Academic journal article Australian Journal of Early Childhood

The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child: Using a Concept of Rights as a Basis for Practice

Academic journal article Australian Journal of Early Childhood

The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child: Using a Concept of Rights as a Basis for Practice

Article excerpt

This article looks at the status of the Convention of the Rights of the Child in Australia and the possibilities that exist for the child care professional to meet responsibilities under this agreement. Australia signed the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1990. Since ratifying this international treaty there has been a growing interest in the concept of rights and the idea that children are possessors of rights from birth. Early childhood advocates have a special responsibility to incorporate ideals of the citizen child into their teaching and service provision. Within this framework of the Rights of the Child the infant's rights and development in a group setting are discussed. There is a need to examine programs and relate them to our societal views of children. If social views of children are unsatisfactory we must formulate a democratic vision of the child within an Australian context to make effective changes to our programs.

   And show the children to green fields,
   and make their world

   Run azure on gold sands, and let their tongues

   Run naked into books, the white and
   green leaves open

   History theirs whose language is the sun.

(From the poem An Elementary School Classroom in a Slum by Stephen Spender, 1965)

Introduction

In 1990 Australia ratified the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (Greenwood, 1993). This Convention is an international human rights instrument. By becoming a party to the Convention the Australian Government accepted specific international legal obligations towards the children and youth of Australia. As with all documents of this kind there is a spirit and a letter, and this always leaves room for some ambiguity. It is therefore important that those who work with, and are advocates for, children become knowledgeable about the Convention and develop an awareness of the potential it contains for improved services and opportunities for children. This article approaches the matter in two sections. Section one discusses the nature and significance of the Convention together with identifying government responsibilities. It also examines how progress towards meeting these responsibilities is monitored in Australia. Section two relates this discussion to early childhood by considering an example of babies in group care. This example provides a context for addressing the following questions: How does our image of the child influence and dictate the types of programs we design and provide? How does a rights perspective alter the potential of these settings as environments that aid development? These questions are discussed using a Vygotskian, social/historical approach to development.

A conclusion which can be drawn from consideration for these questions is that children can be seen as protagonists in their own development, participating in and taking a reciprocal role in the acquisition of language and culture. Such a conclusion is reliant upon constructing a more democratic image of the child, a belief in children's rights, and a view of the young child as competent. While the example in this article addresses child care practices in formal care settings, concepts of rights and the social image of the child in Australian society is also of vital importance to parents. Parents play a primary role under the Convention of the Rights of the Child (Article 5) and a partnership with parents is a necessity for a good quality early childhood program.

The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child

The Convention is a set of international standards concerning the rights of the child. These were adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on November 20th, 1989. The Convention is a statement of basic principles, appropriate to the international arena, and therefore takes into account the diversity of beliefs and values across the globe. A measure of its success is shown by the hope of the United Nations that this document will be the first ever to be accepted by all its members. …

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