The Chance to Make Choices

I know if I were to look on the internet for information regarding the rights of children that I would be able to read about the International Convention for Human Rights or the Every Child Matters Framework for children and young people in this country. I understand that the most important and most unconsciously provided rights for children are that they are kept healthy, well and safe; they are safeguarded and protected for all harm; they are loved, recognised at least within their family and have whatever opportunities they can be offered to reach their potential in life – whether that is to stay alive or to achieve an academic level or to obtain real work at the end of childhood. In short, that they are parented.

Over the intervening years since Live Aid*, there have been images of children whose basic rights are not being met in the format that most of us in ‘civilised’ developed countries would recognise. Does this mean that they have been deprived? Most of you would probably respond with a resounding ‘Yes’.

I would like to challenge that perception and I will use an example from the video footage I have seen on news programmes or charity publicity drives.

Whose Rights?

One child who clearly remains in my memory is a little girl aged about four whose days were spent sifting through rubbish dumps for pieces of glass and metal for her mother to sell. Her hands were already scarred by cuts from the broken glass. Her skin was gnarled and dry from the hours spent picking through unmentionable debris. In her family she was one of the wage earners. She assisted in its survival. She made up the team which held onto each member for as long as possible.There would never be a chance for her to debate whether her rights were being acknowledged and provided for. She didn’t have time to think about how different her life could be if she were adopted by some well-meaning wealthy western family who would talk to her about her roots but who would also remove her from her culture and the things that make her who she has become. Her right was to be her family’s member. Her right was to work so hard that sometimes she cried with exhaustion. Her right was to work and live a short life possibly raising her own family in similar straitened circumstances.

Children are born into families whose situations are far from ideal in any recognised sense. Whilst we can view this particular child through tears and a veil of impotence, provided she is being protected from deliberate harm and provided she gets to share the food that the family acquires, who are we to state that she is not receiving the rights that should be hers? I would argue that what affected the majority of viewers was the fact that she was doing this work at all. We judge everyone’s lifestyle by our own standards and of course, this one failed.

On the Doorstep

I use another example of children’s rights – one that is much closer to home. Consider a child whose family work very hard indoors and out, in all weathers and with the real possibility of being injured or hurt in some way. Their rising time is usually 5.00a.m. Their parents and sometimes the children are out in the fields tending to their animals, keeping them safe, helping them give birth, and keeping them free from parasites and disease. They do not have the luxury of long lie-ins at weekends. Some times there is not enough money to pay for new clothes or shoes. Some families struggle more than others and some parents cannot manage any more and choose to die rather than continue to face even more debt and eventual ruin. When a devastating disease wipes out complete herds or flocks, there is nothing for them to do but pick themselves up and try again. I am of course talking about the farming community.

During the Foot and Mouth epidemic of the early 2000s for example, many farmers lost all of their animals including much loved rare breeds and pets. A harsh consequence of this was that collies, bred to herd sheep and cows, had no work left to do and were either shot by their owners or sold to people who did not understand the importance of keeping these dogs active. Many dogs became aggressive and were euthanised.

Wealth Versus Poverty

There are some wealthy farmers, especially where there are thousands of acres of land and well-bred livestock. A high number of farming families, however, live a hand-to-mouth existence. Their children are partners in the daily struggle to make ends meet. The children are raised to understand the importance of self-sufficiency and economy. When these children reach adulthood, increasing numbers of them are turning their backs on such a life. They do not want to continue the practice of work, work, and work.In this climate, in this culture, there are choices that can be made. The children in these families can exercise their right to choose how to live. The rights of these children can be accommodated by their own intervention. Where there is no room for choice, there is no decisions to be made.

* Live Aid 1985 was the first internationally organised concert to raise money for African people whose grasp on life was slipping away due to famine, war and political plotting.

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