Educating children on their human rights

Professor Wendy Craig co-directs a national strategy meant to inform children and youth about their rights

The national initiative PREVnet (Promoting Relationships and Eliminating Violence) aims to educate children about their human rights.
The national initiative PREVnet (Promoting Relationships and Eliminating Violence) aims to educate children about their human rights.

Canadian youth will be more informed about their human rights thanks to a new national initiative called PREVnet.

PREVnet (Promoting Relationships and Eliminating Violence) is a national strategy aimed at informing Canadian youth about their rights under the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child.

Wendy Craig, a professor in psychology, has been examining bullying problems from a developmental psychopathology perspective for the past 12 years. Since last fall, she has been the co-director of PREVnet.

This initiative focuses on basic human rights and making children and youth aware of what their rights are and what they can do to enforce them.

“[There are] provision rights, which are the right to healthy food, clean water, good housing. If you think about Canada, not all kids have access to those things,” Craig said. “If you look at vulnerable populations, for example, there are protection rights, which shield you from abuse or neglect. Bullying in school is actually a violation of your human rights. Participation rights, which basically say, you have the power to say what you want to say and to participate in society.”

The initiative uses a variety of avenues to raise awareness. A major one is their website, which was created for youth, by youth. It features articles written by youth and pop quizzes to increase understanding of basic human rights.

“We’re trying to drive traffic to the website to help educate youth. We are using social media. We’ve got Facebook, Twitter. We’re trying to engage some celebrities in Twittering and helping kids become aware of the site.”

Craig said it’s important for children and youth to know what their rights are, and to act upon them.

“The Convention basically says that all people under 18 have equal status to adults as being human beings. They are not possessions of their parents, nor are they people in the making,” she said. “They have very specific rights and it’s important to understand these rights because it recognizes the importance of the child, and the best interest of the child should always come first.”

Craig works in conjunction with MyHealthMagazine, UNICEF Canada and Public Health Agency Canada. The University of Ottawa is also a partner.

“[Public Health Agency Canada] really wanted to educate children and help them understand what their rights are,” she said. “In Canada, we have a situation where the government has signed the United Nations Rights of the Child. And really what you find when you do the research is most children and youth don’t know what their rights are.”

Children are not aware of their human rights because they either do not know a convention was signed to protect them, or they do not see it as relevant to them, Craig said.

“They don’t see it as something meaningful in their lives, and that’s part of what we’re trying to do, is make this meaningful. [Knowing their rights] influences everyday decisions. It influences things like, do they have the right to play hockey? Everyone has the right to engage in recreation, even though their families can’t afford it. Those rights actually empower youth to get what they need to develop in a healthy way.”

Craig said children who suffer from chronic bullying, as well as children who perform the bullying, experience lasting negative side effects.

“They have poor emotional health, a higher risk of depression and anxiety. They’re more likely to engage in behaviour problems with their eating patterns, especially girls,” she said.

“And for kids who are doing the bullying, they go on to engage in delinquent acts and are at a much higher risk of joining gangs. So, bullying isn’t a problem that kids just grow out of, and it’s up to us to ensure that this behaviour stops to keep kids safe and protected.”

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