In her IFLA journal article, Marian Koren asks “How can the libraries’ potential respond to the child’s rights in the context of the information society?” (Koren, p.273). Later in the article, Koren says “It is important that professionals are involved in the understanding, interpretation and implementation of children’s rights in their services.” (Koren, p.278).
I agree! As children’s library workers, how familiar are we with the idea of children’s rights? I am sure we all support and defend the kids we work with, but have we thought much about children actually having their own rights?
In 1989, after decades of cooperation, and building on various global children’s rights documents, the United Nations adopted the framework called the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. (UNCRC)
Because children have a right to know about the special rights that apply to them, a child-friendly version of the UNCRC is also available. Both documents are available in multiple languages. I encourage you to read both versions.
Why do children need special rights?
The preamble to the UNCRC document found here says that: “the child, by reason of his physical and mental immaturity, needs special safeguards and care, including appropriate legal protection”.
Children, because they are not capable of fully taking care of their own needs due to their developmental stage, are vulnerable. They need adults to protect them and provide for them into adulthood.
The UNCRC is built on the principle that children are in need of specialized rights in order to safeguard the developmental stage of childhood so that they can grow, learn, play, develop and flourish with dignity.
The convention applies to all humans under the age of 18 and is meant to guide nations’ in how their governments support children and families. The UNCRC is the most ratified convention in history with almost all nation states in the world committing to its principles in intent if not in practice.
4 areas of children’s rights in the convention
- Protection rights focus on negative experiences that children should be protected from, such as all forms of abuse. This convention area includes articles outlining ways that nation states must safeguard children. For example, in the child-friendly version of the convention, article 33 says: You have the right to protection from taking, making, carrying or selling harmful drugs.
- Provision rights focus on the materials and experiences that all children should be provided such as: food, water, shelter, living with loving family members and getting an education. To provide for children, the convention has a numerous articles outlining the kinds of materials and resources they should have to grow up healthy and happy. For example, in the child-friendly text for article 24 it says: You have the right to the best health care possible, clean water to drink, healthy food, and a healthy and safe environment to live in.
- Participation rights focus on the importance of children having their say in things that matter to them, such as being asked for their opinions. Children have the right to participate in any proceedings that affect them. Participation rights mean that children being able to and invited to form and give their opinions on matters that interest and affect them. The child friendly version of Article 13 says: You have the right to share freely with others what you learn, think, and feel by talking, drawing, writing or any other way unless it harms other people
- Specific responses: These rights focus on children with specific vulnerabilities who have the right to tailored responses to address their needs, such as Indigenous children having the right to access their cultures and disabled children having the right to access education. It is important to note that such children still have all the other Convention rights in addition to those that are tailored for their specific vulnerabilities and needs. For example, Article 13 says: If you have a disability, you have all the rights in the Convention as well as special care and education so that you can live a full life.
Two key ways that children’s libraries support children’s rights
As libraries contain information about the whole human experience, I know you could find something on your library shelves that reflects each one of the 54 articles of the convention. However, I would like to point out these two articles in particular.
First, Article 17 – a provision right – says that children should have “access to information and material from a diversity of national and international sources…”. Further in this article, it says that states should both encourage the production and dissemination of children’s books and also encourage mass media in particular to meet the linguistic needs of minority and/or Indigenous children.
Look at your library shelves! What do you see? Do you see books by and about people from all over the world? Are you able to find books written in the languages spoken in your communities? Does your collection include books that help Indigenous children learn about their cultures and languages? If yes, then your library supports this provision aspect of the UNCRC.
Second, Article 31 – a participation right – states that children have the right to both rest and leisure. They need to be given time to engage in play & recreational activities that are suited to their developmental stage. All children should have equal opportunities to take part in these kinds of activities in their communities.
Take a look at your program offerings! Do you offer a range of fun programs for different ages of children? Are your programs free and accessible to all of the children in your community? Can children come to your library to play, make stuff, and have fun? If yes, then your library supports this participation aspect of the UNCRC.
If we don’t stand up for children, then we don’t stand up for much.Marian Wright Edelman
There is a lot more to be said about the power of the children’s library to both enact and support children’s rights as laid out in the UNCRC. Do you know of any great children’s rights resources? Have you ever done a children’s rights themed program? Please share in the comments!
To conclude, here’s a quote from a well-known American human and children’s rights activist, Marian Wright Edelman founder of the Children’s Defense Fund, who said:
“If we don’t stand up for children, then we don’t stand for much.”
Selected web resources about children’s rights
Koren, M. (2000). Children’s Rights, Libraries’ Potential and the Information Society. IFLA Journal, 26(4), 273–279. https://doi.org/10.1177/034003520002600406
Tess Prendergast teaches librarianship and children’s literature courses at The School of Information, University of British Columbia, in Vancouver, Canada. She has served on many ALSC committees and is currently serving on the 2023 Geisel Award committee. You can read more about her work here and here.