural and leisure programmes of the mass media. Such programmes have to be monitored to guarantee that they do not spread inappropriate content like violent behaviour models and gender stereotypes (para. 57 (f )). • Complaint mechanisms have to be established, which are independent, effective, safe and accessible, to enable children to make complaints when their rights under article 31 are violated (para. 57 (g)). • As responsibilities for the implementation of children’s right are usually divided across many governmental departments on different levels of authority, State Parties have to make sure that these offices and institutions cooperate and coordinate their legislative, budgetary and monitoring activities. The Committee underlines the special role of (continued on page 38) SEPTEMBER 2013
WHO DISABLES WHOM? Alison John
rticle 31 of the Convention Rights of the Child, recognises the right of every child to rest, leisure, play, recreational activities and free and full participation in cultural and artistic life, up to the age of 18. The UK signed up to this convention in 1991, the year my daughter was born. She is soon to be twenty-two. She went through the usual experiences of growing up, playing, making friends, taking risks, and even managing to survive the education system. She has subsequently become a well-adjusted young woman. Throughout her twenty-two years, I was keen for her to meet and be with disabled children and young people. In particular I wanted her to see and experience people’s differences in a positive way, specifically through interactions in play and recreational activities. That’s what article 31 is partly about – bringing together disabled and non-disabled children. I want to explain my use of the terms “disabled” and “non-disabled” in regards to children. I use them deliberately and, some may say, provocatively. I think the explanation of why I use them as I do helps to unpick why the General Comment is so important for disabled children in particular. My assumption is that if you are a playworker you are already working with children and young people with conditions and impairments. Most of the time they will come along, join in and just be part of the play opportunity/provision. However, the children and young people I refer to as ‘disabled’ are those who have significant and multiple medical conditions and/ or impairments; those children who are labelled and stereotyped because of ‘their’ behaviour; and, those children who don’t communicate, think or hear in the conventional way. These are the children and young people who are more likely to end up attending segregated/
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together in play special play provision. These children experience discrimination due to their differences! We have disabled them. Too often our attitudes, the environments we help to create and the policies and practise we have written and put into place all serve to disable these young people and children. The term ‘non-disabled’ means exactly what it says on the tin! The children and young people do not face discrimination due to a medical condition, cognitive impairment or otherwise. Consider this – a child with Autism is told, “You can’t come into the playground as we don’t have a ‘one-to-one’ to keep you safe.” Or that same child comes to the playground and is supported to manage their own risk benefit assessment. We have disabled this child. The same child with Autism comes in to the playground and is supported to manage their own risk benefit assessment along with their peers. The child is non-disabled, as the organisation has responded to the child’s requirement. We have the choice to disable or not! Most children and young people experience barriers and frustrations when it comes to free choice. However, disabled children and young people determining their own use of their free time create particular challenges. The main agenda is set by adults, parents and professionals all wanting the child to spend all their waking hours improving themselves, learning not to be too different. I am not saying this is wrong but it doesn’t leave much time for anything else - let’s say fun, for example. Many children with complex requirements have little opportunity to be alone with a peer. They do not have an opportunity to get things wrong and learn from the experience. The freedom just to sit and be is not even an option for these individuals. These barriers are immense and have become some that institutionalise our society. The General Comment was considered and then developed to encourage Governments to give priority to all children in accessing their rights under article 31. There are many other articles that support the rights of disabled children and young people to access everyday opportunities. When these are put alongside article 31, you would hope it made it so clear it would be impossible for people to negate their responsibility to support disabled children and young people’s right to play and recreational activities alongside their non-disabled peers. But some still do. It is obvious we must do everything we can to inform people of the contents of this article. The General Comment has spelt out very clearly which challenges Governments need to address. When doing so Governments need to recognise that disabled children don’t just fall into one category – ‘the disabled’. They will appear in
the categories highlighted as ‘requiring particular attention, girls, children living in poverty, children in institutions, children from indigenous and minority countries’. I feel there is a conversation to have around whether or not there should be a category for “children with disabilities” (not my terminology). I wonder, if having a separate category could ever promote inclusive thinking? Then there are the three obligations, Respect, Protect and Fulfil. Governments must adopt these in order for article 31 to be fully embedded into our communities and society at large. Disabled children and young people are in great need for these three obligations being adopted, enforced and monitored. Respect – when visiting play provision or segregated schools, I see very little evidence of consultation with disabled children. I don’t often see services that promote equality and equal relationships with their disabled service users. Protect – most children I meet and worked with have and will experience discrimination in their life at some point. Children with significant medical conditions, cognitive impairment and physical impairments experience an intolerable amount of discrimination, though it’s delivered in a ‘special’ and ‘over caring’ way. To experience risk taking is everybody’s right. Fulfil – as a society we need to enable the fulfilment of article 31 in our everyday practice when working with ALL children. The Governments need to invest in organisations so they can develop accessible and appropriate formats for disabled children and young people. Only in this way will play organisations be able to fulfil their obligation to uphold article 31 in relation to the rights of disabled children and young people. My hope and belief is that given the commitment of Governments and your hard work and passion for article 31, my grandchildren – whether disabled or non-disabled – will participate in play and recreational opportunities they can enjoy together with all of their friends in their local communities. Given my role as a disabled play facilitator, trainer, consultant and advocate, I have been asked to share my perspective in this issue of PlayRights Magazine. But, who am I? I am a loud, proud, playful disabled woman. I have been a youth and community worker, a play facilitator and have worked with disabled and non-disabled children since roughly 1982. For fifteen years I have run a consultancy and give trainings on inclusion and equalities. I have two grown children and live with my husband in the land of song (Wales). My personal experience informs my working practice and my words.
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IPA ORGANISATIONAL NEWS Board Meeting 2013 The IPA Board met in Istanbul in May 2013 hosted by the Active Living Association, organisers of the IPA Triennial World Conference 2014. Board members spent three days meeting with our conference partners, viewing the conference venue at the historic Istanbul Technical University, and visiting examples of play projects and play parks which will feature at the conference. The Board also participated in a seminar at the Bosphorus University and took the opportunity to meet new members of the proposed IPA Turkey Branch.
XIX IPA Triennial World Conference Istanbul, 20-23 May 2014, The 2014 conference is the first to make wide use of social networking to promote the event. The conference promises to be a great opportunity to: follow up on the opportunities presented by the UN adoption of the General Comment on article 31; raise the profile of children’s play in Turkey; discuss the importance of access to play, particularly regarding play for for children in natural disaster or conflict situations; forge new IPA relationships and of course renew old friendships. Istanbul is a fascinating and vibrant city and we look forward to meeting you there! If you would like to submit an abstract for a presentation or workshop, please visit the conference website at www.ipa2014.org as soon as possible.
Executive Board Elections
CALL FOR NOMINATIONS (2014 – 2017) Deadline: 21 December 2013 The election of the 2014 – 2017 Executive Board will be the first wholly under our new constitution that was adopted at the General Meeting 2011 in Cardiff, Wales. The Executive Board is responsible for the management and activities of the organisation, therefore being part of the Board is a serious responsibility which requires the ability to commit time and energy on a frequent basis throughout the year. It also offers a great opportunity to gain insight into children’s play rights worldwide and to contribute to IPA’s purpose and goals. For further information please refer to the PlayNotes eNews from August 2013, go to ipaworld.org, or contact Margaret Westwood at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Council Meeting 2014 Both the IPA Council of Representatives and the Board have been ‘meeting’ virtually using new technology on Groupsite web based networks. However, face-to-face meetings are the life-blood of our organisation, and all National Representatives are urged to join the 2014 Council meeting in Istanbul on 19 May 2014. IPA Branches are encouraged to make every effort to help support their representative to attendance. General Meeting The General Meeting of members of the International Play Association: Promoting the Child’s right to Play will take place on 21 May 2014 at 3.00pm - 5.00pm. The General Meeting will be held in conjunction with the 19th IPA World Conference, 20 - 23 May 2014 at Istanbul Technical University (ITU), Faculty of Architecture Taşkışla Campus, Istanbul, Turkey.
International Play Association Promoting the Child’s Right to Play SEPTEMBER 2013
c o n t e n t As T R I B U T E
Val Fronczek Ric McConaghy, IPA Strategic Planning
“There is a crack, a crack in everything, that’s where the light gets in…” On May 24, 2013, Valerie Fronczek, recent Vice President of IPA, lost her courageous effort to hang on to life and play for one more day. We in the IPA lost a colleague, a tireless crusader and a truly wonderful friend. Val was born just before the outbreak of the ‘great’ war, and forged her fierce determination and energy on the sporting fields of England and the ski slopes of the world. She had a great sense of adventure. With Val the personal and the professional were interwoven and entwined and she grew to become a respected and unrelenting advocate for children. For over two decades prior to her phenomenal contribution to the IPA, Val was the Executive Director of the Society for Children & Youth of British Columbia, during which time she was twice nominated for the Order of Canada. More importantly to Val, she was instrumental in developing groundbreaking policy on child abuse prevention, child and youth rights, child and youth-friendly communities and housing, and fair play in sport. Val had an extraordinary understanding of the needs of children, a passion for what was right, and a drive to do what was necessary to make things better for the children of British Columbia and beyond. The IPA was blessed that it became her chosen vehicle for change when so many other local and global organizations were making overtures for her expertise and energy to evolve their policy and enhance their positioning. Her most significant and enduring involvement in IPA was as Communications Officer. This was a role with many intricacies and required much legwork, but Val made it into a role whereby almost all of the work of IPA became a subset of communications. She was never afraid to tackle contentious issues, and authored numerous papers and letters eloquently engaging politicians, practitioners and professionals whom she considered should care for children as much as she did. She worked endlessly on PlayRights Magazine, often bringing it to the members through an act of sheer will and many sleepless nights. Val’s self-effacing nature, devotion to the cause, and cheerful backroom disposition often saw her playing significant roles for innovative change from well outside the spotlight. Tom Jambor from the USA, IPA’s Vice President before Val, said, “Val changed the IPA into a viable force for this century. In her quiet way she provided a strong guidance that has made the organization what it is today. She was indeed a very determined and committed individual when it came to issues associated with children and their families.” Val’s crowning achievement for children whilst with the IPA was being a driving force behind the creation, development and adoption by the United Nations of a General Comment on article 31 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. This landmark document will ensure that governments around the world will better serve their children to protect, promote and preserve their right to play as a fundamental human right. As Margaret Westwood, another great friend and long serving member of the IPA Board commented, “Her determination that IPA would have an aspirational Strategic Plan was the start of the road to a new President and eventually the General Comment, which will forever be a testament to her vision.” Val had the knowledge, experience and wherewithal to guide this work, and the energy, commitment and guile to engage those she thought necessary to see it through. It was no secret that Val had a wicked sense of humour that was all the more robust for being exercised regularly. She loved to laugh and her hoot was infectious. She had a capacity to know a great many people, and know a good deal about them, and to make them feel special, to make them feel worthy, and to make them feel loved. She knew that from little things big things would grow and she was practiced and sincere in her nurturing. Our lives were brighter for Val’s presence and are now deeply saddened by her absence. Val has rent a crack through which the light now shines on Governments around the world to take seriously their responsibilities to children. She has passed the torch to others to illuminate the fissures of failure. But she would equally be sure to direct that torch to glow like a golden evening gown, to emblazon and celebrate all that it is to be a child at play. Dammit, I miss her. 3 4 P L A Y R I G H T S • I P A W O R L D . O R G
contents The Elephant in the Playroom (continued from page 25) Cooperation and Development (OECD) countries in their average science and math proficiencies. In mathematics, only five of the 33 OECD countries had lower average scores than U.S. teenagers, and in science, only nine OECD countries had lower average scores. Finally, tens of thousands of children in the United States suffer workplace injuries each year, and many others experience various forms of exploitation. In short, there are many opportunities in the United States to improve the well-being of children. The CRC provides a template for a comprehensive approach to child well-being. Where We Stand Given the United States signed the CRC approximately 17 years ago, it is fair to ask why there has not been any progress since then. The reasons for lack of progress toward U.S. ratification of the CRC are both historical and political. Historically, the United States has had a unique approach to and relationship with international human rights treaties. Dating back to Eleanor Roosevelt’s leadership in the development of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the foundational document of the modern human rights movement, the United States has a strong track record of participation in the development of human rights treaties and declarations. As noted above, the United States was arguably the most active delegation during the drafting of the CRC, putting forth proposals and textual recommendations on almost every substantive provision of the treaty. However, when it comes to participating in treaties once they are adopted, the U.S. position has been very different,
and the U.S. government has moved much more cautiously in that regard. Indeed, the United States took forty years to ratify the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, arguably the least controversial human rights treaty in history. Based on specious arguments that human rights treaties are a threat to U.S. sovereignty, from 2001-2009 the George W. Bush Administration made clear that it would not support ratification of any human rights treaty and had an antagonistic view toward the CRC, even though the treaty was drafted during the Administrations of Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush. The younger President Bush’s view on the CRC led the U.S. government to oppose the annual Resolution on the Rights of the Child in the U.N. General Assembly several years in a row, culminating in 2008, when the U.S. was the only no vote in a 180 to 1 vote in support of measures to advance children’s rights and well-being. More recently, under the Obama Administration, U.S. government officials have asserted at times that U.S. ratification proceeds slowly because the United States takes its international obligations seriously and thus wants to ensure full compliance before ratification. Although compliance before ratification has been the U.S. position in theory, as a practical matter the U.S. government has not made any meaningful efforts since the adoption of the CRC in 1989 to review its practices and move towards full compliance. Moreover, as economic, social and cultural rights operate on the principle of progressive realization, absolute fulfillment of all rights in the CRC is not a prerequisite for ratification. What We Can Expect In the United States, after the President signs a human rights treaty,
the next step is that the Department of State conducts an internal review of the treaty. During this review, it is common for the State Department to develop a set of reservations, understandings, and declarations that it recommends be submitted at the time of ratification. Following that review, the President would then send the treaty to the Senate for its advice and consent. Two-thirds of the Senate (67 members) would need to vote in favor of the treaty for the United States to ratify. Currently, the CRC lies in the hands of the Obama Administration. It must conduct its internal review and send the treaty to the Senate. A small but vocal conservative opposition has urged the Obama Administration not to send the treaty to the Senate, suggesting that it would be dead on arrival. Caving to these threats would ignore the significant majority who support the idea of children’s rights. For example, surveys show that 72 percent of Americans believe strongly that health care should be a right, and 82 percent believe strongly that equal access to quality public education is a right. Eighty-one percent of Americans believe lack of quality education for children in poor communities is an education rights violation. Opinions on these issues and others show significant support for children’s rights and human rights in general in the United States. So where do we go from here? I am both an optimist and a realist. I believe that eventually the U.S. government will join the rest of the world in ratifying the CRC, enabling the CRC to become the first human rights treaty to achieve universal acceptance. I am also a realist and recognize that much work remains and that U.S. ratification, when it occurs, will be accompanied by important reservations, SEPTEMBER 2013
understandings, and declarations, that both clarify the U.S. interpretation of the treaty and limit its domestic impact. Most notably, it will be accompanied by two understandings and declarations that are typically part of any U.S. ratification package. First, the U.S. will pronounce the treaty to be non-selfexecuting. This will mean that it does not have domestic legal effect until Congress or state legislatures adopt implementing legislation. Second, it will include a federalism understanding that will affirm the U.S. system of federalism and make clear that the federal government will not interfere with issues reserved to the states. No doubt there will also be other reservations, understandings, and declarations on specific provisions, but nothing in the CRC should prevent U.S. participation altogether. Indeed that is why treaties allow for reservations, understandings, and declarations, so that countries with different systems of government and different beliefs can tailor their obligations in a way that preserves their sovereignty while advancing human rights. If and when the CRC is declared non-self-executing, it will limit the direct domestic impact of the CRC. However, the CRC will still be a template for evaluating child well-being and can be used as a framework for designing, implementing, and evaluating child-friendly policies and programs. It can serve all of those purposes with respect to the rights to rest, leisure, and play and provide an important reminder that these rights are also vital to the healthy development of every child. Conclusion In 1959, President Eisenhower remarked in an interview, “I think that people want peace so much that one of these days governments had better
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get out of the way and let them have it.” Likewise parents around the globe want what is best for their children and want to see their children develop to their fullest potential. The mandate enshrined in the Convention on the Rights of the Child is aimed at ensuring children’s rights and well-being and enabling every child to develop to his or her fullest potential. U.S. government support of the CRC would help children both in the United States and around the globe. It is time for the U.S. government to recall the wisdom of President Eisenhower and stop hindering progress on children’s rights. Better yet, the U.S. government should ratify the CRC and put its full weight behind a global effort to secure every child’s rights and well-being. Jonathan Todres is a law professor at Georgia State University College of Law. His research focuses on issues of children’s rights and children’s well-being. Select publications are available at: http://ssrn. com/author=239725. References UNICEF Innocenti Research Centre (2006), The General Measures of the Convention on the Rights of the Child: The Process in Europe and Central Asia. Florence: UNICEF; UNICEF Innocenti Research Centre (2007) Law Reform and the Implementation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child. Florence: UNICEF. World Health Organization, MDG 4: reduce child mortality, April 2013. 31 May 2013 (date accessed online) http://www.who.int/topics/millennium_development_goals/child_mortality/ en/; Dugger, Celia. 2009. “Child Mortality Rate Declines Globally.” New York Times, September 9 UNESCO, Out-of-School Children: New Data Reveal Persistent Challenges. 2011. 31 May 2013 (date accessed online)http://www.uis. unesco.org/FactSheets/Documents/FS12_2011 OOSC_EN.pdf UNESCO stats. Education for All Global Monitoring Report Team. 2008. Overcoming Inequality: Why Governance Matters – Education for All Global Monitoring Report 2009. Paris: UNESCO. http://unesdoc.unesco.org/ images/0017/001776/177609e.pdf
Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) article 6 reads: 1. States Parties recognize that every child has the inherent right to life. 2. States Parties shall ensure to the maximum extent possible the survival and development of the child. CRC Article 2 reads in part: “States Parties shall respect and ensure the rights set forth in the present Convention to each child within their jurisdiction without discrimination of any kind, irrespective of the child’s or his or her parent’s or legal guardian’s race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national, ethnic or social origin, property, disability, birth or other status.” CRC Article 3 reads, in part: “In all actions concerning children, whether undertaken by public or private social welfare institutions, courts of law, administrative authorities or legislative bodies, the best interests of the child shall be a primary consideration.” CRC. Article 12 reads in part: “States Parties shall assure to the child who is capable of forming his or her own views the right to express those views freely in all matters affecting the child, the views of the child being given due weight in accordance with the age and maturity of the child.” Nelson Mandela, Speech at the Launch of the Nelson Mandela Children’s Fund (May 8, 1995), in Nelson Mandela, In His Own Words (2003). UNICEF, Convention on the Rights of the Child – Using the Convention and Protocols for Children, 30 November 2005. 31 May 2013 (date accessed online), http://www.unicef.org/crc/index _using.html. Ginsburg, Kenneth R. (2007), “The Importance of Play in Promoting Healthy Child Development and Maintaining Strong Parent-Child Bonds.” Pediatrics Vol 119, pp 182-191. Editorial, “No Excuse for U.S. Infant Mortality Ranking” USA Today, 3 Oct. 2011. 31 May 2013 (date accessed online), http://usatoday30.usatoday. com/news/opinion/editorials/story/2011-10-03/ infant-mortality-ranking-US-41st/50647658/1 National Center for Education Statistics (2011). The Nation’s Report Card: Reading 2011(NCES 2012–457). Institute of Education Sciences, U.S. Department of Education, Washington, D.C., at http://nces.ed.gov/nationsreportcard/pdf/ main2011/2012457.pdf. Fleischman, H.L., Hopstock, P.J., Pelczar, M.P., and Shelley, B.E. (2010). Highlights From PISA 2009: Performance of U.S. 15-Year-Old Students in Reading, Mathematics, and Science Literacy in an International Context (NCES 2011-004). U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office.
Respect, Protect and Fulfil Children’s Right to Play (continued from page15) their report and this can be an opportunity to ensure article 31 is properly reported on. • Article 31 has been grouped together with the education articles (28 and 29) for reporting purposes – it’s important to ensure that children’s play rights aren’t overlooked or lost. • The reporting processes takes place in a cycle and drafting starts well in advance so finding out what is happening when in your country is crucial • Unofficial, shadow or NGO reports, reports form Children’s Commissioners and Ombudsmen and evidence from children and young people can also be submitted. It’s essential to link in with the groups who are co-ordinating this process in your country. The UN Website www2.ohchr.org/english/bodies/crc/ index.htm • The UN website is your first port of call for official information. • Much of the documentation is available in the UN languages English, French Spanish, Russian, Arabic and Chinese. • At the time of writing the General Comment on article 31 is available in English, Spanish and Arabic. Child Rights Connect www.childrightsconnect.org/ • Child Rights Connect is a network of national and international NGOs committed to all children fully enjoying their rights as defined by the Convention on the Rights of the Child. • They support national and international NGOs and the UN Committee to monitor and implement the
UN Convention. • They produce helpful practical tools such as reporting guides and factsheets. Child Rights International Network www.crin.org • CRIN is a global network for children’s rights. Making the General Comment Widely Known The Committee recommends that governments disseminate the General Comment widely within government and administrative structures, to parents, other caregivers, children, professional organisations, communities and civil society at large. They suggest that all channels of dissemination should be used such as print media, the Internet and children’s own communication means. This also means translating it into relevant languages, including sign languages, Braille and easy-to-read formats and culturally appropriate and child-friendly versions available. In addition, the key messages of the General Comment should be embedded within training on children’s human rights, for all professionals working with or for children, or whose work impacts on children (government officials, educators, health professionals, social workers, early years and care workers, planners and architects, etc.). Such training should provide guidance on how to create and sustain environments in which Article 31 rights can be most effectively realised for all children (paragraph 58(h). The UN Committee encourages international cooperation in the realisation of Article 31 through the active engagement of United Nations agencies including UNICEF, UNESCO, UNHCR, UN Habitat, UNOSDP, UNDP, UNEP and WHO, as well as international, national and local NGOs (paragraph 59).
Suggestion on Using the General Comment • This General Comment has a great advantage in being about joyful, creative, enriching elements of children’s lives – play, culture, arts – that lend themselves to interesting, newsworthy activities and events. • The General Comment creates a welcome opportunity to bring together people working with the various elements of article 31 in ways that are rich in potential. • Street events, conferences, seminars, photography competitions, article writing, film-making are all opportunities to promote the General Comment. • Ensuring training and capacity building on article 31 for all professionals may be a long term goal but an Action Plan could be developed by bringing key stakeholders together to discuss achievable steps towards this goal. Stakeholders may include Further and Higher Education Institutions, Children’s Rights groups, research institutions, government agencies, children and young people etc. • The General Comment is an official document and relevant to many groups of people. Briefings can be created that draw out the key messages in the most effective way for different audiences – for example, children and young people, health workers, educationalists, planners, play workers, pedagogues, designers, international development organisations etc. • If UNICEF and other agencies have programmes or offices in your country you might suggest a meeting to discuss the General Comment and how they could use it. • IPA has produced a summary and a child-friendly version of the General Comment that can be freely downloaded and shared. IPA is SEPTEMBER 2013
happy for translations to be made provided you contact IPA and make the translation freely available. • Translations should always refer back to the official UN documents to ensure terminology is correct and the translation is accurate. • There are other versions of the General Comment being created in different languages and formats around the world. You can link to IPA to share and exchange resources on article 31. Theresa Casey is President of the International Play Association.
Finally, A General Comment on the Child’s Right to Play (continued from page 29) municipalities and within municipalities of schools in creating environments for children, where they can recreate, play and are culturally active (para. 58 (f ) and (g)). • A special concept gets the Committee’s explicit support, which is the idea of “universal design” (para. 58 (e)). The universal design intends to shape all facilities, equipment and services in a way that they can be used to the greatest extent by everyone regardless of age, gender, disability, origin or other personal background. If such forms of design can be created with regard to children’s recreation, play and cultural activities, the rights under article 31 would strongly support interaction and communication across social groups in society. This is a short summary, which cannot replace reading the full text of the General Comment. It should be widely known in the child-rights communities. The Committee expects that NGOs will help to disseminate this document. Also
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the State Parties are under the obligation to provide translations and copies. Yet often civil society organizations have better channels than the administration to bring such messages to those who should be informed. The role of non-governmental organizations This General Comment no. 17, like every general comment of the Committee, firstly addresses the State Parties that have adopted the treaty and established the Committee. Since the Committee is authorized to cooperate with non-State actors as well, it is an important document for the activities of these organizations at the same time. They will find a lot of arguments, which can strengthen their advocacy for the implementation of the child’s right to rest, leisure, play, recreational activities, cultural life and the arts and to guide their own activities in this field of children’s recreational, play and cultural activities. The Committee knows that the implementation of children’s rights is very much dependent on the legislation, administration and services of the States. But it also knows and appreciates that civil society works hard to make sure that children’s rights are not forgotten in complex political situation full of pressures and cross-pressures. And quite a number of organizations directly support children and their activities. Civil society should also take care that children themselves can voice their views and participate in the efforts to implement their right to recreation, play and cultural activities (para.58). It is the bundle of rights under article 31, which very much determines, whether children can recognize themselves as active subjects. For this reason, the right to rest, recreation, play and cultural activities reflects the core concern of the
Convention, i.e. to respect the child as a human being, whose best interests, well-being and development must be ensured together with the children.
Steve McCurry is recognized universally
as one of today’s finest photographers. He is the recipient of numerous awards, including Magazine Photographer of the Year, awarded by the National Press Photographers’ Association. This was the same year in which he won an unprecedented four first prizes in the World Press Photo Contest. He has won the Olivier Rebbot Memorial Award twice. stevemccurry.com Lothar Krappmann was a member of the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child from 2003 to 2011, and from 2007 the rapporteur of the Committee. He was responsible for the review of child-rights implementation in more than twenty countries and belonged to the editorial group of several General Comments of the Committee on articles of the Convention. Until his retirement Lothar was a senior researcher at the Max Planck Institute of Human Development in Berlin (Germany). Jonathan Todres is a law professor at Georgia State University College of Law in the US. His research focuses on issues of children’s rights and children’s well-being. Select publications are available at: http://ssrn.com/author=239725. The author is grateful to Clay Roberts ( JD candidate, GSU College of Law) for his excellent research assistance. Keith Towler is Children’s Commissioner of Wales. Ally Johns has run Alison John & Associates, a consultancy on inclusion and equality for fifteen years in Wales. www.alisonjohn.com Les Evans created the article 31 poster. Rex Burruss Design is an award-winning graphic design and advertising firm, based in Atlanta, Georgia. www.rexburrussdesign.com
Artwork: Les Evans
XIX IPA TRIENNIAL WORLD CONFERENCE ISTANBUL, TURKEY 20 – 23 MAY 2014 Bridging Europe and Asia, Istanbul is a vibrant, thriving and unique destination rich in history, culture and beautiful scenery. One of the world’s most exciting cities is waiting to welcome you to the IPA Triennial World Conference from 20 to 23 May 2014. The main theme of the conference is “Access to Play.” It will help expand an understanding of the importance of a child’s right to play in the public and private sectors, NGOs, universities, and institutions in different regions of the world. Sign up to join us for this once in a lifetime event.
The conference venue will be the beautiful and historic Architecture Taskisla Campus in Istanbul, Turkey. Online registration is open.
We hope to see you in Turkey on the occasion of the 19th IPA World Conference 2014 in legendary Istanbul! www.ipa2014.org