Is there not a letter missing?

By Ms Joyce Sinclair
Guyana Chronicle
December 7, 2000

DURING the last few months, this nation has been inundated, through the media and through relevant promotional activities, with material on the Rights of the Child. ROC is slowly becoming a household word with many of us, especially some of the very children concerned with these rights.

On the other hand, many of us adults who interface with youths a great deal of the time are wondering whether there is not a letter missing in ROC and whether the publicity given to ROC is not in a way dangerously biased.

Before doing this viewpoint, I decided to visit the office of the Rights of the Child to find out what this was all about and to learn about the programmes that were either on stream or about to be on stream.

I was particularly interested in finding out whether the Convention on the Rights of the Child dealt with Responsibilities of the Child as well. For, from my little observation of the many children who are flaunting the term Rights of the Child, they seem unaware of the other half of this i.e. the Responsibilities of the Child. This is where I think a letter is missing when we promote ROC and not R&ROC, which is more appropriate, especially in our Guyana context.

Our children must know not only what the world owes them or what they are entitled to but what is expected of them - what their contribution is expected to be. They must also know that a right gives them limited freedom. They are free to exercise that right just so long as that right does not impinge on the rights of others.

On the subject of the child's right to Freedom of Expression, article 13 of the Convention reads thus:

"The Child shall have the right to freedom of expression, but it goes on to say and this part is not promoted much in the media: the exercise of this right may be subjected to certain restrictions", example, "....respect of the rights of reputations of others or for the protection of national security or of public order or of public health or morals" so that in many areas, children do not really have unbridled rights and they must be told this.

Article 28 recognises the child's right to education, but who is educating the child about her or his responsibility in this area?

Does the child who is being told of her right to education, hear about her responsibility to make herself available to benefit from the education that is being offered?

The other day, a parent was bemoaning the fact that most afternoons her child seems to be in the Nintendo shops when he should be in school and the school seems unable to control this. He is not alone. I am sure that this child knows something of the Rights of the Child.

Protection From Violence

Article 19 deals with the protection of the child from all forms of physical or mental violence, injury or abuse. I feel sure that the Article had in mind violence or injury from adults.

Did it by chance envisage child-to-child violence; injury and abuse such as we are now having in our schools?

Our ROC Programme or rather the R&ROC programme needs to go much further.

Another article enshrines the child's Right to Freedom of thought, conscience etc. but para 2 of the same article which is given less publicity talks about the "rights of parents, legal guardians, when applicable to provide direction to the child in the exercise of this right in a manner consistent with the evolving capacities of the child".

At a recent seminar for fifth formers on the World of Work, I was on the subject of discipline and I asked them to state honestly which school rule they did not obey and why. One girl with all the self-confidence in the world, an admirable quality, said she did not obey the rule about long nails, because she liked long nails!

I guess she was exercising her right to wear long nails. Clearly there is need here for education on how civil societies are run and how we exercise our rights and responsibilities.

I was glad though that the Director of the ROC programme told me that the organisation was already thinking along these lines and was preparing a booklet on Responsibilities to accompany the Rights. We badly need it.

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