November 18, 2010

Celebrate Children’s Rights Day. ~ Lauren Foster Shaffer

Boulder Journey School is planning to host a celebration from 10:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. on Saturday, November 20th in honor of Children’s Rights Day. This event is free and open to the public. The celebration at Boulder Journey School will feature opportunities for children and adults to play and learn, and will focus on the rights we think all children deserve to have formally recognized. For more information, click here.

The following illustrations were created by three and four year old children at Boulder Journey School. Quotes on the tops of the images were collected from Boulder residents last year in celebration of Children’s Rights Day, and new illustrators added drawings this year. These are just some of the illustrations that will be on display at the November 20th Children’s Rights Day Celebration at Boulder Journey School. Illustrations from other local schools and youth organizations such as Crestview Elementary and Foothills Elementary will also be on display.


On November 20th, 1989, the United Nations adopted The Convention on the Rights of the Child (the CRC), and opened it for ratification. 192 countries have since ratified this important rights treaty. Despite being one of the major contributors to the drafting process, 21 years later the United States remains one of the two UN member countries that have, thus far, declined to ratify. The other country is Somalia, solely due to the fact that it currently does not have a sitting government.

Why, you might ask, would a country that prides itself on the pursuit of freedom and preservation of justice be unwilling to sign a treaty to protect and empower its youth?

The debate is complex and multilayered, but it appears that one of the most prominent reasons is based on a fundamental misunderstanding surrounding what the treaty would do.


The treaty’s 54 articles define childhood, name specific rights that should be preserved and steps to implementation once ratified. Rights vary from protection from harm, to provision of basic resources, to participation as citizens of the child’s own nation and of the world. It is in this latter category that the controversy resides. The pervading misunderstanding is that by granting children rights to participation, we would infringe on the rights of adults. Children would be able to do whatever they wanted, and chaos would inevitably ensue.


However, this has not happened in any of the 192 countries that have adopted the treaty. This is because in the Preamble, as well as in other articles throughout the document, rights are granted under the umbrella of the family. Parents are recognized as the main providers of guidance for children.

The CRC does not weaken parental authority; in actuality it seeks to strengthen it.

The treaty is meant as a framework for nations. UN treaties do not override laws, so it certainly would not usurp the United States Constitution. Many people and organizations have studied what implementation would mean. UNICEF is an organization long involved in helping nations implement children’s rights measures, and they clarify on their website that the CRC is not meant to override national laws, but rather is meant to be used as a guide in policy making. Several nations have used it to make sweeping changes, while others have used it to make small changes, a little bit at a time.


Though nations use the treaty in different ways, in a United Nations “Background Note” article on Children’s Rights and the CRC, we find one particularly striking example:

“The Government of Nepal is seeking input from children as part of its preparation for reporting to the Committee. In April 1995, 29 children participated in a four-day workshop on the Convention sponsored by a consortium of NGOs and UNICEF. Included were working children, a street boy, a disabled girl, children from refugee communities and those from both urban English-language schools and Nepali schools. Ultimately, they took discussion of the Convention back to their communities and met with the Prime Minister.” (UN)

Nepal’s approach is one that holds incredible power, as when children are included in such important discussions, they contribute a great deal of wisdom, born from understanding and experience. As a teacher of young children in Boulder, Colorado, I have seen this again and again. At Boulder Journey School, we actively value and advocate for the right of young children to participate. We communicate to them that they have a voice, beginning at birth, and teachers seek ways to support young children in using their voices.


Five years ago, when Hurricane Katrina struck, groups of preschool children were concerned. They inititated research groups to learn more about hurricanes and their impacts. What came to the forefront was their overwhelming concern for victims who lost their homes and possessions, and as a result, the children initiated fundraising efforts. We saw this humanitarian concern again two years ago when a large grass fire near our city burned several homes, including a llama farm. Again, children’s concern resulted in fundraising for victims, and especially for the llamas. Just a month ago, when the Fourmile fire raged in the hills just five miles from our school, many groups of children showed their concern for the impact of the fire through their drawings and play. This time it was the bravery of the firefighters that the children were celebrating and this most recent line of research continues to be followed. We think that none of these efforts would have been successful had children not been empowered with the sense that their voices are important, and that they have the right to be involved. Further, as called for by the CRC, these efforts were carried out in close partnership with the families of the children, and facilitated carefully by teachers to make sure that all parties involved were respected.


The CRC is certainly not a document to be taken lightly. It is lengthy and complex and worthy of much examination and debate. In the end, however, aren’t the children of the United States, like the children of the 192 countries that have ratified the CRC, deserving of rights? Aren’t they worthy of the time it takes to research and discuss a document that would ensure these rights? And in “the land of the free and the home of the brave,” do we really want to be making the statement that only those persons over the age of 18 are worthy of “liberty and justice for all”?

Many nations in the world consider November 20th to be an important holiday. Parades, festivals, public gatherings and speeches take place. Schools in several countries facilitate activities, while in other countries this day is used as a time for families to gather and for parents to do special things with their children. The United States has few such traditions, but why not start at a local level? We in Boulder, Colorado are taking it upon ourselves to begin several traditions, and we urge other schools, community organizations and cities to do the same.

For more info check out the United Nations and UNICEF websites, and The Campaign for U.S. Ratification of the Convention of the Rights of the Child.

Lauren Shaffer, M.A., is a teacher and teacher educator at Boulder Journey School in Boulder, Colorado. She has written articles for educational publications Exchange and Young Child. She considers young children to be a most inspirational force in her life, and joyfully collaborates with colleagues at Boulder Journey School to support all children in discovering the powerful potential they possess. Learn more about her Boulder Journey School world here.

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