» Archive for: January, 2015

Who is a child?

Category: Uncategorized

28 Jan 2015

MRTThe question of who is a child is usually resolved by the measure of chronological age. The Bangkok public transport system provides some interesting alternatives.

The picture above is of a measure placed next to a ticket machine of the Bangkok underground system (MRT). Those less than 90 centimeters travel free of charge, and those less than 120 centimeter qualify for a discounted ‘child fare’.




Interestingly, this is only partly consistent with the measures used for the above-ground system: the Bangkok  ‘Skytrain’ (BTS). Here, children less than 90 centimeters also travel for free but there is no discounted ‘child fare’. The 140 centimeters line indicates free travel on Thailand’s annual children’s day only, which is celebrated each second Saturday in January and was this year themed ‘knowledge and morality lead to the future‘.

The use of height in defining who is a child, and thus qualifies for free or discounted travel, casts in an entirely different light a call in late 2013 (see also HERE) by the Thai Minister of Public Health to encourage young Thai to drink more milk in order to grow taller.




Category: children's rights| conferences

2 Jan 2015

downloadNovember 2014 marked the 25th anniversary of both the fall of the Berlin Wall as well as the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UN-CRC). Numerous conferences worldwide were organised to commemorate these events, yet it seems none of them explored the relationship between these two historical moments.

The UN-CRC opened for signatures on 20th November 1989 and to date a total of 194 states are party to the Convention. However, appreciating its history requires going well beyond 1989.

In 1924, the League of Nations adopted the Declaration of the Rights of the Child. This one-pager listed five needs of children that must be provided for (by adults). Following the dissolution of the League of Nations, discussions about a new Declaration started within the United Nations leading to the 1959 Declaration on the Rights of the Child. This short document contains a preamble and ten principles. One of the areas where it differs from the 1924 Declaration is with regard to work. Where the 1924 Declaration states: ‘The child must be put in a position to earn a livelihood, and must be protected against every form of exploitation’. The 1959 document reads: ‘The child shall not be admitted to employment before an appropriate minimum age; he shall in no case be caused or permitted to engage in any occupation or employment which would prejudice his health or education, or interfere with his physical, mental or moral development’.

In 1978, it was Poland that proposed the idea of a Convention on the Rights of the Child; a document that unlike a Declaration would be legally binding. What followed was a decade of drafting and negotiation before the Convention was adopted by the General Assembly in 1989. Importantly, the drafting thus took place in time in which East-West relations were very different from when the Convention entered into force.

In her book The International Law on the Rights of the Child, Geraldine van Bueren is wary of reducing the understanding of the coming into being of the UNCRC to Cold War geopolitics (p13). Whilst this is no doubt correct, she does not elaborate on the role that Cold War geopolitics might nonetheless have played. Since children’s right to participate in matters affecting them did not appear in any of the Declarations yet features prominently in the UNCRC it raises interesting questions of how the emergence of this participation right might be understood in this geopolitical context. It is further worth noting that the 5 states, Vietnam, China, North Korea, Laos and Cuba, that have remained socialist to date were among the first to ratify the Convention. Vietnam ratified the UNCRC in February 1990 (the second country, globally, to do so after Ghana) and China closed the rank in March 1992.

Many of the conferences that celebrated the 25th anniversary of the UNCRC took a stock-taking approach (what has it achieved?) whilst also looking into the future (how can it be employed better?). These are certainly valid questions to which an exploration of its historical relation with the Cold War would have yielded no response. However, with quite some of the people involved in the drafting of the UNCRC still alive perhaps there is also to say for an enquiry into its political history.

posted by Roy Huijsmans


International Institute of Social Studies

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