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Tekst bruno krc

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connecting youth with society

connecting youth with society


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  • 1. 1 Key Note Speech Bruno Vanobbergen, Flemish Children’s Rights Commissioner “Article 12 of the UN Convention for the rights of the child: children up to the age of 18 have the right to be heard. How can we make this article work? “ Ladies and gentlemen, Dear colleagues, Thank you very much for this kind invitation to participate at this conference on connecting youth with society. Connecting youth with society is a very hot topic. Its starting point often lies in the experience of a democratic deficit, resulting in a call for more attention for duties and responsibilities. Children, but especially youth, are often the scapegoat in this. Within this discourse, children and young people appear as possible dangers for society. It is by no means hard to give examples. In recent years, we had discussions about the mosquito (an instrument designed to keep hang-around youth away from certain places), playing kids (because their playing reportedly caused too much noise and nuisance) as well as about certain youth cultures (which became and still become strongly related with the blurring of values and norms). This all illustrates how the notion of a democratic deficit apparently is reflected primarily in the behaviour of concrete individuals and groups who bear responsibility for that. Two weeks ago, in Flanders, we had a political discussion on what was called “unschoolable” young people. The use of this term is a good illustration of the tendency to blame the individual and to forget the importance of looking at more structural causes of social problems. Therefore, when talking and thinking about connecting youth with society, it is probably as important to talk and think about connecting society to children and young people. We started the 20th century by stating that it should become the century of the child. However, at the end of the 20th century, the only right conclusion was that we created the century of the child at risk. Therefore, we need to move from a society that defines children and young people in terms of problems, dangers and risks towards a society that is characterized by inclusion and participation. It is my strong conviction that the framework of children’s rights can play a crucial role in realising this move towards inclusion and participation. The language of “human rights” has increasingly been applied to children over the past century through national laws and international agreements. The first international children’s right agreement, the League of Nations 1924 Geneva Declaration of the Rights of the Child, contained only five rights. These were all centred on what have been called ‘provision’ rights: rights to receive national and international aid. The succeeding United Nations 1959 Declaration of the Rights of the Child contained similar provision rights, but was especially characterized by a shift towards a greater emphasis on rights to protection. The United Nations 1989 Convention on the Rights of the Child is undoubtedly the most well known. It introduced a completely new category of
  • 2. 2 children’s rights, namely ‘participation’ rights. These are rights to act and to be heard. It was in particular article 12, the right to be heard, which contributed widely to the success of the CRC. The notion of children’s rights has brought a historical sea change in how children are perceived and treated as members and participants in societies. The CRC offered a framework to rethink childcare policies in the direction of ensuring children’s dignity. During the past years, attention is paid to the development of e.g. a child friendly justice, or a child friendly health care. At the same time, despite many gains, actual children around the world have remained frustratingly marginalized, whether through poverty, ill health, lack of education, gender discrimination, child soldiering, or any number of other indicators of social well-being. The gap between children’s rights ideals and realities does not result entirely from a lack of practical resources and implementation. Nor, as some claim, is it that a rights language is not appropriate for addressing children’s social issues. The deeper problem lies in how to understand “human rights” and “children’s rights” as such. Ladies and gentleman, My time is too short to discuss this topic in depth, but two things need to be stressed. First, the CRC has an important educational value as it creates a framework for the relationship between the child and the adult, but also between states and children. Human rights need to be imagined as more than mere expressions of individual liberties or entitlements. Human rights derive their meaning and purpose from their capacity to expand the diversity and inclusiveness of human relations. In this interpretation, children’s rights and human rights are rights that are to be shaped in a participative way, a process during which adults and children themselves participate in the definition and the content of these rights. Rights then function as a ‘starting point for dialogue’. Children must be accepted as co-actors in dialogue about their best interests. This implies that in every context, children, educators and policy people must look at how children’s rights are given full play. The rights of children must be placed in their broader social context. Children are thus not expected t o become citizens by seeking to attain a given norm, supported by the rights they can rely on, but to achieve citizenship through their various relationships and actions, a citizenship that can assume different shapes. Secondly, the CRC is not a recipe book, but needs to be regarded as a dynamic working instrument. Within this context, it is important to refer to the different general comments that have been developed by the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child. Particularly for today, I will refer to the General Comment nr. 12, dealing with article 12 of the CRC, the right of the child to be heard. An interesting distinction has been made between the right to be heard by the individual child and the right to be heard by a group of children and young people. A good example of the first category is the right to speak in judicial proceedings affecting the child. In
  • 3. 3 Belgium children from 12 years on are automatically invited by the judge to present their voice, experiences and feelings. They don’t have to speak, but they are allowed to. It is a right, not a duty. It has been a long struggle to convince our government of the importance of this possibility, and still the struggle continues as judges e.g. indicate that they are not trained to talk to children. It is really necessary to translate the rights of children into laws and regulations in order to strengthen the legal and social position of children. On an individual level, but also on the level of the child as a social group. A good example of this lat ter has been the introduction of Youth and Child Effect Reports, measuring the impact of laws and decrees on the life of children and young people. Some cities, the city of Antwerp e.g., also launched a more local version of these effect reports. So laws and regulations are important, but they will not solve everything. Therefore, as important as this judicial dimension of children’s rights are the moral and political dimension of children’s rights. This asks for a change in attitudes towards children. This asks for not only paying attention to install structures of participation, but also to install a culture of participation. Very recently, the Prisma primary school in Ghent received the first children’s rights school label, demonstrating how children’s rights education is not essentially about studying the international tools for children’s rights, but entails learning through life experiences. Is it important to repeat this plea for more attention to participation and inclusion again and again? Yes, it is. The complaints that we receive in our ombudswork for children clearly show how up until today children and young people too often are kept to be seen as “not yets”. As Simons complaint illustrates. Together with some of his friends he was asked to work on a plan for the creation of a playground in his neighbourhood. They collected information, made drawings, talked to other people, but at the time they had a meeting with the deputy mayor of their city, they all were very frustrated. The deputy mayor told them there was not enough money for their plans. “Why do policy people do not give us all important information in advance?” “Why is children’s and young people’s participation always seen as a fun-thing and not as something serious?”. It would be nice if participation and inclusion were something well-defined and easily implementable. Just like receptive reading in language education e.g. However, this isn’t the case and it will never be the case. That’s a pity, but at the same time, it makes both concepts worth to fight for. I wish all of you an inspiring conference. Bruno Vanobbergen Flemish Children’s Rights Commissioner

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