The Children’s Media Foundation (CMF)

Remember Remember: The 20th November


 

By Jayne Kirkham

Writer and CMF Board Member


Did you know World Childrens Day is celebrated on 20 November each year? Me neither.  Last year’s World Children’s Day was particularly special because it marked the 30th Anniversary of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC).

What is the UNCRC?  It’s an agreement made up of “54 articles that cover all aspects of a child’s life and sets out the civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights that all children everywhere are entitled to.  It also explains how adults and governments must work together to make sure all children can enjoy all their rights” (UNICEF).

Given that the UNCRC is the most widely ratified human rights treaty in history, can anyone remember celebrating it in November 2019?  Me neither.

I hate missing celebrations but it’s ok, I’ve found another: 2021 will be the 30th anniversary of the UK signing up to the UNCRC.  Hooray!

But does the UK have anything to celebrate?  Signing up to something is not the same as implementing.  Implementing 54 articles takes time, apparently, so UNICEF UK regularly monitors the country’s progress.  In July 2016 UNICEF UK welcomed the UK’s measures to address child sexual exploitation and abuse, new legislation on human trafficking and the decreasing use of exclusion from school.  But it also criticised “recent fiscal policies and allocation of resources” that had contributed to inequality and meant "children in disadvantaged situations were disproportionately disadvantaged."

When asked in Parliament in 2019 how Government was addressing these criticisms, the then Under-Secretary of State for Education, Nadhim Zahawi, announced an assessment template to help staff across government give “due consideration” to the UNCRC when making new policy and legislation. In effect, putting young people at the heart of all policy.

Putting young people at the heart of all policy?  Come on, that’s pretty fantastic!

Yes... But.... In the same year, one year ago, evidence from 100 charities and academics presented not a fantastic but a pretty devastating picture, one that left UNICEF UK “deeply concerned”.  In fact, UNICEF said that “While the Government continues to focus on Brexit, it is not addressing impact on children’s rights issues, such as the rising number of children in poverty, school exclusions and the rise in mental health diagnoses amongst young people.”  This means that children’s fundamental human rights, such as their right to a clean environment, to a home and a safe place to live, their right to play and education, and their right to be protected from abuse are being side-lined.

That’s pretty damning.  Given the political landscape of the past few years, this new Government can’t blame anyone else for this, and there’s nothing pretty about it, it's a damning indictment.  They are going to have to pull all fingers out of wherever they’ve stuck them to make things right.

Even so, the UNCRC doesn’t just speak to Governments: all adults have a part to play.  Those involved in children’s arts and media especially.  Several of the UNCRC articles speak directly to what we do: children have:

  • a right to freedom of expression, to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any medium (Article 13)
  • a right to mass media that ensures information from a diversity of sources that promotes their social, spiritual and moral well-being as well as their physical and mental health (Article 17)
  • a right to education that contributes to the elimination of ignorance and illiteracy throughout the world (Article 28) while also helping the development of their personality, talents, mental and physical abilities to their fullest potential (Article 29)

and my favourite –

  • the right to rest and leisure, to engage in play and age-appropriate recreational activities and to participate in cultural life and the arts (Article 31)

and my favourite bit of my favourite article?

  • Governments shall respect and promote this right encouraging “the provision of appropriate and quality opportunities for cultural, artistic, recreational and leisure activity.”

Which means things like public service broadcasting, arts council funding, the animation tax break, the licence fee, the Young Audience Content Fund, public libraries, VAT exemption for books, regulatory bodies, are essential if the Government is to fulfil the commitments of all these articles.

Yes, radiotherapy equipment is a higher priority than a roundabout but the UNCRC articles “have equal importance.” Mass Media, Education, Culture and the Arts help “prepare a child for responsible life in a free society, in the spirit of understanding, peace, tolerance, equality and friendship among all peoples”.  This is nothing new; content created specifically for children has been doing these things for far longer than 30 years. But what the UNCRC did was give universal recognition of the value of such content - “equal importance.”

That we, the people that create this content, use our talents and skills to fulfil these rights of the child, now that is worth celebrating, don’t you think?

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