For Canada and the world to be truly successful, we must recognize the inherent rights of children to have a say in their lives from a young age, suggests an Island man urging Canadians to declare Nov. 20 Rights of the Child Day.
“Graduated steps into democratic self-reliance must begin at birth and not be one giant leap at the age of majority,” says John McDonald, an ex-school teacher and trustee living in Duncan.
The initiative would recognize the anniversary of the United Nations’ adoption of Declaration of the Rights of the Child and raise awareness of the important, comprehensive document, creating potentially far-reaching effects.
“If kids knew what their rights are and what they’re not, it would be a better world. They would understand democracy,” he said.
The initiative’s roots date to 1924 and the Geneva Declaration on the Rights of the Child, followed by the 1959 Declaration of the Rights of the child adopted by the UN.
On Nov. 20, 1989, that declaration was adopted by the UN’s General Assembly. Canada ratified it several years later.
McDonald categorizes the Rights of the Child under three main headings:
• The Right to Survival – through the provision of adequate food, shelter, clean water and primary health care;
• The Right to Protection – from abuse, neglect and exploitation, including the right to special protection in wartime;
• The Right to Develop – in a safe environment, through provision of formal education, constructive play, advanced health care and the opportunity to participate in the social, economic and religious life of their culture, free from discrimination.
Essential to the initiative is introducing democracy at a young age as a way of raising democratically minded adults.
“You can’t raise minors with no say into their lives,” McDonald says. “We can’t raise our kids in an undemocratic household and school system then send them out on their own and say, ‘Now you need to live in a democracy.’”
He suggests that if children are going to learn about democracy, it needs to begin when they’re young.
People – children included – tend strongly to do and be what is expected of them, he says.
“Therefore, the greatest danger to our society is the concept that young people are irresponsible, stupid, cannot think and are incapable of building the future that the present adults must live in. Well, you better have faith in our offspring for it is their world that we (adults) will have to live in,” he says, adding, “adults have not given us much to boast about in human development. Is it time to include children in future planning.”