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64th IFLA General Conference
August 16 - August 21, 1998
Code Number: 042-113-E
Division Number: III.
Professional Group: Libraries for Children and Young Adults
Joint Meeting with: -
Meeting Number: 113.
Simultaneous Interpretation: Yes
The right of the child to information and its practical impact on children's libraries
NBLC, Netherlands Public Library Association
The Hague, Netherlands
1 Rights of the Child
It took mankind a long time to accept that human rights apply to all human beings without exception. This means a universal understanding that `the basis which unites us all as citizens of one community can be nothing else than respect for the human being as such. Without that basis a society or a real human community is excluded.'(1) The UN Declaration, of which we celebrate the 50th anniversary this year, emphasises as a final basis for all law and justice, the inherent human dignity and the inalienable rights which every human being possesses by nature.
All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.
`Children's rights are an integral part of human rights. The whole human rights programme of the United Nations is of direct relevance to children inasmuch as the ultimate aim of the programme is the well-being of every individual person in national as well as international society. But even more, the whole human rights endeavour may be said to be built on the foundation of care and love for children and respect for their rights. The special place of children in society is recognised in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and pervades the whole framework of international human rights standards.'(2)
The idea that children have rights is of relatively recent origin and related to the concept of childhood and the notion of a child. `The question: What is a child? is one answered by adults. Adults impose their conceptions of childishness on beings they consider to be children. There have been different conceptions of the nature of childhood at different periods of history. Childhood is a social construct, a man-made phenomenon.'(3)
In general, children have been silenced in history because they have an insignificant position in social life. In a world, which is dominated by the interests of adults, who also have the power to define, children are considered to become autonomous, not to be autonomous.
Children have human rights, and they do not have to deserve them, they do not need to be given rights.(4) `The fact that children are not yet grown up is used as an excuse by parents, social workers, teachers, judges and many other adults to follow their own interpretation of the child's interest and to set demands and make decisions that may have far-reaching consequences for children which no one can foresee. (...) Why are adults, who are in a much stronger position in many respects, so afraid to take children seriously and to grant them a large degree of autonomy?' (5)
The child has to be regarded as an individual with rights of his own as a human being. Due to his situation, he also needs rights for protection and to guarantee access to services. Legal protection includes having rights and being informed about them; having the possibility to exercise these rights effectively; protecting one's interests; and, eventually being able to enforce these rights.
Convention on the Rights of the Child
During the International Year of the Child, 1979, an Open-Ended Working Group was set up on the Question of a Convention on the Rights of the Child. The drafting process took ten years and ended in a UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, adopted unanimously on 20 November 1989.(6). All states in the world (191) have ratified the Convention with the exception of the USA and Somalia. So one can really speak of an international standard.
The right to self-determination stating that children have the right to express their views freely in all matters affecting them, and must be heard in any judicial and administrative proceeding affecting them (article 12) is crucial, as it contains a general principle characteristic of the underlying approach of the Convention: `that children are not only objects but also subjects of rights, and that a determination of the child's best interests should be based not only on what adults think, but also on what the child thinks.'(7)
Evidence is given that in the field of children's rights there are not only obligations for the state, parents and other adults, but also possibilities, and opportunities for children to participate in daily life and at least have a say in their own lives. This points to a child's right to information, which will be considered in more detail.
2 Right to Information
The study of the child's developmental process reveals that information plays an indispensable role. In essence, the child is an information seeker. Information affects the physical, emotional, cognitive and social development of the child and this fact has far-reaching implications for the child's providers of information. It is important that all children have access to information and can benefit from such information processes, regardless of the place and time in which they live. Are children legally protected while they grow up, seek information and develop as human beings? As this question regards all children, an international approach is useful.(7)
In tracing a right to information in the Convention on the Rights of the Child, explicit formulations are found in the child's right to freedom of expression (article 13) and his right of access to information (article 17). The latter refers to the role of the mass media in providing information and material from a variety of sources. Implicit formulations of the right to information provide a wider spectrum. They refer to the role of information in the process of upbringing by parents, the development of the child's personality; his freedom to express views in all matters concerning his life; the freedom of thought, conscience and religion; and, the respect for his private life. Other implicit formulations are related to the child's right to information which supports his social participation, such as his freedom of association; the possibilities of the child to participate in cultural life; his access to education; and, his right to know about his rights.
A closer look at the right to information in its most explicit formulations is interesting for librarians because the articles reveal the approach, which has been intended by the drafters of the Convention. Not only States but especially NGO's have contributed a lot to the final version. The actual formulation of article 17 (8) was mainly proposed by the Bahá'í Community, a NGO that promotes international understanding, world citizenship and stresses the importance of this education and supports the work of the United Nations.(9) In a commentary the positive task of the mass media was stressed to convey appropriate information; to support educational programmes; to promote the cultural heritage of the child and to inform the child of the wider world of which he is part.(11) As the provision of information is related to an educational aim, another proposal (article 29) was put forward by Bahá'í as well. Bahá'í considers education as the most important means of improving the human condition, of safeguarding human rights and of establishing peace and justice on earth. But such education `cannot simply be academic education, or book-learning. The kind of education that is required is education of the character. 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 develop in the child qualities that are indispensable if the child is to become a promoter and protector of human rights.'(12)
In this way it is clear that access to information has especially to be provided in view of the educational potential and the understanding of human values protected in human rights.
The double provision of article 17, to encourage the positive effects of information, and to protect the child from negative effects, points to the responsibility of all those working in the field of the mass media and providing information and material to children. These include of course, all concerned with the production and dissemination of children's books, as is explicitly mentioned in the Convention.
The IBBY representatives to UNICEF strongly advocated the inclusion of children's right to have access to books in the Convention, (8) and proposed a new subparagraph: `Encourage, at all levels, literacy and the reading habit through children's book production and dissemination, as well as the habit of storytelling.'(9) The basic idea to encourage literacy was accepted by the Austrian representative and put in legal terms. As a result, the habits of reading and storytelling are not expressly mentioned. France, Italy and the Netherlands supported the proposal which was adopted in the Working Group by consensus.(10) The omission of storytelling, or more importantly, the promotion of books in general, is regrettable. Nevertheless, thanks to IBBY and UNICEF, children's books are expressly mentioned in the Convention, and from the obvious consensus one may conclude that the importance of children's books is acknowledged worldwide. However, further steps are needed.
3 Implementation in public libraries
The Convention on the Rights of the Child is a special treaty as it not only formulates obligations for the states, but also speaks of the primary responsibility of parents for the upbringing and development of the child. But also other individuals and institutions have obligations if one thinks of the child's right to be heard in administrative and judicial proceedings or the child's right to education. In general, all human beings have a duty to respect each other and each other's rights. As the child for example has a right to express his views in all matters affecting the child, there is a clear obligation for all who are taking decisions, formulating policies or creating the child's environment, either in schools, in the street or elsewhere to organise the participation of children. There is no reason to exempt libraries and librarians from these obligations of human rights. On the contrary, there is ample reason for libraries to showing library commitment to children's rights, as they are already committed to the UNESCO Manifesto, the IFLA Guidelines and through their States to general international consensus on human rights: The Universal Declaration and the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.
As all states (and even the USA has at least signed the Convention) are parties to the Convention and have accepted its obligations, they are committed to implement the various articles and provisions of the Convention. The role and activities of public libraries can be considered as part of this implementation of the Convention. So therefore no public library can maintain that it has nothing to do with the Convention or with children's rights. In fact, nobody can refrain from being concerned with the human rights of children.
The States Parties to the Convention on the Right of the Child are obliged to implement its articles and principles. What are the obligations when speaking of the implementation in the public library as a public institution?
To the general obligations formulated in the Convention belong the following ones, which also have to be fulfilled in the public library:
- the child has the right to be respected. The Polish pedagogue and author Janusz Korczak already formulated this and the Convention is a witness of that fundamental acknowledgement. This also includes the principle of non-discrimination: all children must have equal access to information, even if this requires extra measures because they are refugees, disabled, belong to a minority group, live in remote areas or have parents without a job. Paying respect also means to take into account the evolving capacities to the child, thus adapting information and programmes to their understanding, but never underestimating or downgrading children's competence, but challenging them instead.
- The best interests of the child;
- they should be the primary consideration in all measures concerning children. In the library we can think of opening hours, the best place for the children's department, preference for a children's librarian, an adequate budget at least for children.
- Maximum resources.
- Article 4 explicitly mentions that States Parties are obliged to implementation to the maximum extent of their available resources, where needed, within the framework of international co-operation. This means that when budget cuts are made, the children's services should be the latest to be affected if at all. Rich countries cannot easily maintain that they have used their maximum resources for giving children access to information and cultural participation. Countries in poorer conditions can require help and support in international co-operation.
- Respect for the views of the child refers to the obligation of the state or public libraries to enable children to participate in the creation of services, programmes and activities. The approach that children only have to be protected and are not competent to views, ideas and decision-making is outdated. The Convention obliges to take a child-perspective and to communicate and cooperate with them. This requires a change of attitude of adults, librarians, and trust in children themselves. Those who have started with paying more attention and giving a follow up to the views and participation of children have been surprised by their competence, creativity and sense of responsibility.
Apart from these general obligations, there are more specific ones, also applicable in libraries.
To these specific obligations belong the provisions of for example article 17:
- Access to information;
- the child has the right of 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 moral well-being and physical and mental health. It is good to note the type of information that is envisaged and which requires special support and protection. In library collections and activities these sources should be prioritised.
- Dissemination of information
- and material of social and cultural benefit to the child, should also be
in accordance with the spirit of the aim of education which includes: the development of the child's personality, talents and mental and physical abilities to their fullest potential; the development of respect for human rights, for other cultures and the natural environment.
The idea that information in the broad sense serves the upbringing and education of the child and aims at high human values is underlying the right to information. Libraries have a special role to play as they have an overview of the variety of sources of information.
- The production and dissemination of children's books;
- thanks to IBBY this obligation is mentioned, now libraries must protect this right of the child by providing a variety of services and a balanced programme for book reading and using information materials. Resources should be created to buy extra children's books, also in other languages, minority languages and in adapted form for disabled children. A good dissemination of books also requires a well-established and spread network of library provisions for children, so that they may travel to and use the library in the highest autonomy. Every child should have a library card of his own, as it establishes the particular relationship between each individual child and the library with its books for free choice.
Another provision, which relates to library services, is mentioned in article 31:
- Support and provide cultural participation;
- the library must see to it that children freely participate in cultural life and the arts. Libraries must create appropriate and equal opportunities for cultural, artistic, recreational and leisure activity. To fulfil this obligation libraries may need to contact other cultural institutions and cooperate with them. Children should have information about what is offered and where, on what conditions. Programmes offered should be appropriate to the age of the child, so libraries have to set up a policy of `life long' cultural programmes, taking into account the various interests and levels of understanding. In fact, it is not enough to offer a general programme for children as a group; the right to cultural participation is a right guaranteed to every individual child.
- Provide information to prevent children from harm.
- In various articles the Convention obliges the State to prevent children from harm or injurious information causing harm. Information can also be used to prevent children from harm. A children's information centre can be established in the library in which all kinds of practical information is collected and made understandable for children. This may be information in the field of health, technics, media, relationships, environment, and trips. Information about counselling, children's law shops, ombudsworkers, help-lines or contact persons should also be available. Therefore, the library must cooperate in a network of social institutions and provisions for children.
- Support the implementation and execution of children's rights.
- By providing information on all kinds of subjects, by offering programmes for reading and cultural participation, even by doing philosophy with children, libraries can help children to execute other rights of the child. For example their right to education, which includes non-formal education. Very often a human right presupposes a right to information, e.g. the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion or the right to be heard; in this way the library can help the child to orientate himself in society, in the world around and about his opportunities.
- Information about the Convention and its Principles.
- The Convention explicitly states the obligation to make the Convention, its principles and provisions widely known to children and adults alike. Here, there is a clear task for the library, but it is not enough to hand out leaflets with the text of the Convention. Children and adults should be enabled to understand the content, to monitor their own environment and become sensitive to violations of the Convention, larger and smaller injustices in every day life. Children's rights have not only to do with the rights of children in extreme or poor circumstances sometimes far away, but also with the life of every child here and now, nearby.
4 Practical recommendations
What measures can be taken by libraries to implement the above mentioned human rights of children. What can they do on their own, what must be done in co-operation, nationally and internationally?
Here are just some practical recommendations, which can be elaborated further on during the IFLA-conference and meetings in the home countries.
- Checklist of obligations;
- all libraries need a clear view of the obligations derived from the Convention on the Rights of the Child, especially with a view to the right of the child to information. Working groups should scrutinise the Convention, contact NGO's who are familiar with the interpretation of the Convention and set up a checklist of obligations. This checklist makes it possible to trace gaps and omissions in the library policies and practices. An international working group could make a first set up. But it is important that as many librarians as possible are involved in the understanding, interpretation and implementation of children's rights in their services. Besides, co-operation with organisations concerned with children's rights might lead to the conclusion that the public library is an unexpected but useful partner in working with children and promoting their rights.
On the national and international level:
- Draft programme of implementation;
- a next step is to set up a draft programme of implementation, which should include the main approach of public libraries and the envisaged priorities, a planning of activities, training and evaluation. The success of the implementation will rely very much on the support which regional library organisations and national association can give their workers and members by developing tools, working methods and providing research. It would be a great step forwards if libraries would agree to some overall activities for example the individual library card, no fees, or information about the Convention.
- Research on the conditions for children to use the library;
- part of the libraries' contribution to the implementation of children's rights in the library field should be to monitor the conditions for children to use the library. How many children are still excluded, for what reason? What collections and materials are lacking? How much can children participate in the set up of programmes? How do they feel about the library, does it meet their needs, concerns, and interests? Are children welcomed by all of the library staff? Public libraries should cooperate with universities and NGO's to have an annual monitoring report including both qualitative and quantitative data, especially views from children. On the international level models for such monitoring could be prepared and proposed.
- Include library services in the National State Report and the NGO Report
- to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child. An international Committee of experts monitors the implementation of the Convention by discussing the reports, which States Parties have to make every two or five years. Part of these dialogues with the responsible ministers should also be based on reports from the library field. Therefore, the state of the art in information- and library services to children should be included in the State Report and the NGO-report submitted to the Committee.
- Training in children's rights;
- both the coming and the settled librarians should know about human rights of children and the implications for the exercise of librarianship and the performance of library services. Therefore, children's right should be included in the curriculum of library schools, in the same way as this should be the case for teachers, policemen, social workers, lawyers etc. In order to raise the consciousness about respect for children, their views and the need for protection of their rights, additional training and workshops should be held, aimed at new attitudes and innovative programmes.
On the local level implementation of the right to information requires for example:
- Setting up networks with (child) organisations
- in the field of children's ombudswork, leisure and sport and culture. These information networks should be aimed at supporting the child in finding the right information and in strengthening the social tasks of public libraries. Part of this policy should also be to consider the library as a part and partner in local youth policy. This does not mean that information services should only be aimed at prevention of criminal activities, but rather should a broader approach be taken, to which the library has much to offer. If needed, the library must be the spokesman for the child when it comes to access to information and participation in society. Librarians must adapt themselves and dedicate themselves to such tasks, which often have to be performed outside the safe four walls of the library.
- Celebrating 20 November the International Day of the Rights of the Child;.
- The 20 November has been the International Day of Children's Rights ever since the Declaration of 1959 was proclaimed. In 1989 the special character of this day was continued by the adoption of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. So the best way of showing the libraries' commitment to the principles and human rights of children is to celebrate this day in all libraries. It would be most successful if IFLA would adopt this day as the central day to put focus on library services to children and their rights, which can be performed by public libraries. Therefore, there should be an attractive programme on this day, which supports the consciousness-raising among children and adults about children's rights, focusing on one or more rights as a theme. This day should be made a tradition in libraries as a clear international statement about children's rights to information and culture. Now the key element in such a day is that the programme should be set up in co-operation with children. It is their day; it is about their rights. Such participation is in itself a proof of the library taking the rights of children seriously, not symbolically.
Other conclusions can be drawn from this introduction of the right to information in the Convention on the Rights of the Child. As was mentioned before, much of the realisation of the child's right to information, depends on those professionally involved. These professional groups have to exercise self-discipline and ensure that they perform high quality work. They should set up their own codes of ethics, and verify whether they meet the high aspirations of their craftsmanship and human values like honesty, dignity and respect. The promotion of and respect for children's rights depends on these professionals, and their awareness of rights.
Rights need to be translated into everyday life situations. Therefore, the assistance of living human beings who have a sense of human values, and who can professionally translate this sensitiveness and respect into aspiring stories, is needed. These are the stories a child will benefit from, as they will honestly help him to seek an answer to his question of life. The first priority of a professional is to ensure that no child, wherever he may live, and whatever circumstances he may encounter, is excluded from essential stories. All other motives of professionals should be scrutinised and stripped of their self-serving elements. Let's work on the child's right to information.
Let's respect and celebrate the Rights of the Child in libraries!
- Scheltens, D., Mens en mensenrechten, Samsom, Alphen aan den Rijn, 1981, p. 15.
- Boven, Th. van, Children's Rights. Address at the opening meeting of the International Forum on the Rights of the Child, Budapest, Hungary, 1 June 1979, in: Thoolen, H. (ed.), People matter. Views on International Human Rights Policy by Theo van Boven, Director of the United Nations Division of Human Rights 1977-1982, p. 157.
- Freeman, M., The Rights and Wrongs of Children, Frances Pinter, Lon-don, 1983, p. 7.
- Verhellen, E., Convention on the Rights of the Child. Background, motivation, strategies, main themes, Garant, Leuven/Apeldoorn, 1994, p. 18.
- Langen, M. de, Children's rights, in: Verhellen, E., F. Spiesschaert (eds.), Ombudswork for children, Acco, Leuven/Amersfoort, 1989, p. 487.
- UN Doc. GA Res 44/25, 1989.
- See for a thorough study on which also this paper is based: Koren, M., Tell me! The Right of the Child to Information, NBLC, The Hague, 1996.
- Goodman, D., Analysis of the First Session of the Committee on the Rights of the Child, in: Netherlands Quarterly of Human Rights, Vol. 10, 1992, 1, p. 50.
- Bookbird, Vol. 28, 1, 1990. and Letter dated 18 November 1985 submitted to the Centre for Human Rights, UN Doc. E/CN.4/1987/WG.1/WP.2, p. 6.
- UN Doc. E/CN.4/1987/25, p. 7.
United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child 1989
- States Parties shall assure to the child who is capable of forming his or her own views the right to express those views freely in all matters affecting the child, the views of the child being given due weight in accordance with the age and maturity of the child.
- For this purpose, the child shall in particular be provided the opportunity to be heard in any judicial and administrative proceedings affecting the child, either directly, or through a representa-tive or an appropriate body, in a manner consistent with the procedural rules of national law.
- The child shall have the right to freedom of expression; this right shall include freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other media of the child's choice.
- The exercise of this right may be subject to certain restrictions, but these shall only be such as are provided by law and are necessary:
(a) For respect of the rights or reputations of others; or
(b) For the protection of national security or of public order (ordre public), or of public health or morals.
States Parties recognize the important function performed by the mass media and 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 moral well-being and physical and mental health. To this end, States Parties shall:
(a) Encourage the mass media to disseminate information and material of social and cultural benefit to the child and in accordance with the spirit of article 29;
(b) Encourage international co-operation in the production, exchange and dissemination of such information and material from a diversity of cultural, national and international sources;
(c) Encourage the production and dissemination of children's books;
(d) Encourage the mass media to have particular regard to the linguistic needs of the child who belongs to a minority group or who is indigenous;
(e) Encourage the 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.
- States Parties agree that the education of the child shall be directed to:
(a) The development of the child's personality, talents and mental and physical abilities to their fullest potential;
(b) The development of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, and for the principles enshrined in the Charter of the United Nations;
(c) The development of respect for the child's parents, his or her own cultural identity, language and values, for the national values of the country in which the child is living; the country from which he or she may originate, and for civilizations different from his or her own;
(d) The preparation of the child for responsible life in a free society, in the spirit of understanding, peace, tolerance, equality of sexes, and friendship among all peoples, ethnic, national and religious groups and persons of indigenous origin;
(e) The development of respect for the natural environment.
- States Parties recognize the right of the child to rest and leisure, to engage in play and recre-ational activities appropriate to the age of the child and to participate freely in cultural life and the arts.
- States Parties shall respect and promote the right of the child to participate fully in cultural and artistic life and shall encourage the provision of appropriate and equal opportunities for cultural, artistic, recreational and leisure activity.
States Parties undertake to make the principles and provisions of the Convention widely known, by appropriate and active means, to adults and children alike.