The need to recognise children’s right to be heard
“The theme for this year’s Universal Children’s Day is “The right of
the child to be heard” which is adapted to read as “Let us listen to the
children to beautify the world.”
The theme emphasises two matters, namely the children have the right
to express their opinions and if their opinion is taken into
consideration the world would be better and beautiful.
When the UN declared Child Rights Charter (CRC) in 1989 it included a
vital article with regard to the importance of listening to the opinion
of the children. Article 12 of the CRC reads thus:
“Every child has the right to express an opinion and to have that
opinion taken into consideration by the elders, in any matter or
procedure affecting the child.”
Article 13 speaks of the “freedom of expression of the child”. Twenty
years have lapsed after this declaration.
Have we given the right to the child to express his/her opinion ?
Have we created the opportunity and a conducive environment in the
homes, schools or in other places enabling the children to express what
is in their mind and their opinion, at least in matters affecting them ?
We are simply used to tell the child that he/she is not mature enough
to poke his/her nose in matters concerning elders and discourage him/her
from expressing his/her views on any matters.
Only in places where children’s clubs are established parents
enlighten on child rights and this also creates an environment to some
extent for children to express their opinion freely. It is interesting
to note how children express their opinion with regard to matters
happening at home, in society, and even in the country. Let us see some
of the examples.
If you ask a child to express his/her opinion on matters happening in
the country, the general expression irrespective of the ethnicity of the
child is that “We do not like people being crudely killed. We understand
the sufferings of the children whose mothers or fathers are suddenly
killed. The problem must end. Please give us a future where we can live
in peace, brotherhood and harmony.” Is this opinion of the child taken
Children express view on Government policies that concerns them. “The
Government spends a lot of money on providing uniforms to ensure free
education for every child. Many poor children have only one uniform and
suffer a lot. At the same time children who could afford to get the free
uniforms, and most of them do not use them.
Instead is it not proper to issue at least two uniforms to the poor
children? If only the parents of the children who could afford would
tell the Government that they are prepared to forgo the free uniform to
help the poor children, the Government could change the policy in such a
manner to help the poor children.
Similarly, the Government spends large sums of money to provide books
to the children. What is the use of this scheme if the children
especially the poor do not get them on time? Then the Government’s good
intentions are defeated and so much resources go waste.
Why aren’t those responsible not taking these matters seriously? It
is a problem they could not find proper solutions for such a long time,
what you need is honesty and commitment. This is the assessment of the
Are those responsible and the policy-makers ready to listen to what
the children say?
The Government implements various plans for the development of the
children. Here is the opinion of the children on one such thing. “A good
children’s TV programme and a children’s radio is available for the
children to express their views, opinion and exhibit their skills.
But unfortunately it is in the Sinhala medium only. How good if this
opportunity is given to Tamil children too? Then they would also be able
to express their views, opinion and exhibit their skills. Not only this,
if the media could coordinate and conduct programmes on two language
streams to promote unity, brotherhood and solidarity among children of
all ethnic groups, how useful it could be?
Article two of the CRC says “that the children should not be
discriminated on grounds of ethnicity or on any other basis”. Why aren’t
our leaders thinking on this line? Isn’t it a legitimate claim and
opinion by those children who are deprived of this opportunity? Will the
policy-makers take note of this?
Most of the plantation and rural children express their opinion on
problems they face in the homefront too, just one to quote. “The
drunkenness of our fathers destroys the family economy and disturbs the
peace at home.
We are ashamed of the behaviour of our fathers. We want to live with
dignity and honour. We want to tell our fathers, “Father we love you; we
want your help and guidance. If you drink, get sick and die, our family
and our future will be in danger. We want you to live long till such
time we study well and come to a position to look after you in your old
Many children express these views with a deep feeling of sorrow and
anguish. Are the fathers ready to listen to the voice of their children?
Is there such an environment at home?
We have heard the girls telling things about their experiences while
on their way to schools. “When we travel in buses and public transport
vehicles various forms of sexual abuses are committed on us. We tell our
elders that we need to go to school with peace of mind, and to give us
that freedom. Why are most of our elders turning a blind eye when abuses
on children are committed openly. Why are our elders and even parents
refusing to listen to our voice?
Where the plantation children are concerned it may be important to
quote some of the views of the children with regard to their right to
play and recreation.
“Playing and recreation is our right. But why are we not provided
with playgrounds or children’s parks in plantations which have hundreds
of hectors of land. We have no library facilities too. Why do our
parents and leaders who agitate for so many things are not wanting to
win over these basic facilities for us. Why can’t they allocate funds
for child development activities? Are these policy-makers open to listen
to the voice of the children?
Children express opinion not only of problems they face but other
matters too. They have their own opinion with regard to not only on
domestic matters, but on school affairs, social, religious and even on
political matters which are very often constructive.
If they are given the opportunity and encouraged to express their
opinions and views they are sure to come out with wonderful ideas and
views which if taken into consideration by the elders then the homes,
the society and even the country would become a better and a beautiful
place to live in.
Basically it is the children’s clubs that provide the platform and
opportunity for the children to learn to express their views and
The Government has recognised the right of the child to express their
opinion and have established children’s club consortiums and “children’s
councils” at the Divisional Secretariat level and even had gone to the
extent of impressing upon the local policy-makers that children’s
opinion should be taken into consideration when deciding on matters like
environment protection, formation of child protection committees and on
such other matters.
Finally if the home, society, country and the world want to be
transformed into a better and a beautiful place, then the first
precondition is that people should be prepared give the right of freedom
of expression to the children.
An environment should be created for the children to freely express
his/her opinion and an assurance that his/her voice is heard. People and
rulers should have an open mind to accept and consider the opinion and
expression of the children. This is what basically the Universal
Children’s day theme of this year emphasises.
The writer is Child Rights Coordinating Officer - Plantation Rural
Education Development Organisation.