By Pi James
NEW YORK, USA, 10 December 2009 – This year marks the 20th anniversary of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, yet challenges remain in ensuring that its promise becomes a reality for all of the world’s children.
UNICEF Radio moderator Amy Costello spoke with two experts – Prof. Roger Hart and Rebecca Chandler – about the role of ‘Child-Friendly’ schools, spaces and communities in protecting the rights of children in crisis situations.
Listen to the podcast in RealMedia
Prof. Hart teaches at the Graduate Centre of the City University of New York and is Director of the Children’s Environments Research Group. Ms. Chandler is the International Rescue Committee (IRC) Coordinator for Child and Youth Protection Programmes in Emergencies
Prof. Hart stressed that individualism is an important factor in protecting child rights, speaking to criticisms that the Convention emphasizes ‘western’ notions of individual autonomy over the more collectivist views of many cultures.
“The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child,” he said, “and its emphasis on children’s capacity to be independent actors and thinkers, has really been important for helping them to protect themselves and … develop more completely, and to be prepared for situations like conflict and war.”
‘The trees of our future’
Ms. Chandler spoke about the importance of fostering education for children in conflict-affected areas such as Darfur.
“[We’ve heard] one of the community leaders say that children are the trees of our future. If we cut them down too early, no one is going to provide us shade when we’re old,” she said. “So however they conceptualize it, I think, especially in Darfur, they’re really seeing education as a way to move up in society.”
Prof. Hart agreed, citing this point as “another example of where a school begins as something which is dealing with the conflict and protecting children, but moves on to more long-term sustainable goals for the society in dealing with future conflicts.
“We should not only be concerned with what we have, but the conflicts to come, and child friendly schools are ones that help children to deal with the changes that so many communities are going to experience,” he added.
Tackling climate change
Both guests emphasized the need for child-centred development in combating the effects of climate change.
“Climate change will result in more displacement than we’ve had,” Prof. Hart said. “There’ll be more disasters, there’ll be a growth of this problem before we resolve it, so that does concern me and we need more children more ready to deal with this.”
Ms. Chandler spoke of Myanmar and Darfur as two countries that are being directly affected by climate change. “In Darfur, the less resources you have, the more chance people are going to fight over those resources, [and] children are involved in a lot of ways. They are the ones collecting water, they are the ones who are affected by disease,” she said.
Since Cyclone Nargis devastated Myanmar in May 2008, according to Ms. Chandler, the focus has been on disaster risk reduction, rebuilding schools and finding ways to “make children feel safe.”
Prof. Hart noted that child-friendly schools foster resourcefulness and flexibility in children. If they are raised in communities and schools where they feel confident to take initiative themselves – and competent to work together to solve problems – their communities will likely to become more flexible and better able to adapt to change.