PUCL Bulletin,

Aug 1997

The Rights oh the Child Convention and Right to Information
- - by: Joseph Gathia

Role of Information in Child Development: Information has many dimensions. It not only includes facts or knowledge but expression, ideals and emotions also. There are various sources of information and it is important in our lives as also for our lives. The sources of information and the content of information play an important role in the development of children. It determines their social participation and identity.

This is specially important in a multicultural and multireligious country like India which has a sizable population of minorities, to survive, to fulfill primary needs such as housing, health, education, and work. But survival is still far away from living; as a perfect human being. Participation in social and cultural events depends on how young people are informed; what values are presented that direct needs and interests and so on. The use of civil and other rights is unthinkable without having information about these rights and the way to use them. Respect and care for others and the environment are not possible without being informed about the values in different cultures, the consequences of exploitation of natural resources etc. In the 50th year of the Independence when our society is suffering from communal tension the role of information has become very crucial. In the absence of information, which leads to acquire knowledge, children will not be able to face life with confidence.

Regrettably, most adults tend to summarily dismiss this aspect which plays an important role in the development of children towards making them complete human beings. As a matter of fact information which is useful and valuable can be given by parents who are honest in seeking and providing information themselves.

Is there a human right which supports this right to information? It is in this context that we may consider this right to information, as also in the light of the UN Convention of the Rights of the Child It is hoped human rights educationists will take this into account while framing courses of studies.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the CRC both speak of peace, dignity, tolerance, freedom and equality, conventions, treaties and declarations are inspired by these ideals. The CRC uses the phrase, "the evolving capacities of the child". Which means that children will gradually be more involved in maters that concern their lives and that they will actively participate in decision making.

The importance of the right to information is its encompassing role pervading all aspects of life. This is also recognised in the Convention where several Articles refer to the rights to information.

If one starts from the perspective of the child, the right to information is an active right which supports the child's struggle to form this view of life and his role in the world. The right to information is, for example, related to the identity of the child. This not only includes a name and nationality but also to know one's parents and be cared for by them, as stated in Article 7". The child shall be registered immediately after birth and shall have the rights from birth to a name, the right to acquire a nationality and, as far as possible, the right to know and be cared for by his or her parents. State parties shall ensure the implementation of these rights in accordance with their national law and their obligation under the relevant international instruments in their field, in particular where the child would otherwise be stateless".

Quite a number of rights dealing with the personality and participation of the child are formulated in the Convention. These rights include the right to express the views freely in all matters affecting the child and the right to be heard in any judicial and administrative proceedings (Article 12); the right to freedom of expression, which includes the freedom to expression, which includes the freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds (Article 13); the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion (Article 13); the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion (Article 14), and the right to information. To be able to form a view, to express an opinion, or to form a belief, the child needs information. The right to expression and opinion presupposes the right to information.

Role of the Media: Article 17 of the CRC relating to the information and the role of the media says: "State Parties recognize the important function performed by the mass-------- shall ensure that the child has access to information and material from a diversity of national and international sources, especially those aimed at the promotion of his or her social, spiritual and morla well-being and physical and mental health. To this end, State Parties shall: (a) encourage the mass media to disseminate information and material of social and cultural benefit to the child in accordance with the spirit of Article 29; (b) encourage for development of appropriate guidelines for the protection of the child from information and material injurious to his or her well-being, bearing in mind the provisions of Articles 13 and 18.

It would be seen that the text speaks of the access to information which must be ensured. We know that there is no such right as that any information required is given but a child is free to seek and consult information available. The information must meet the qualification of diversity of sources and especially promote physical, social and cultural well-being and health. Reference is made to the purpose of education in Article 29 which deals with the development of the child's personality to his fullest potential, respect for other cultures and the preparation of the child for a responsible life in a free society, in the spirit of understanding, peace, tolerance, equality of the sexes, and friendship among all peoples. In the context of south Asia this right to information will help children to combat communalism and the evils of the caste system which are the major sources of human rights violations in this region.

The relationship between the right to information and the purpose of education was essential even in ancient times which went beyond 'academic education' or book learning. It is not sufficient, for example, simply to tell the child that he has a duty to respect human rights. What is required is guidance and training that will help the child to cultivate those qualities which will make the child a promoter and protector of human rights.

As per Article 17 States parties should ensure freedom of information, so that children can take advantage of a diversity of opinion concerning all matters. This Article both the educational role which the mass media should play, and also encourages guidelines towards protection of the child from unhealthy information. In its regulation the Article even refers to the right to freedom of expression formulated in Article 13 and to the primary responsibility of parents for the upbringing and development of their children in Article 18.

This could mean that the limits of guidelines for protection are formed by the freedom of the child to seek, receive and impart information. In an area of information for a country like India which is still in the stage of formulating an information policy.

The right to information, underlying so many important areas of life, is not only vast but also complicated as so many parties are involved: parents, states, other adults, mass media and institutions like public libraries. All have their role to ensure that a child can realise his right to information.

The primary responsibility for the child's right to information rests with his parents. It is part of their responsibility to guide the child with a view to help develop his faculties. It is the duty of parents to communicate with their children with regard to their rights and duties, smaller and bigger responsibilities and the underlying value of human dignity. They should offer possibilities for children to find out things for themselves, to express themselves and to taste different sources of information children who have never seen a parent read anything will hardly create reading habits, in spite of attempts to promote reading later on. Their efforts to form thoughts, ideas and opinion should be stimulated so that they can participate in making decisions about the activities of the family and about their own lives. The right to information presupposes the duty of parents to inform, but this cannot be done without honest and open communication.

In certain circumstances there are others who should inform the child, either additionally or primarily. This is, for instance, the case when judicial or administrative proceedings take place. The child can only give his views when he has been clearly informed about this opportunity and his rights and has the feeling that he is listened to, that his words and feelings make a difference. The way the child is informed and that listened to makes or breaks his belief in the judicial world and justice. In fact, the right to be heard would imply a duty to listen on the part of the authorities. The plight of children in remand homes around the country, specially the recent cases in the capital city of Delhi, reveals gross violations of human rights of children.

In the specific case of a court investigation an extra effort is necessary as it cannot be expected that children speak in conformity with the usual language in a court. Little research has been done about communication in court. The juvenile courts in India are mockery of the rights granted to Indian children by the Constitution. The UN agencies like UNICEF, ILO-IPEC, UNESCO and National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) need to pay attention to this aspect. Another situation in which the child often seeks information is in hospital. He not only needs information about his medical data but also wants to be prepared in case of an operation: he wants to know about the diagnoses.

It is the duty of the State to respect the rights of the child (like any other human right) and his freedom to thought, conscience, belief, expression and opinion. The state has a positive obligation to help children seek information or express their views. This is to be done by establishing and supporting children's rights service, advice and information services for children, free access to libraries and loans, workshops for children on topics of their interests and so on.

As Article 17 states, access to information should be ensured, and as the relation between mass media and state is one of official distance (relating to the freedom of expression and the free flow of information) the state's obligations cannot be formulated in strict terms. Sot the state's role is one of encouragement and stimulation towards the mass media. The production and distribution of children's books, for example, can be stimulated by establishing libraries in countries where this service has not been sufficiently developed. Availability of multicultural books and books in minority languages should be part of this policy. In short the role of the media is related to an educational aim and the promotion of human rights. This can be a qualifying tool for the mass media and the productions which should be stimulated by the state. Both the state and the mass media should develop international co-operation in order to support the diversity of sources.

One of the public institutions which could be of great assistance to the child's search for information is the public library, which should be freely accessible to everyone. Public libraries have subscribed to international values of democracy, equality and public access as formulated in the UNESCO Manifesto of the Public Library of 1972 which was revised in 1994. However, it is sad to know that the revised policy paper of UNESCO on libraries has by and large ignored the CRC, although half of the library users are children. Amazingly enough, very few publications deal with the Convention's right to information and public libraries sin India. At present the monitoring mechanism for the CRC is largely bases on reports submitted by the State Parties who have ratified the Convention. It is, however, well known how the governments, particularly of the developing countries, submit their reports. If the civil society does not act as watch dog to monitor the kind of programme of action that the State Parties formulate to ensure effective realisation of children's rights, the desired result cannot be achieved. Children also can be involved in monitoring the effective functioning of the Convention. We may give a few suggestions in this regard:

Children themselves should know about their rights. The convention could be promoted as a kind of children's law. Article 42 prescribes that the principles and the provisions of the Convention should be widely known. Attention should be paid to different forms of communication with children. Parents and adults should be informed about children's rights and the existence of the Convention. The value of the information given by children will increase as it becomes clear to them that what they think, feel, experience is valuable and important. The national report for CRC may be prepared after holding consultations with the children throughout the country. We think the children are still one of the most reliable sources of information. But many dismiss this since the process has yet not developed. And yet, we have to find out ways and means to get children involved. The right to be heard should become more visible in juvenile justice system and the children awaiting justice should have access to correct and adequate information. Any information regarding the treatment meted out to children may be shared with the child.

One might be tempted to dismiss the concept of the right to information for children as discussed above. But if we keep in mind the objects of the Convention, namely to develop capabilities among children to be able to take decisions, one should take the concept of right to information for children seriously.



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