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Celebrating 30 years of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child at the (Y)our Rights Festival

It is 30 years ago this month that the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child was ratified. UNICEF is celebrating this on 20 November in collaboration with Leiden University and the Municipality of Leiden at the (Y)our Rights Festival in Leiden. Children, youths and adults will discuss children’s rights in the Netherlands. Four speakers give us a sneak preview.

From divorce to care orders: children’s rights in the courts

Researcher Apollonia Bolscher and Professor of Children and the Law Mariëlle Bruning are giving the workshop ‘Do the courts listen to children?’​​​​​​

‘We will mainly look at how the courts involve minors in their decisions, for instance in the case of divorce. Some judges think you should keep children out of complicated divorces and legal proceedings. Other say you should involve them because they are directly affected by divorce. At present, only children aged 12 and above are asked to express their views by the judge as a matter of course. The right of all children to have their voices heard is enshrined in Article 12 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child – is the lower limit of 12 years justified?

The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child has had quite some effect on the Netherlands over the last 30 years. There is now an ombudsperson for children, for instance, but also a ban on physically punishing your children. There is also a greater focus on the position of children in legal proceedings, for example, and children’s rights from the Convention are increasingly quoted in case law. This is important because it means that children can actually enforce their rights.’

‘Should children be involved in divorce proceedings? This can be complicated, but children are directly affected.’

Bring knowledge to the city

Lara Unnels is a knowledge broker in Leiden and one of the organisers of the (Y)our Rights Festival in Leiden.

There is an incredible amount of knowledge in Leiden in children’s rights and the young, first and foremost at the Faculty of Law, but also at the Municipality and various organisations such as the Children’s Rights House, the former orphanage on Hooglandse Kerkgracht. This presents fantastic opportunities to bring together people from academia and the practice who can thus learn from and help one another. That is the strength of Leiden City of Knowledge, a close partnership between the University, Municipality, LUMC and the University of Applied Sciences.

‘The good thing about the (Y)our Rights Festival is that we are going to consider children’s rights together with children. The programme is very varied, from a vocal workshop with Trijntje Oosterhuis to a debate with members of the House of Representatives. And children and adolescents will obviously be asked to give their views.’

‘The good thing about the (Y)our Rights Festival is that we are going to consider children’s rights together with children.’

The right to be rebellious?

Ilse van de Groep is a PhD candidate at the Department of Developmental and Educational Psychology and affiliated to the Department of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at Amsterdam UMC. Together with alumna Neeltje Blankenstein (Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, Amsterdam UMC) she is giving a workshop at the festival on rebellious behaviour in children and adolescents.

‘Children have an incredible amount of potential, but are also very vulnerable. The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child gives children all around the world the opportunity to grow up in safety and achieve their potential. Children now have more chances of going to school, are less likely to contract certain diseases and have a greater say on their own rights. It is nice to see that children’s rights are higher on the agenda than they were in the past. For the future, I hope that more attention will be paid to providing adequate specialised youth care. Since youth care was decentralised here in the Netherlands, children have regularly failed to receive help in time. Luckily, the Cabinet recently announced that it will intervene, so I hope we will soon see positive changes.

‘My “Rebel!” workshop at the (Y)our Rights Festival is about rebellious behaviour in teens. The recent climate strike, for instance, but also serious youth delinquency. We will talk about what exactly rebellious behaviour is, how and why it develops and why this is important. In terms of forming their own identity and becoming adults, it is important that children and adolescents are rebellious sometimes. In the workshop, we will look at whether there is a limit to which rebellious behaviour we find acceptable. For me, the limit lies with serious offences towards others, for instance.’

‘Leiden is one of the few municipalities with a play standard in its policy. This comes directly from Article 31 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child: the right to rest, recreation and play.’

Everyone counts

Jeroen Straathof is Programme Manager for the Young at the Municipality of Leiden. He explains how children’s rights are incorporated in municipal policy.

‘The Municipality of Leiden thinks it is important to consider children’s rights on 20 November. The basis of our policy can be found in the keywords ‘inclusion, connection and everyone counts,’ and an important part of that is youth participation. As a municipality, we work together with partners from the city on the future of our young people, in areas including poverty policy, educational policy, equal opportunities, a safe environment, sporting options and health. We thus work – implicitly – on children’s rights. For example, we are one of the few cities in the Netherlands to include a play standard in our Play and Movement policy framework, which is directly linked to article 31 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child: the right to rest, recreation and play.

‘We as a city of knowledge are pleased that Leiden University has the UNICEF endowed chair: this emphasises the importance of children’s rights. That is why we are supporting Leiden University and UNICEF in their efforts to celebrate the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child with the (Y)our Rights Festival. We and all our partners in the city are thus demonstrating how important children’s rights are. Over the next 30 year, we as a municipality and our partners will have to link each new initiative or policy with the different children’s rights in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.’

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