The framework of contemporary child rights stems from the work of Eglantyne Jebb, founder of Save the Children, in her iconic 1923 document, Declaration of the Rights of the Child, which was adopted by the United Nations. Whether you support an NGO, volunteer for a small children’s relief center, or seek to learn about children’s rights, it is Jebb’s lifelong contribution to the field that influences it.
The work of Eglantyne Jebb
Jebb pioneered the formal cause of children’s rights after seeing millions of suffering children in the wake of World War I. With a definitive stance to “claim certain rights for children”, she wrote the Geneva Declaration of the Rights of the Child, which is now the basis of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC). Her vision, of no child anywhere in the world exposed to hunger or hardship, is soon becoming a reality. Save the Children, India’s leading independent child rights organization has provided access to education, nutrition, healthcare, and emergency relief, as well infrastructure for equal opportunities to lakhs of Indian children across 20 Indian states since 2008. The organisation does this through on-ground action, campaigning and advocacy, and policy influence. Child rights NGO Save the Children’s association with India was forged with Mahatma Gandhi’s signature on Eglantyne Jebb ‘Declaration of the Rights of the Child’ in 1931. Today, lakhs of Indians donate online to fight against the evils that stand to harm children.
Child rights in India
India, in its bid to become an ethical labour market to international corporations in 1991, ratified the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Children in 1992. The Convention stems from Jebb’s desire to end the suffering of children, giving them instead a healthy, happy and safe environment that nurtured them physically, mentally, and emotionally. These facets find a strong resonance in the Convention.
Child rights go beyond just human rights, which exist to ensure fair and proper treatment of people across the world, and promote their well-being. Children, defined as any person under the age of 18, need more than just human rights due to a set of unique needs stemming from their vulnerabilities.
Further, the rights as described in the Convention have been summarised into the following fundamentals with references to various articles.
1. THE RIGHT TO AN IDENTITY (ARTICLES 7 AND 8)
Children are entitled to a name, legally registered with the government, and a nationality (to belong to a country). Further, they must have the right to an identity, in the form of a public record. This ensures national support, as well as access to social services.
2. THE RIGHT TO HEALTH (ARTICLES 23 AND 24)
Medical care, nutrition, protection from harmful habits (including drugs) and safe working environments are covered under the right to health, and articles 23 and 24 enumerate access to special care and support for children with special needs, as well as quality health care (including drinking water, nutrition, and a safe environment) respectively.
3. THE RIGHT TO EDUCATION, (ARTICLE 28)
Right to free primary education is critical for helping children develop discipline, life skills while finding a safe and healthy environment to nurture a child’s physiological development. This includes freedom from violence, abuse or neglect.
4. THE RIGHT TO A FAMILY LIFE (ARTICLES 8, 9, 10, 16, 20, 22 AND 40)
If not family members, then children have the right to be looked after by caretakers. Children must live with their parents until it is harmful to them. However, ‘family reunification’, i.e. permission for family members living in different countries to travel to renew contact between family members is critical. Under the ward of a caretaker or family, they must be provided privacy against attacks on their way of life and personal history.
Children who do not have access to a family life, have a right to special care and must be looked after properly, by people who respect their ethnic group, religion, culture and language. Refugee children have a right to special protection and help. In the case of misdemeanours, children have the right to seek legal counsel under a juvenile justice mechanism, with the fair and speedy resolution of proceedings.
5. THE RIGHT TO BE PROTECTED FROM VIOLENCE (ARTICLE 19 AND 34)
Protection from violence extends even to family members, and children must not suffer ill-treatment or sexual or physical violence. This includes use of violence as a means of discipline. All forms of sexual exploitation and abuse are unacceptable, and this Article takes into view the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography.
6. THE RIGHT TO AN OPINION (ARTICLE 12 AND 13)
All children deserve the right to voice their opinions, free of criticism or contempt. In situations where adults are actively deciding upon choices on behalf of children, the latter are entitled to have their opinions taken into consideration. While children’s opinion may not be based on facts, it is nonetheless an important source of insight for parents, and should be considered. However, this depends on the child’s level of maturity and age. Children have the freedom of expression, as long as they are not harming others with their opinions and knowledge.
7. THE RIGHT TO BE PROTECTED FROM ARMED CONFLICT (ARTICLES 38 AND 39)
Armed conflict converts innocent children into refugees, prisoner, or participants in armed conflicts, and these are all circumstances which contravene with the spirit of War or any armed struggle can severely damage a child’s morale as well as perceptions of ethics, and this must be corrected in a nurturing safe environment. While seeking to rehabilitate children affected by war, the government must also ensure that children are not forced to participate in any armed struggle.
8. THE RIGHT TO BE PROTECTED FROM EXPLOITATION (ARTICLES 19, 32, 34, 36 AND 39)
As exploitation is usually achieved through violent means, protection from violence is critical for freeing children from exploitation. This extends to abuse, negligence and violence by parents, even if it is justified as an instrument of achieving discipline at home. Further, children cannot be made to work in difficult or dangerous conditions. Children can only volunteer to work doing safe chores that do not compromise their health, or access to education or play. Sexual exploitation, another dimension of exploitation, is also prohibited, as an activity that takes advantage of them. Survivors of neglect, abuse and exploitation must receive special help to enable recovery and reintegration into society. Children also cannot be punished cruelly, even if it is under the ambit of the justice system. Death or life sentences, as well as sentences with adult prisoners, are not permitted.
All children deserve equality, despite their difference. They are entitled to all of these rights, no matter what race, colour, religion, language, ethnicity, gender or abilities define them.