By: Sam Wisnicki
After a successful start to the General Assembly, discussing human rights broadly & women’s rights more specifically, Alison T. & I began the last session of the day on children’s rights. The level of interest was quite high, given the fact that all of the fifty-odd people in attendance were parents.
We started by talking about why children need special protections – given their inherent vulnerabilities (both mental and physical). We presented the special rights in child-friendly language with the intention of equipping those in attendance with the ability to relate the rights to the children in their communities. We discussed the three main categories that children’s rights fall into: the right to survival, the right to protection, and the right to develop – free from discrimination. All of these rights are, of course, indivisible and of equal importance.
In the communities with which we work children play an important role in the home, often contributing to the family income. It is not odd to see children as young as four outside with their mothers, fathers, siblings, uncles and aunts swinging sacks of dried shrimp, hitting them on the ground so as to loosen their shells. It was made clear to the attendees that the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) does not regulate the day-to-day details of home life, nor does it prevent parents from expecting their children to help out at home or with a family business, or for older children with a part time job in the community. However, the UNCRC requires that the chores and work children perform are age-appropriate and safe, and do not jeopardize any other rights, including the right to education and play. Making sure rights are respected is mainly the responsibility of governments, but communities and individuals – especially parents – can also play their part to ensure this happens.
An open dialogue was then facilitated to discuss why we have special rights for children. We asked: How are children’s needs different from those of adults? Why do children need special protection? We had a productive discussion answering these questions, talking about the responsibilities of adults in the community in helping to uphold children’s rights. Members of the community talked about how children cannot build their own shelters or cook their own food, pointing to their physical disadvantages. The fact that children have yet to fully develop mentally was brought up as well; adults have to inform and guide children towards the type of behaviour that is desired & needed to foster a prosperous & peaceful community.
After that there was a brief rundown of what Nicaragua is doing to protect children’s rights. The country signed & ratified the UNCRC in 1990, but also has built special protections for young people into their Constitution, particularly in regards to child labour. The country has also publicly expressed its commitment to protecting children’s rights and welfare – however, laws protecting those entitlements have not always been upheld.
Following that, we discussed the many reasons to teach your children, from a young age, about the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. Those in attendance talked about the benefits to their communities and interpersonal relationships of teaching children their rights, and thus the rights of others, early on. Children appear to realize that if the rights of other children can be violated, so can their own, and in turn this leads to a compassionate response. The message at the heart of the UNCRC is that if children and young people are to become responsible citizens, they need the chance to be aware of, and participate in, the world around them.
Two case studies were then presented to the workshop attendees, and they were asked to discuss whether, and which, children’s rights were violated. This sparked some insight into the outlook of parents in the communities of Orinoco and Marshall Point. The fathers, although there were only four in attendance, were very outspoken – which was a rare experience, and a particularly insightful one. Fathers are not often in attendance, as they are the primary breadwinners for the families of these communities and are often out fishing or working on cruise ships. This sparked debate and open dialogue with the women of the community as well.
The day was wrapped up by an activity that has been proven to be extremely effective in the past – a moving debate. We put up signs (agree, disagree & neutral) in different areas of the room. We explained that we would be reading out various statements about women’s rights and children’s rights and that everyone would have to move and stand by a sign that reflect whether or not they agreed, disagree or weren’t sure about the statement. This sparked some heated debate, and a healthy exchange of opinions on these issues in their communities.
Overall, the day was an extremely successful one – likely the most successful workshop we have delivered thus far. The women & men of Marshall Point & Orinoco are both empowered and outspoken. We learned just as much, if not more, from them that day. As we left the school to head to the wharf to catch the panga (motorboat) I stopped to take pictures of some of the kids exercising their right to play – the perfect end to a great day.