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Listening to Children, Speaking For Children

Wendy Cousins et al

In honour of the 20th anniversary of the Declaration of the Rights of the Child, the United Nations (UN) designated 1979 as the International Year of the Child and established a working group charged with developing a legally binding international treaty governing children’s rights. Nearly 10 years elapsed before a final draft was completed, but on 20 November 1989 the UN adopted the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

The Convention contains 54 articles, some 40 of which are concerned with substantive rights, including civil, political, economic and social issues. It reflects the assumption that it is appropriate to require states not only to protect children and promote their fundamental freedoms, but also to devote resources to ensuring that they realise their potential for maturing into adulthood. The articles apply to ‘every human being under the age of eighteen’ and overlap each other considerably in their aims.
Hammarberg (1990) classifies the substantive rights under what he calls ‘The 4 Ps’; that is, the protection of children against discrimination and all forms of neglect; the prevention of harm to children; the provision of assistance for their basic needs; and, finally, the participation of children in decisions involving their own destiny.
Article 12 is often judged to be one of the most important in the convention as it assures to children capable of forming their own views the right to express these views regarding matters that might affect them, as stated in the following:

State 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.

For this purpose, the child shall in particular be provided the opportunity to be heard in any judicial and administrative proceedings affecting the child, either directly, or through a representative of an appropriate body, in a manner consistent with the procedural rules of national law. (United Nations, 1989, Convention on the Rights of the Child: Article 12)

In line with the UN Convention, the Children (NJ) Order (1995) upholds for children the right of self-expression and participation. It ensures that children can have their wishes and feelings ascertained under the welfare checklist, can institute court proceedings in their own right and, in public care cases, be made parties to a dispute with their own legal representation.

Child Advocacy
The goals of advocacy include achieving social justice, empowering people and creating social change. The role of the advocate is to speak on behalf of individuals and empower them to speak on their own behalf in those situations where their rights may have been denied. Advocacy is an important strategy for improving the well-being of children (Pardeck, 2002). Bateman (1995) argues that in order to satisfy needs in an unequal society it is important for service users to turn needs into rights, which if capable of enforcement may require a third party – an advocate. Drawing from the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, Bateman outlines five general advocacy principles:

In theory at least, there is no going back to a time when decisions about the future of children in care were routinely made without reference to their own wishes and feelings. Repeated inquiries into the care of children in residential and foster care settings have been necessary in recent years. Children and young people themselves are now recognised in both human rights law and domestic law regarding consent to medical treatment as having the right to participate in decisions about their social care and treatment once they have developed an appropriate level of understanding.

Cousins, W.; Milner, S. & McLaughlin, E. (2003) Listening to Children, Speaking For Children: Health and Social
Services Complaints and Child Advocacy. Child Care in Practice. Vol. 9. No.2 pp. 109-110

References
Bateman, N. (1995) Advocacy Skills; A Handbook for Human Services Professionals. Aldershot: Arena.
Hammarberg, T. (1990) The U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child – and how to make it work, Human Rights Quarterly, 12, pp.97-105
Pardeck, J.T. (2002) Childrens Rights Policy and Practice. New York: Haworth Social Work Practice Press 

 

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