Children are regarded as future citizens instead of current citizens, their rights second to those of adults. The rights of humans declared in 1948 in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UNDR) were not meant for children. There is a “trickle-down” philosophy in which the rights of children come naturally after protecting the rights of adults. Events such as the labor of 1.7 million children during the Industrial Revolution or the enslavement of hundreds of children in the 1900s prove otherwise. At the UN General Meeting of 1996, it was determined that children served as an “indicator of a healthy habitat, [and] good governance” (Wilks). Explicit recognition of the rights of a child is beneficial to children and their community.
In an earlier UN general meeting in 1989, the Convention for Rights of Children was developed (CRC). The CRC, shown in figure 1, drew inspiration from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights(UNDH), the Charter of the United Nations, the Declaration of the Rights of Children, the International Covenant on Human Rights and the notion that “childhood is entitled to special care and assistance” (UNICEF, 2018). Children are defined as those under 18 and are defined the same in this paper. The purpose of the UNCRC is to serve as a legally binding agreement requiring governments to work together to meet the children’s basic needs and help them reach their potential (Save the Children, 2018). The CRC can be categorized into three groups: traditional rights, special needs, and participatory rights.
The rights of children listed in the CRC that consists of traditional rights are under articles 2-4, 6-8, 16, 26-29, and 31. These are reiterated rights that are seen in the UNDH, (United Nations, 2018) but need to be explicitly stated as they are not recognized to be applicable to children. These rights in the CRC are reflected in the upbringing of baby boomers during the 1950s. The Baby Boom generation, babies born during 1946-1964, were the center of attention in the family as children. A documentary by PBS Making Sense of the 60’s noted that [Baby Boomers] were considered “real people with individual personality… [that] must be respected and encouraged”. This philosophy that a child is entitled to safety, identity, and good health blossomed when the Baby Boom generation reached adulthood. The Baby Boom generation, now adults, organized a protest at the 1968 Democratic convention to rally against the Vietnam war and “political status quo” (History, 2010). Baby Boomers also formed the Freedom Riders in the United States, with the purpose to challenge segregation in the South. Their nation media attention forced the Interstate commerce to outlaw segregation in interstate travel (Mack). Their upbringing caused them to have higher expectations of life that motivated them to seek positive social changes. The 1960s also show the consequences of not protecting the children from discrimination. The Civil Rights movement in the 1960s witnessed African Americans protesting constant racism they experienced (Civil). Many African American died fighting for what could have been avoided if their rights as human beings were recognized by the entirety of U.S society.
Special needs of children are stated under articles 5, 9-11, 18-22, 24 and 32-39. These rights give the child space to safely grow and expand their thoughts and to prevent any stunts that could hinder their ability to be current and future citizens. Separating a child from his family or exploitation of a child of any kind, physical or mental, not only has an immediate negative impact on the child but also long-term effects that impacts the child’s community. A book by the National Research Council Understanding Child Abuse noted the consequences of child abuse and neglect include substance abuse, delinquency, and domestic and criminal violence to name a few. Furthermore, the cost for correctional institutions need for abused adolescents and future loss of productivity is over $658 million (National, 1993). Recognizing that children need special protection from abuse because they are more vulnerable relative to adults will save government millions of dollars.
Participatory rights are under articles 12-15, 17 and 30. A child’s right to be actively engaged in its government and participating in its city planning is considered to be rights reserved for adults. But Participatory Active Research (PAR), research involving equal participation of participants and researchers, involving children emphasized the importance of including children in city politics. Shamrova and Cummings (2017) noted “increase social justice awareness and knowledge about the topic of research in youths”. In addition, children gained research skills, civic engagement skills and teamwork. These traits are needed in countries such as the U.K, Mexico, Poland and the U.S where voter turnout is under 70% and active citizen participation is needed to increase voter turnout (How, 2016).
The UN decided to expand on the participatory rights of children by launching the Child-Friendly Initiative (CFI). The CFI provided a framework for local governments to create “ways for children and young people develop and exercise citizenship and participation skills” (Wilks, 2010). The CFI promoted Children Independent Mobility (CIM), the ability for children to explore public space autonomously, in local government (Whitzman et al, 2010). A study in Australia noted that CIM has decreased with the increasing dependence of car transportation resulting in increased health (Whitzman et al, 2010; Schoeppe 2014). The generation of children involved in the research is expected to be the “first in Australia to have a lower life expectancy than earlier generations” (Whitzman et al, 2010). If a service that allowed children to exercise their right to the city have been institutionalized, the health risks discovered in this research by Whitzman et al in Australia would have been avoided.
A project called Growing Up Boulder (GOB), located in Boulder City, Nevada, is further proof of the positive impact a child can have if his participatory rights are taken seriously. GOB gave children the opportunity to voice their concern with architects and city officials involved in city projects. During a major redesign of park space near north of Boulder Creek, children wanted to be surrounded by nature, have the ability to explore, and engage in thrill-seeking activities (Talks, 2018). Feedback from children resulted in a Civic area that has more green space, is inducive to adventure, and has increased physical activities (Growing Up Boulder). An increase of green space benefits not only the child, but also the community. More green space combats air pollution and the urban heat island effect (UHI). The UHI effect is caused by urbanization because the impermeable and dry surfaces that make up most buildings in a city build up immense heat. This can create temperature differences of up to 22° in cities compared to rural areas (U.S 2008), leading to increased energy consumption that results in higher levels of greenhouse emissions (U.S 2008). In addition to increased energy consumption, UHI causes thousands of deaths because it worsens heat resulting from heat waves (U.S 2008). Consequences previously mentioned invoke the question of why recognition of a child’s right is not already worldwide.
Recognizing the rights of children also has indirect effects. A child’s request for more green space encourages adults to exercise This leads to reduced risks of cardiovascular diseases and obesity (Schranz 2014). Children also show concern for other people regardless of their level in society.. In the Growing Up Boulder project, city planners included sanitation stations in the Civic Area because children wanted the homeless to have a place to clean themselves. An interesting point the director of the GOB project made, Mara Mintzer, in a TEDx talk was that including a child’s request for a better sidewalk to skate on has the indirect effect of helping a parent who has a stroller or the hundreds of people who rely on wheelchairs to get around. Further proof of the benefit of recognizing the right of a child to be part of city politics is shown in the non-profit organization Expeditionary Learning (EL) Education whose mission “to create classrooms where… students achieve more than the think possible” turns youth in to social activists (Building). In one of EL Education’s recent projects, 17 public school were given grant money for their respective students that had the responsibility to represent a local non-profit organization. The reason being that the winning presentation will be awarded the grant to further the goal of the winner’s non-profit organization. One of the participating students named Abrau said she would continue to advocate for Girls for Gender Equity, a grassroot organization devoted to removing social and economic barriers and create opportunities for women and girls (Postmaster, 2018).
Moving away from United States, events in Italy show the benefit of having a city more inclusive to the rights of a child. Research involving children exploring Pistoia, Italy showed that children developed spatial confidence and competency (Wilks, 2010). This gave more freedom to the parents of children as they can be more confident that their child will be safer if they were allowed to travel on the streets independently. “Pistoia has developed an international reputation for excellence in its early childhood service” (Wilks, 2010). Cremona, Italy found through participation of children that decrease in CIM is caused by fear of strangers (Wilks, 2010). The Cremona government decided to increase the number of programs that built the trust children had in the streets, thus, increasing CIM. The opportunity Pistoia and Cremona gave to children to express their thoughts, and then act on it, saved the two cities from problems in the future.
In conclusion, explicitly recognizing the rights of a child is beneficial to the child and his community. A child’s right to a safe environment, a healthy lifestyle and active citizen engagement has short and long-term effects on his comminuty. The health of a city is dependent on a child’s quality of life because of the lasting impact it can have on future generations and reflect a city’s stance on human rights.