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20 Nov 2016 by Ludwig Boltzmann

International Children´s Rights Day, 20 November 2016

On 20 November 1989, the United Nations adopted the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC). 27 years later, the respect for and fulfillment of children´s rights are by no means self-evident. Violations of children’s rights do also occur in Austria. As long as children are victims of violence, as they do not share equal opportunities in the educational system and the rights of children who are refugees differ from the standards for „Austrian“ children, there is still a substantial need for action. Social services are being scaled back, poverty risks increase, and there is a lack of child-specific psychosocial support, therapy and rehabilitation. As a result of the absence of clear childcare facilities, victims of child trafficking are frequently sent across the federal states of Austria. Children with disabilities still face exclusion in the regular school system. Bullying, fear of the future and lack of orientation are looming even larger in the lives of young people. These flashlights show that it is essential to discuss children´s rights, to implement them in structures and systems and to actually live them when dealing with children.

The CRC is based on four principles. They equally emphasize the attitudes as well as the objectives which are linked to adults and young people living-together, working-together and reaching joint decisions:

  • Right to life, survival and development
  • Non-discrimination/equality
  • Best interests of the child
  • Right to participation (respect for the views of the child)

A child is defined as anyone under the age of 18, respectively before young people reach the age of majority. On the occasion of the International Children´s Rights Day we specifically highlight the following 3 articles of the CRC:

Article 12: Participation – Respect for the views of the child
Participation is understood as the inclusion of young people in decision-making processes. In this context, the methodology and the system of participation has to ensure opportunities for young people to actually take influence on the results. Participation means more than just “taking part” or allowing youth to speak. Two aspects play a prominent role: on the one hand the level of participation itself. Where and how is it structurally anchored and also feasible that the opinions of young people are actually taken into account on a sustainable and long-term basis?
On the other hand, there is the level of empowerment and the ability to participate. What do young people need in order to feel competent and act in participatory processes? Which competences are important when it comes to forming one´s own opinion, articulating it, and shaping processes and decisions?

The pilot project “Children’s Rights and Participation – development of indicators in the school context” was carried out at a Viennese new secondary school in 2014/2015.

Article 17: Access to adequate information
With the omnipresence of the Internet and virtual communication being taken for granted, access to information with regard to children´s rights is taking on new dimensions which have to be taken into account. What new skills do people need in the anonymity of virtual interaction? What about youth protection and human dignity, when glorifying violent or clearly offending postings and discussions are followed on various websites?

The No Hate Speech movement of the Council of Europe (www.nohatespeechmovement.org) is a youth campaign that has been running since 2013 and is relevant to all social sectors. It aims to address the dynamics and developments around communication behavior in the Internet and to support positive developments. Unfortunately, the topic Hate Speech on the Internet is very up-to-date. The boundaries between cyberbullying and Hate Speech are sometimes fluid for those who are affected and for perpetrators. In Austria, the topicality of this subject and the need to take appropriate measures becomes clear, among others, in view of the dynamics of the virtual discussion which is linked to asylum and flight.

Austria has set up a committee in which various bodies and organizations jointly bundle their activities for a constructive and hate-free cooperation in the virtual space. The list of members can be found here: www.bmfj.gv.at/jugend/lebensqualitaet-miteinander/nohatespeech/komitee_nohatespeech.html

The Parliamentary Enquete on 16 November 2016 on #Digitale Courage illustrates that the topic “online communication/communication on the internet” has arrived at the parliamentary level.

polis – The Austrian Centre for Citizenship Education in schools has published already in May 2016 the German-language edition of the handbook Bookmark on the subject of Hate Speech. Thus, teachers in German-speaking countries have access to a comprehensive and very practical guide to work with young people. An updated second edition will be available at the end of the year.

With reference to the state obligation to promote the “production and distribution of children’s books” (Art 17 CRC), a new publication has been developed by polis: “Gender-sensitive children’s and youth books with a focus on violence prevention”. It is a contribution to the National Action Plan for the Protection of Violence against Women” and will be available by end of November 2016 in the polis-shop (www.politik-lernen.at/shop).

Article 28: Right to Education (including the Right to Education for Democratic Citizenship)
In December 2016, Austria will elect a Federal President. The US voted on 8 November. Rumors about possible anticipated national elections in Austria are getting louder. Young people are challenged to extract knowledge from a quantity of information, supposed facts and countless opinions, and develop attitudes therefrom – as adults, by the way, also do. To have a right to education also means to have a right to Education for Democratic Citizenship. With the implementation of the curriculum History and Social Studies/Citizenship Education on lower secondary level (2016) within the Austrian school system, an important step has been made to firmly anchor citizenship education as a teaching subject in school. Children and adolescents need to be provided with that kind of citizenship education which directly links with their living environment (school, leisure, work, consumption, etc.) and allows to experience politics beyond the abstraction of a unique check on a ballot. Therefore, citizenship education is inseparably linked to children´s rights education. Both need investment in resources. Only if children and young people have the opportunity to acquire sound competencies for a differentiated and knowledge-based formation of opinions, Austria will be prepared to meet the contemporary demands within
democracy and to deal with sociopolitical challenges.

One example for citizenship education providing orientation in the processing of complex, highly topical issues and in reacting to sociopolitical challenges is the latest issue of the magazine “polis aktuell” on the subject of “fanaticism” (www.politik-lernen.at/site/gratisshop/shop.item/106401.html).

In view of the increasing concern about segregation and exclusion of social groups with backgrounds of escape and migration, the integrative nature of the right to education should also be taken into account, especially in the case of young refugees who have reached the compulsory schooling age. Even when they are 15 years or older, young people need supportive offers for education and activities.

Further topics and challenges for practical implementation of children´s rights can be found in polis aktuell “Children’s rights are human rights” (www.politik-lernen.at/site/gratisshop/shop.item/106326.html).

The BIM as well as polis are active members in the Child Rights Network Austria/National Coalition (www.kinderhabenrechte.at).

a. Ausschnitt aus Umschlagbild polis aktuell 11/14 Kinderrechte