Children’s Rights Blog

Children’s Rights at the Museum of Childhood Ireland

A Child’s Voice 

Prof. Ewa Maciejewska-Mroczek

Institute of Ethnology and Cultural Anthropology, Childhood Studies Research Team, University of Warsaw

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The category of voice is often a theme in childhood studies, and the right to express oneself under Article 12 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child seems to be the most frequently cited legal regulation in childhood studies scholarship. We understand the importance of listening to children’s voices in the social sphere. We want to hear it and we believe we can represent it due to our expertise. As childhood scholars, there can be a distance between our representation of children’s voices, and their concerns due to the colonizing dimension of ‘giving voice’ to the subaltern. However, at a time when some children’s voices continue to be silenced, unheard or unheeded, sometimes a voice emerges that is so strong they immediately force us to reconsider our ideas of social justice. ……

Tiba is 14 years old and comes from Iraq. She entered Poland through Belarus with her family and has been deeply affected by the ongoing humanitarian crisis on this border. In her country of origin, she endured traumatic experiences, then, on arrival in Europe, her family suffered hunger, fear and a threat of violence at the hands of authorities on both sides. When her family managed to enter Poland, after long wandering in the cross-border forests patrolled by Polish guards ready to illegally deport migrants to Belarus, they were locked up in a detention centre. A detention centre is, quite simply, a prison for these families, including children. According to the Polish Ombudsman, conditions in these facilities may fall under the definition of inhuman and degrading treatment. Aid organisations have drawn attention to the scale of the problem, as several hundreds of children are being detained in such prisons in Poland.

Tiba was silenced in many ways: as a non-European migrant, as a girl, and as a child. And yet she found a way to speak out. Unable to bear her captivity, she went on hunger strike. She was admitted to a child psychiatric ward and spent several weeks there. There, the doctors concluded that her return to the detention centre would endanger her health.
A child should not have to take such drastic steps as a hunger strike. And yet, this act of silent resistance was the only way to give voice to her experience.

Eventually, Tiba wrote a letter to the Polish people which was reprinted in the media. Her letter gave voice to the experiences of a child who is deprived of dreams and a future. Tiba wrote: “I dreamed that my name would echo and that my actions would have an impact on the world. I would serve society and society would serve me. Ever since I can remember, I wanted to become a dentist, learn to play the piano and draw. I also always dreamed of getting braces, because in Iraq they are unimaginably expensive. To be a child in Iraq and have a dream – it’s impossible”.

It was this 14-year-old, silenced and deprived of influence, who changed the trajectory of her family’s life and ensured their release from the detention centre. Thanks to the publicity of the letter and the girl’s situation, Tiba’s voice became a political voice. One that was not only heard, but also changed reality, if only on a small scale. This change was achieved precisely because it is the voice of a child – and we are not accustomed to listening to children – so it takes on a particular gravity. The message is clear, it is Europeans who have created the conditions so hostile to the rights of childhood, the right to safety and protection, to a good education, to be heard by accepting the fact that children can be kept imprisoned. Tiba’s courageous action to give voice to experience reminds us to listen to those children who our decisions affect, because children, like no one else, have the right to speak out about the future, a future they will surely shape. Let’s listen to them, learn from them, and take them seriously as independent political actors so they have the best chance to do so. Let’s remember that that they already exercise their right to speak and change the world – often more bravely than adults do.

Traveller Children and Youth’s Rights Matter (too): Together we Need to Validate and Make Visible Traveller Cultural Identity, Language and Values in Education

Gypsies near the Four Masters Monument, Donegal Town

Dr Anne Marie Kavanagh, School of Human Development, DCU Institute of Education

It is entirely understandable to feel invisible when the school curriculum fails to recognise the value of your community’s cultural identity, knowledge system and concerns. Can any child flourish in an environment which invisibilises and excludes them and fails to uphold their rights?

Article 29(c) of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) (1989) states that education should foster respect for all children’s cultural identities, languages and values.

Article 30 focuses specifically on minoritised children and youth’s right to enjoy and share their culture, language and religion with others.
These are rights which struggle to be realised in many Irish educational settings.

Formal and hidden curricula reflect and validate the knowledge and experiences of children and youth from dominant social groups and in doing so uphold their rights in these areas. Unfortunately, this is not the case for Traveller children and youth, whose identities are largely omitted from curricula. Their absence conveys settled society’s disinterest in a culture widely perceived to be inferior and outmoded. Their absence, more significantly, delegitimises Traveller knowledge and cultural repertoires, further compounding the systemic and wider institutional oppression which Travellers experience in a society structured to favour the settled community.

Few in the settled community recognise the rich and valuable perspectives which Traveller culture and knowledge systems possess. All children’s learning can be enriched by engaging with non-dominant ways of being in the world (nomadism as a state of mind and valid way of life), relating to the natural world (which can inform approaches to the climate crisis), and, by considering values which, for example, centre care for the extended family (old and young).

Teaching and learning processes can be enhanced by increased engagement with storytelling as a powerful and effective pedagogical approach for all learners. Children and youth, as rights-holding active agents, can take inspiration from the Traveller community’s long history of resistance and activism. Indeed, Traveller-led activism in coalition with members of the settled community culminated in the recognition of Travellers as a distinct ethnic group (2017) and the introduction of a bill (Traveller Culture and History in Education Bill 2018) to parliament which seeks to include Traveller culture and history in school curricula at primary and post-primary levels.

Since the bill’s introduction, the place of Travellers in current curricula has been audited by the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA). Arising from this, Dr Hannagh McGinley, a member of the Traveller community, was appointed by the NCCA as Education Officer for Traveller Culture and History in the Curriculum and tasked with furthering the audit’s recommendations. Dr McGinley’s appointment is important as any approach seeking to improve Travellers’ experiences in the education system or any other social system, should be a co-constructed and dialogical process between members of the Traveller and settled communities.

Within the more local classroom context, there are a range of ways that teachers can support Travellers’ rights. One key way is by promoting an approach to education underpinned by the principles of human rights and interculturalism. Such an approach involves intercultural awareness (including critical self-reflection on values, assumptions, implicit biases and deficit thinking) and understanding of the CRC, affirmation of difference (all children should be seen, valued and their dignity respected equally), and, action to address the challenges and barriers Traveller children, youth and families face in schools (including robust policies and practices which promote interculturalism and human rights and challenge anti-Traveller racism).

At a pedagogical level, both the oral tradition and the value of learning through participation, which have been practised for generations by Traveller families hold rich learnings for all teachers and students. There is enormous scope for developing a co-constructed curriculum which embeds Traveller perspectives, knowledge, history and culture across all areas of learning. Possibilities include the areas of, literacy (oral tradition, story, folktales, De Gammon/Cant/Pavee), music (songs, piping), art, science (traditional/folk healing, the value of native herbs), and, history (including Traveller involvement in WW1/2, 1916 Rising, the historical rural economy [tin-smiting, seasonal workers, chimney sweeps, horse dealers, stonemasons, animal doctors, tailors).

Taking these small steps provides tangible evidence that for educators Traveller children and youth’s rights matter too.

Blog February 2022: Young People’s Voting Rights?

Children under 18 are a third of humanity, yet no democracy gives them the right to vote. Over time, suffrage has been extended for various reasons to wealthy traders, landowners, poor men, racial minorities, women, and most recently young adults. But minors (or in a few countries people under 16) are assumed to lack the requisite political competence. They are thought too undeveloped, uninformed, manipulable, or irresponsible.

Nevertheless, a children’s suffrage movement led by children and adults has gradually gained momentum since the 1970s. It has picked up steam in the past decade in the wake of child-led climate protests, anti-racism campaigns, gun control activism, children’s parliaments, child labor unions, and many other global expressions of children’s democratic power. A new politics of childism, modeled on feminism and antiracism, is seeking children’s systematic empowerment. In line with the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) and Convention on the Rights of the Child (1989), the right to vote is being claimed as no different from other universal human rights such as to freedom of expression and assembly.

The argument is quite simple. First, contrary to popular opinion, children are not generally incompetent to vote. The true competence needed is not a supposedly autonomous rationality, which adults themselves do not really have, but the ability to choose among available political alternatives. This ability is present by definition in anyone desiring to vote. Its denial is an unjust discrimination and a real political harm. And second, children’s perspectives are very much needed on political issues. Young people have important experiences and perspectives to bring to public debates, whether on the climate emergency, poverty, health care, education, immigration, discrimination, or indeed every social issue. Children voting would strengthen, not weaken, democratic discourse and societies.

In short, children’s disenfranchisement is both unjust and counterproductive.

Now is the time to right this historical wrong. Democracies are facing a rising tide of authoritarianism, globalized corporate and technological power, and deep racial, gender, class, colonial, and other historical divisions. They need to stop teaching their citizens in their formative years that their voices do not count. They need to learn to see all the pixels on the screen instead of just those visible to the powerful few. And most importantly of all, they need to find ways at long last to hold themselves accountable to the entire demos or people instead of just some.

John Wall is Professor of Philosophy, Religion, and Childhood Studies, and Director the Childism Institute, at Rutgers University, United States. He is co-founder of a global project among academics and activists called the Children’s Voting Colloquium, and his latest book is Give Children the Vote: On Democratizing Democracy.

Blog December 2021: Children’s Literature by Children?

Children’s literature is usually associated with texts written for and about children by adults. Yet a number of scholars studying children’s literature are beginning to explore theoretical and practical possibilities of recognizing and respecting children as creators of children’s culture, including abundant texts created by them.

This appreciation is especially timely as the Internet and new media have erased age and professional divides between adult authors and juvenile readers, resulting in increasing numbers of self-published young writers and intergenerational collaborations enabling the emergence of children’s voices.

Literature about, for, and by children, can be seen as an expression of their general rights to….

* Participate in social, cultural and political life (Article 12, UNCRC)

* “Seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other media of the child’s choice” (Article 13, UNCRC)

* And to participate in and contribute to creative activities and to have their artistic ideas respected by adults (Article 31, UNCRC).

While children’s participation in literary practices as writers is inevitably mediated by adults (for example, parents teachers, publishers or translators), this does not necessarily mean that creative child-adult partnerships are always unjustly asymmetrical. Thinking with children’s rights can help us explore practical ways in which we can acknowledge children’s creative agency and facilitate the presence of literature produced by children in a culture that remains dominated by adults.  

Justyna Deszcz-Tryhubczak, Ph.D., D.Litt.
Associate Board Member, Children’s Rights at the Museum of Childhood Ireland.
Director of the Center for Young People’s Literature and Culture
Institute of English Studies,
University of Wroclaw,

Blog 8th January 2021  : Children’s Participation in Research

If young people have the right to make informed decisions and voice their opinions on everything that directly concerns them, as is postulated in The Convention on the Rights of the Child, they may also engage in scholarly research. This engagement may mean children’s contribution to designing and conducting the research process, interpreting the data, and disseminating the results. Participatory research with children paves the way for the child–adult dialogue and co-production of knowledge in which children’s experiences and viewpoints matter and can offer productive insights. Yet participatory research with children obviously has its challenges. Adults may find avoiding occasional interventions difficult. Children may feel overburdened with too much responsibility and not all of them will enjoy participation. Child-adult collaborative research projects are also messy and unpredictable and involve a lot of coordination and negotiation. They also require thinking of child-sensitive methods with intellectual and emotional appeal. What if child participants prefer to draw or sing rather than read and write? What if they get tired or bored? Moreover, participatory research may produce outcomes that do not meet the traditional academic requirements of rigour and validity. Yet these results may be important as information about what needs to be changed in policies concerning children’s lives. Finally, they are worth the effort as they show that children and adults share the same world but may see it differently. Why not  take seriously both perspectives and child-adult interdependencies to make life better for us all?

Justyna Deszcz-Tryhubczak, Ph.D., D.Litt.

Associate Board Member, Children’s Rights, Museum of Childhood Ireland.

Director of the Center for Young People’s Literature and Culture 

CYPLC – Center for Young Peoples’s Literature and Culture, Dept of English Studies, Wroclaw University, Poland.