More than just lip service

11th February 2005 at 00:00
Many people have never heard of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. 'Children's Express' reporters Kamal and Ghizlan Akerbousse ask: how can our rights be upheld if we don't even know we have them?

We were on a bus one day and an elderly woman got on. We got up and offered her our seat. She said she was OK and wanted to stand. But then another woman interrupted and told us that because we were children, we should be offering our seat to all other adult passengers, not just elderly people. When we argued that we had the right to sit there, she replied "What rights do you have?"

Her question highlights how little people understand when it comes to children and their rights. This woman was an adult and you'd expect her to know better, but many people still believe that children should be seen and not heard. They don't believe or think that children should have rights as adults do.

What's worrying is that it's not just adults who are ignorant. Young people themselves don't even know that they have rights.

When a team of young reporters from 'Children's Express' recently interviewed other children and young people for a story on rights, what they found was that the majority had never even heard of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child.

That means most of us don't know that we have the right to "say what you think should happen when adults make decisions that affect you and have your opinions taken into account" (Article 12) or that we have the right "to privacy" (Article 16).

The first thing that really needs to happen in Britain, is to get the message across. Article 4 of the convention states that "governments should make these rights available" to us. So why is our Government not doing more to make us aware that we have rights in the first place?

Perhaps they should think about advertising on children's television shows and websites, such as CBBC and CiTV. They could also use big billboards in the streets or put ads on the new video screens that are now in many of London's buses so that everybody can read them, not just children.

But raising awareness is just a start: there's a lot more that needs to be done. We think that the convention is really important, but the rights included in it are quite general and something has to be done so that specific needs of young people living in Britain are taken seriously. So, for example, local councils need to determine which rights concerning young people in that particular area they think are important - and make their decision public. Because what might worry one young person living in, say, Scotland, might have nothing to do with someone living in London.

We live in the borough of Islington, north London, where they've introduced the Islington Vision. It states that children and young people will have access to "places to play and activities that are affordable, high quality and accessible to all ages and interests."

It also says we should have "job and training opportunities and the chance of life-long learning".

We're sure that other councils have similar things, which is good. But it's no good if they're just introducing these things to look as though they are doing the right thing. If they say they're going to do something, like clean up the streets and keep young people safe, then that's what they should do.

The next step is educating adults because, as the incident we experienced on the bus shows, there's no use in us having rights if adults around us don't know or just don't care.

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