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Remembering children’s rights

With Christmas coming up, Simon Woolley is glad he took a break from festive activities to consider the rights of children.

It’s that time of year again when, for many of us, time seems to simply evaporate. If you are fortunate to be employed, most of the day has gone already.

On top of that there’s the school Xmas fate, the school carol service. ‘Dad’, my four year old son enquired: ‘Are you and Mum coming to the carol service’? ‘Of course we are Son’, I replied, knowing that something, somewhere would have to be cancelled.

As Director of Operation Black Vote (OBV) I get invited to a number of end of year receptions and then there’s our own Xmas lunch, not to mention finding time to do the dreaded seasonal shopping.

Simon Woolley

So when an invitation came through to attend another reception, this time to mark the 20th anniversary of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, I instinctively thought, I’d love to go but just don’t have the time.’

In the end I decided to attend, not least because I thought whilst our own son, perhaps like many others here in the UK, get over indulged by their parents there are millions of other children around the world who are not afforded the most basic human rights, much less indulgence. I’m glad I went.

I listened intently to the special guest speaker Mrs Mmasekgoa Masire-Mwamb, Commonwealth Deputy Secretary-General, who reminded the audience that children are not our property, adding that they are young individuals with their own particular rights that should be honoured and protected. ‘It is our role as parents, careers and wider society. We are their guardians, there to love, protect and respect them’.

As her job covers some 53 Commonwealth nations, Masire-Mwamb’s remit in this area covers a wide range of the challenges faced by millions of children.

For example, she spoke passionately about the right of children not to be genitally mutilated, or forced into marriage, particularly underage. She also championed t those other basic child rights including health care, shelter and education.

Interestingly, when we in the UK think of human rights for children, it is often in regards to countries very far from our own. And yet in certain areas we need to challenge ourselves and our Government.

One barometer that indicates a nation’s intent to a child’s human rights is how much of their GDP they put into education. Some maybe surprised to learn that, according to UNESCO, Caribbean countries spend more of the GDP on their children’s education than Europe.

On a more positive note, however, there are manifestations of how the agenda of children’s human rights is helping to develop our own children.

Here in the UK, a child’s right to be heard, and have access to contribute to society is being translated into a kaleidoscope of young mayors locally elected, and making a real difference to their communities.

I witnessed this first hand at an event in which the young mayor of Tower Hamlets, Uma Akther, and her three Deputies engaged with 400 children at the Mulberry School East London.

There, the young Mayor implored her fellow students to be the very best they could be. The local authority have played their role too, not just in words but also in deeds by ensuring the elected youths had a sizeable budget in which they would decide –after consultation with their peers-how best to spend the money on youth projects.

Encouraging citizenship in this way not only emphasis’s the right for youths to be heard, but it also encourages great responsibility whilst highlighting the difficult choices that have to be made.

I have another interest in this subject too. I have recently been appointed a Commissioner to the Commission for Equality and Human Rights.

A huge challenge if ever there was one, not least for the well being of our society. I’m sure it is the opinion of the Chair Trevor Phillips and my fellow commissioners that equality and human rights will be vital not only for the vibrancy of Britain PLC, as we fight our way out of recession but also for the heart and soul of our nation.

Attending the 20th anniversary of the Convention on the rights of the child was a timely reminder.

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