Children at the centre of safety: challenging the false juxtaposition of protection and participation

Warrington, Camille and Larkins, Cath orcid iconORCID: 0000-0003-2999-6916 (2019) Children at the centre of safety: challenging the false juxtaposition of protection and participation. Journal of Children's Services, 14 (3). pp. 133-142. ISSN 1746-6660

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Setting the scene: the principle of indivisible rights
In total, 30 years on from the adoption of the United Nation Convention on the Rights of the Child (United Nations, 1989), the indivisible and mutually reinforcing relationship between children’s rights to both “protection” and participation is long-standing. Yet despite its longevity, the practical realisation of this relationship remains significantly under-explored.
Child participation is variously understood as having a say, being involved in decision making and achieving influence (through words and actions): within personal lives, communities, practice, research and policy. Children’s rights to participation, enshrined in the 1989 United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC), tend to be associated with children’s right to have their views taken into account in matters that affect them (Article 12), the rights to freedom of expression (Article 13), freedom of thought, conscience and religion (Article 14), the right to associate with others (Article 15), the right to privacy (Article 16) and the right to access information (Article 17). Crucially Article 12 as one of the general principles of the UNCRC, should be considered in the interpretation and implementation of all other rights.
Meanwhile children’s rights to protection are more often related to rights explicitly focused on children’s physical and psychological safety. They are noted to draw attention to the special status of children due to their relative immaturity and associated dependency, vulnerability and potential defencelessness (Archard, 2004). Centrally this includes the three remaining general principles: children’s rights to protection from discrimination (Article 2), upholding their best interests in decision making (Article 3) and their right to survival and development (Article 6). Further rights address more specific forms of maltreatment and neglect, including physical and mental violence (Article 19), harmful work (Article 32); sexual abuse (Article 34) and cruel or harmful punishment (Article 37).
Despite these perceived distinctions the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child helpfully draws attention to the interdependency of all children’s rights. Crucially for this journal, they provide guidance on the implementation of Article 12 (General Comment Number 12) which includes the statement that:
Much of the violence perpetrated against children goes unchallenged both because certain forms of abusive behaviour are understood by children as accepted practices, and due to the lack of child-friendly reporting mechanisms […] Thus, effective inclusion of children in protective measures requires that children be informed about their right to be heard and to grow up free from all forms of physical and psychological violence. (United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child, 2009, Paragraph 120)
Furthermore General Comment 12 states that there can be no assessment of best interests without giving due weight to children’s views.’ Noting for example: Whenever a decision is made to remove a child from her or his family because the child is a victim of abuse or neglect within his or her home, the view of the child must be taken into account in order to determine the best interests of the child. (Paragraph 53)

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