Whether it is Israeli soldiers assualting and detaining groups of Palestinian schoolchildren, Syrian refugee children stranded in camps in sub zero temperatures without protection and food, or Uyghur minors separated from their parents and forced into state orphanages, there is plenty of evidence that the rights of children are being violated all around the world.
The Know Your Rights & Claim Them: A Guide for Youth handbook argues that it doesn’t have to be this way.
This Amnesty International book contends that children have their own set of human rights until ‘the age of majority’ for which the rules are set in collaboration between world leaders and the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC), made up of experts and lawyers.
However, as Hollywood actress Angelina Jolie, who serves as special envoy for the UNHCR, notes in the introduction, “If governments kept their word, and if all adults respected children’s rights, there would be no need for this book.”
“But there is a huge gap between your rights as a child in principle, and what happens in practice.”
It has been 32 years since the adoption of the UNCRC, and there have been major advances in some areas of children’s rights: child survival has increased dramatically, and child health has generally shown demonstrable improvements.
On the other hand, large numbers of children continue to live in poverty, are affected by armed conflict, and suffer from violence, abuse and exploitation. Therefore, the handbook is a welcome and timely addition to the literature pertaining to issues of children’s rights.
There is much practical instruction. Composed of four chapters divided into short sections under sub-heading such as Participation, Become an activist, Navigate the law – the language and format is fairly easy and simple to follow.
Immediate priorities include outlining the rights that children were promised in the UN Convention which include 54 Articles and critical reflections on child welfare, health, education and protection, in addition to targeted interventions to promote social and behaviour change.
The book was co-authored by Geraldine Van Bueren, who alongside Jolie, is serving as a consultant. She worked on the 1989 UN convention ‘On The Rights Of The Child’.
A fundamental principle of the UNCRC is participation and children’s rights to express their views on matters that affect them.
In part two, in which Article 13 and 15 of the UNCRC is stated and studied: You have the right to freedom of expression, peaceful protest and peaceful assembly. You are entitled to seek out and find information
Readers learn of Janna Jihad, a 15-year-old Palestinian journalist and activist, based in the village of Nabi Saleh in the occupied West Bank.
She began making videos of the violations against Palestinians in her village by Israeli soldiers and settlers at the age of seven, after her cousin and her uncle were killed.
Since then, Janna has shared countless videos about Palestinian resistance with viewers around the world, on Twitter, YouTube and Facebook, garnering tens of thousands of followers.
Another account featured in the book is of 15-year-old Muhammad Najem, who began to document the day-to-day reality in Syria’s warzone. His father had been killed in an air strike while praying in a mosque, after which he became determined to inform the world of the extreme violence and suffering unfolding in his country.
The combination of facts, diversity and coherent stories of incredible young activists taking action for change around the world which flow from these pages is refreshing and radiates urgency in educating children of their right to life, identity, education, safety and freedom.
It has international appeal, due in part to the range of inspiring young contributors from around the world, but also due to the relevance and importance of children’s rights to the international community.
As the UNCRC applies to everyone up to the age of 18, some older readers may find the suggestions to tackle some of the injustices listed in the book a bit formulaic. Still, for the younger children looking for guidance, this handbook offers sound advice.
Know Your Rights & Claim Them: A Guide for Youth serves a purpose, it not only seeks to mobilise a new generation on an international level to fight for their rights, but also serves as an essential reminder to governments of their long-made promise to protect the health and happiness of children.