25th anniversary of the Convention on the Rights of the Child

25 years ago international Convention on the Rights of the Child was created. A lot and at the same time too little changed since then. On the one hand, the rights of children became a university discipline and one can even get a degree in this field. Lectures and talks about the rights of children are given in schools (even in Russian schools’ curriculum there are such topics), here and there ombudsmen for children’s rights appear, while the Convention itself is ratified by almost all countries (with the exception of countries, which do not have governments and thus no mechanism for its ratification). But on the other hand, the rights of children are not observed by almost anybody, who should do so, and in fact are often denied by the very same people who are supposed to recognize and respect them.

Many parents continue to view their children as property, probably following the example of Gogol’s Taras Bulba, who said to his son “I have procreated you and I will kill you” (or spank you, humiliate you, take you away from school, etc.)

Governments do unimaginable things to children – use them as pawns in their political games (one can recall the infamous ban on adoption of children by foreigners in Russia as a sort of “asymmetrical response” to some moves of “hostile states”), introduce additional restrictions on the rights of children for information they should have access to (by using pretext of “defending them from harmful information” – when informational harm is considered to be the same for all persons from 0 to 18 years old) or simply neglect the lives and security of children by instigating bloody conflicts and wars.

It is sad that even those who, in theory, should understand and accept the concept of children’s rights, often profess ideas, which are completely opposed to this. We have heard a “recommendation” of Saint Petersburg ombudsman Mr. Mikhailov to spank children in such a way as not to leave bruises, which is shocking to hear not only from ombudsman, but from official of any kind. However, the infamous Russian Ombudsman for Children Pavel Astakhov prefers to fight against foreign countries (especially Scandinavian), where parents are actually being prosecuted for domestic violence.

Under the guise of “protecting children” all sorts of shady characters, themselves often involved in running sex industry, develop some nefarious projects for “fighting pedophiles”, which are notorious for harassment of children belonging to sexual minorities. At the same time the real villains, those, who are accused of serious sexual crimes against children, are protected by the very same self-proclaimed “defenders of children”. Take, for example, the infamous Saint Petersburg legislator Vitaly Milonov, who gave protection to the so called “parental control”, self-described defenders of “children’s morality”, who turned out to be leaders of a gang connected to a series of crimes in the brothels they had established, or to Mr. Grozovsky, a priest recently charged with molestation of underage girls…

It is clear that these people have nothing to do with defense of the rights of children. But it is also quite frequent that we hear from the actual human rights defenders some angry retorts like “There are no separate children’s rights – there are only human rights, while the rights of children are a mere invention!” I would like to respond to these colleagues of mine that children’s rights are in no conflict with the general idea of human rights. Of course, children are people, same as everybody else, there is no argument about this.

Existence of the Convention on the Rights of the Child does not mean that children are not protected by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, quite the contrary. Convention merely clarifies and complements universal rights, because children are a particular area of responsibility. When we start discussing what kind of children’s rights should not be specified, it turns out that it is the opponents of the concept of special rights of children who do not fully share the idea that all human rights apply equally to children and adults. “Why should we declare the child’s right to protection from violence?! No one should be beaten and tortured, not just children”, they say. But when I say that I totally agree with that, that you cannot beat, physically punish, spank or tear one’s ears, including children, it is then that these advocates of universality of human rights and opponents of highlighting the rights of children often tell me: “No, you can spank children, actually” How is this possible? One cannot spank the adults, right? Of course, adults usually do not allow even the thought that they could at times profit from being spanked or their ears torn off for some misdemeanor. But it turns out that it is not us, advocates of the concept of children’s rights, but our opponents that often deny the universality of human rights and complete equality of the rights of children and adults.

25th anniversary of the Convention means that it is high time to acknowledge that this document was created for a reason. It does not mean that the principles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights could be abandoned, it only means that there is a need for special attention to the rights of children, the people whose rights are most often and willingly violated by those who are stronger (adults).

I would also like to object to those who can not imagine talking about the rights of children without immediately shifting the topic to that of “children’s duties”. Defense of children’s rights requires no reciprocal obligation on the part of children, except for one: children themselves should also respect the rights of other children. This is a vast topic, which is covered very inadequately even in the international law: the child is entitled to protection from violence and abuse, harassment and torture by anybody, including other children. Respect for the rights of the child requires development of mechanisms for protection against harassment and violence in children’s groups.

And the child’s rights are rights, regardless of whether a child has good marks at school or not, whether he or she cleans dishes at home or not, observes school regulations regarding clothes and shoes or not, etc. Children should be given proper ideas and attitudes concerning studies, work, family life, behavior at school, but the rights of a child cannot be put in some strict relationship to their duties. All children, whether they are polite and obedient or naughty, have rights as any other human beings.

by Stefania Kulayeva

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