What does childhood means and what would be considered an ideal childhood? The period of time between the child’s birth till the child reached adulthood, its experiences and quality of those years sums up childhood. For children to develop to their optimal, they would need loving, warm and responsible caregivers, within an environment that stimulates their growth. They should be living in lives free from fear, violence and exploitation. Unfortunately, this is not always so. It was reported that 90% of the world children were born into poverty. They live in poorly sanitized areas and suffered from malnutrition. They are exposed to diseases such as malaria, polio, tuberculosis and Aids. They lived in fear of war and famine. Their life expectancy is only of 40 years (Gammage P. 2008)
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Millions of children suffered in poverty depriving of their many rights including health and education, protection from exploitation and harm. Children’s rights are being denied and are robbed of their childhood. On the 20 November 1989, the United Nations adopted The Convention on the Rights of the Child and ratified all countries except the United States of America and Somalia. The Convention set standards concerning children and their rights. In this essay, I will discuss about the need to protect children’s rights, the aims of the Convection on the Rights of the Child and the difference it makes to children’s lives.
The need to protect children
Poverty threatens all aspects of childhood, it deprives children of their chance to grow and develop to their full potential.
Lives of poor children in Honduras are examples of children whose childhood are being compromised and needed help and protection. Hurricane Mitch in 1978 has caused serious damages to Honduras. Families live in poverty while the city is on the road to recovery. In order to provide basic needs like food, clothing and shelter, both parents would need to work. Young children are being left at home without adequate care. Their health and development were seriously affected. Some even resort to taking the older sibling out of school to help look after the younger ones. Similarly in Botswana, parents had to bring their children to work when faced without support from extended family or money to pay for childcare services. These children are at risks of being exposed to sudden life threatening injuries. For some parents, they engage cheaper inexperienced babysitters to mind their children. Young children were being neglected. There were also many cases of children being left alone at home without any supervision or care by adults. It was not a surprise for surgeons in the hospitals to attend to children who were involved in accidents at home. In Mexico, due to the lack of affordable childcare, mothers bring their young children along to their work. Once again, these children’s lives are constantly at risks. Their health and development will be affected. Research showed that 19 percent of the working parents in Vietnam and 27 percent in Mexico, left their children alone or in the care of another child at home. A high of 48 percent of the working parents in Botswana without support left their children home alone or in the care of another child. These parents were poor and had little education had no choice as they could not afford any childcare services ( Heymann, J. 2006)
Children living in poverty are exposed to diseases and malnutrition. In Africa, children live in overcrowded shacks with no running water or electricity. They live and play in alleyways that are covered with sewage and trash. Their parents cannot afford to feed them or parents themselves are ill. Due to poor diet and weaken immune systems, many African children died.
Poverty increases children’s vulnerability to other dangers including violence and exploitation. Child labour and child trafficking prevails.
In Asia, it was reported that there were more than a million child prostitutes. Parents who are heavily burdened with debts sold their children into the sex trade. There were also many who were kidnapped and forced into prostitution.
The aims of the UNCRC
In 1989, United Nation adopted the Convention on the rights of the child. It is an international treaty that defines persons aged below 18 years as children. It aims to safeguard children’s rights, welfare, interests and development. All governments have acceded to the Convention except the United States of America and Somalia. There are a total of 54 articles stating the basic human rights of all the children in the world. The right to survival; the right to physical and mental development; the right to protection from harm and the right to be involved in family, social and cultural activities are some of children’s entitlements.
Since 1989, there is a significant change in the attention given to early children’s rights. Various laws and policies in countries have been reframed to accommodate the convention. In UK, laws that govern health, housing and welfare benefits have a profound impact on the children’s lives. Children are affected by laws governing the Education and employment rights. The Children Act 1989 put in place the relationship between children, parents and the state. Local authorities were given the power to look after the welfare of children’s lives and provide safeguards against poor care. The Children Act 1989 calls for the reform in child care law pertaining to child services and child protection. Children are protected from harm, with local authorities investigating their situations of risk. Other Agencies like the housing, health and education authorities were involved in assisting the local authorities with their enquiries. Inter-agency work is a distinctive UK response to protecting children from harm (Thomas, N. 2009).
In 1999, the Sure Start Local Programme (SSLP) had most of the deprived areas in England covered. This programme was designed to provide support for families and parents. It supports good-quality play and learning experiences for children under 4 years of age. Child’s health and development, including family health were looked into (Thomas, N. 2009).
In recent years, the Childcare Act 2006 requires English local authorities to look after the well-being of young children and provide specific services (Thomas, N. 2009).
In acceding to the UN convention, UK has made provisions for areas such as the right to a good education, to participate in cultural and recreational activities, the disable child’s right to care and education. Article 12 of the UN convention states that the child has the right to express an opinion, and his voice should be heard in any judicial and administrative proceedings which affects them (Thomas, N. 2009)
On 2 October, 1995, Singapore acceded to the UNCRC and came into effect on 4 November 1995. Singapore is a nation without any natural resources. Our people are our only asset, children are our future, and thus their well being is our main concern. As reported in MCYS press release, there are several different government agencies with its policies which formed the Inter-ministry committee (IMC) on the Convention on the Rights of the Child. IMC serves as an inter-agency platform for deliberation and coordination of various issues concerning children. Children’s rights and interests are respected and protected. The government also take a serious view on any child abuse or ill-treatment of a child. However, in special circumstances, slight canning is permissible. Children who misbehave may also be given slight canning on the palm of the hand. Corporal punishment is prohibited especially towards females. Canning can be administered by the headmaster.
Singapore’s education system aims to acquire not just academic knowledge, but also impart values and increase the sense of rootedness in our children. These aims are articulated in our Desired Outcomes of Education. Children with special needs are not left out. The government has implemented the Integrated Childcare Programme, helping childcare centre to equip their staff and the centres to accommodate children with special needs.
The discussion above are examples to shows Singapore commitment to uphold the rights and best interests of children. Singapore’s vision for our children and youth is to be a confident nation full of compassion and committed to social responsibilities, yet developed strong ties with their family and community.
The United Convention on the Rights of the Child is not without its weaknesses. According to Vanessa Pupava, children viewed as ‘priceless’ may not be good all the time. There may be negative consequences for both child and parents. As defined by World Health Organisation, harm to child includes physical and emotional ill-treatment, abuse, neglect and exploitation. All these would affect the mental health and development of a child. In such broad terms, raising a child would become a very problematic task for parents. Parental authority may become abusive in itself. Parents would become paranoid; parents may also become ”overparented” (Furedi F 2002). These children would lose their freedom to play and learn about risk. In other cases, parents and educators may lose sight of their commitment towards children. They are afraid of infringing the rights of the children and may they feel that they cannot attain the ideal way of upbringing the children, in the end, they may transfer their duties to other institutions or even specialist services (R.Roose and M.Bouverne-De Bie, 2007 p.431-443).
In UK, children’s rights can sometimes be seen as problematic. Adolescents may become aggressive and demanding. Parents and teachers fear of losing control with their teens. When children are given the right to participate in decision making, it may seem to discard the traditional notions of parents control over their children (R.Roose and M.Bouverne-De Bie, 2007 p.431-443).
‘Best interest of the child’ is one of the focal point in the convention on the rights of the Child. The child’s rights include protection, prevention and participation in decision-making. It would be still a long way for successful implementation of the convention as adults still hold their own perceptions of children. This concept would also have different meanings for different countries in their own context. It would require the joint efforts of all for successful implementation of the convention and tackling with the constraints and shortcomings that comes alongside with it.