16 October 2014

Unequal Access: Not All Children can Get to School

September often brings newness to children (in the northern hemisphere, anyway). It is the start of a new term and a new school year. This often comes with new school items, and new uniforms. And how will children get to school on the first day of the new term, and throughout the year? They may be able to walk or cycle, or if they live further away, use public transport, or get a lift from a parent or carer. They may have a school bus. In all honesty, this was not a topic I gave much thought to until recently. A South African organisation, that I do legal research for, asked me to look into transport as part of the child's right to education.

New things for school: Last month, my charity, Children's Helpers Worldwide supported a local organisation, Refugiu
so it could provide school items for some Roma children, living in a poor village. 

The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, a legally binding international treaty, ratified by nearly all the countries in the world, states that all children have a right to primary education and that this should be free. One of the Millennium Development Goals is to achieve universal primary education. How are we going to achieve this if there are children who are unable to safely go to and from school, due to a lack of transport? This seriously interferes with their right to an education.

Some courts have recognised transport as being being a necessary part of realising a child's right to education. The Right to Education Project reported that a Brazilian court decided that free and compulsory education as an individual public right has been interpreted to include free transport if children cannot otherwise attend school.

In a Colombian case, a girl of five had been placed in a school in another neighbourhood, due to a school quota system. The Court ordered the Government to relocate the girl to a closer school and said that, in acknowledging the transport costs in getting the child to school, the system had not taken into account the mother's lack of income and the time required to bring her daughter to the assigned school.

Image courtesy of Rawich at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Sometimes schools or charitable organisations will try to help with transport. My charity, Children's Helpers Worldwide, works with an organisation in Ghana, called New Life. New Life runs a children's home and school. Children from the surrounding villages attend the school, alongside the children who live in the home. The director of New Life wants to fundraise to buy a minibus. New Life could then provide safe transport for children who live far away. This would help children who currently have to walk a very long way to attend the school and would also reach children who do not go to school at all, as the distance to travel is too far.

School Assembly at New Life, Ghana.

It may be that children and teenagers take it upon themselves to find ways to get to and from school, or to get money for transport, as shown by this disturbing article from South Africa, entitled "Dressing "sexy" to get a lift to school". Ground Up News spoke with schoolgirls in the township of Khayelitsha, in Cape Town, who were trying to get back to their homes in Mfuleni. They explained that, by dressing sexily, they can either get a lift, or get money for transport, from passing drivers. One explained that this was better than the alternative:

"When we [hitchhike] and the driver talks about sex or touches you and you get uncomfortable, you have a choice to react in a certain way. But when you are walking and someone strangles you, there is little you can do, especially when you are in an open field like the one near Mfuleni."

It is unbelievably sad that adults would take advantage of children who are just trying to get to and from school.

Children's access to education is  greatly affected by their access to transport. Children should not be prevented from getting an education because the nearest school is too far away. They should not be harassed and abused whilst simply trying to travel to and from school. If we want to achieve the Millennium Development Goal, to ensure all children have access to primary education (at least!), then we must ensure that children can actually get to school, and obtain an education. This is their right.

This post is my contribution to Blog Action Day, taking place on 16 October 2014. The theme is inequality. Use the twitter hashtags #BAD2014 and #BlogAction14 to follow all the action and to find more bloggers posting about inequality!

12 September 2014

Some Reflections on #DGD2014: Digital Media and Children's Rights

It has been interesting following today's Day of General Discussion (DGD) held by the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, on the topic of "Digital Media and Children's Rights". You can follow the discussion which took place on twitter, by using the hashtag #DGD2014.

The discussion has just drawn to a close and here are a few, brief reflections.

The UNCRC in the Digital Age

This morning, I wrote a post and asked this question: Created in a world without social media and selfies, can the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child keep up with digital and technological issues faced by today's children?

This great tweet from EU Kids Online, of a slide from speaker, Sonia Livingstone, shows how various articles of the Convention can be effectively used to protect children and their rights with respect to digital media:

The Digital Divide 

I referred to the digital divide in my post this morning. John Carr of EPCAT spoke about this issue, saying that it is common to think about the digital divide being between the Global North and Global South, but that internet access is not equal across the North. There is less access in poorer parts of the North and there are disparities within the same country. For example, poorer people in the USA have less access to digital technologies.

The digital divide does not just occur along economic lines. Some speakers stated that certain groups are particularly excluded from access to the internet, such as girls, children with disabilities and children living in institutional care. In the closing session, it was said that digital resources should be available in all parts of the world and that universal access is a goal to work towards. States should be asked to ensure equal access to digital media, and provide free or low-cost access in all areas.

Negative Impacts of Using the Internet

Concerns were expressed by various speakers about children's privacy, their digital footprint and the fact that they may post things online during "experimental times of their lives" and that they do not realise the permanence of this, as these posts, picture and videos will then remain online.

Cyber-bullying and sexual exploitation are major issues. A moving account was given by one speaker of the terrible impact cyber bullying and harassment had on her life when she was a teenager.


The above issues all illustrate the need for protection. John Carr stated that it is important that we do not think of all children as the same. Some groups are much more vulnerable than others online. Rabi Karmacharya of One Laptop per Child said that we cannot rely on parents to protect children online. Parents may be illiterate, or may simply be at work and so are not around when children are using the internet at home. I tweeted that last quote, and got this reply from Child to Child:

This tweet from Child to Child echoed the sentiments of some of the speakers during the day, who said that children should play a key role in protecting themselves and their peers against harm and that the empowerment of children in digital media is essential to "maximise beneficial effects and minimise harm". Education in digital literacy - of children, parents, teachers and others working with and for children - will help. 

Protection versus Control

Sonia Livingstone said that protection is key, but that this cannot be a priority which is used to reduce child participation online. Other speakers emphasised the fact that "we must not confuse protection with control". One speaker highlighted the issue that many see children as "becomings" - growing into future adults - but they are "beings" and active agents in this world right now, both online and offline, and they should be part of the solution in ensuring protection online. There must be a balance between protection and the child's right to participation.


This was not an issue I had mentioned in my earlier post, but it is an important one. One speaker made the point that digital advertising has an impact on children's rights. For example, she spoke about the impact on babies' right to health in the context of online advertising and campaigns from companies selling breast milk substitutes. It would also be interesting to further explore what regulation there is, or could be, with regards to advertising aimed at under-18s using the internet.

Guide to Human Rights for Internet Users

This Guide, published by the Council of Europe was referred to by one of the speakers. It has a section dedicated to children and young people. You can find the Guide here.

All in all, it was a very interesting day, with much discussion around a very relevant topic in today's world. Many other great points were made, but those I have included above are the ones which stood out the most for me. Please do add to this, or let me know which points you felt were most interesting in the comments below. It would be great to hear your opinions!

Digital Media and Children's Rights: A Day of Discussion

Have you used the internet as part of a school project? Were you, or one of your classmates, ever in trouble for using a mobile phone in class? If you were a child or teenager in 1989, your answer would have to be 'no'.

The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC), which sets out the rights that all children have, was adopted by the UN General Assembly in 1989, at a time when technology was not so advanced, nor as widely accessible, as it is today. Created in a world without social media and selfies, can the Convention keep up with digital and technological issues faced by today's children?

The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child is responsible for reviewing progress made by States parties to implement the UNCRC. Today, it will be holding its Day of General Discussion (DGD) and the topic is "Digital Media and Children's Rights".

The Committee has asked children and teenagers for their views on the internet and how they use it. Children and teenagers are the ones who can give us all an insight into this and can help us understand their experiences online. In any case, child participation is one of the guiding principals of the UNCRC and children and young people should be part of discussions and dialogues on issues which affect them.

There are many issues children face online, including cyber-bullying, "sexting", having access to adult content and being exposed to sexual exploitation. While there are many threats, children and teenagers can benefit greatly from having access to the internet, when it is used in a safe way. It can enhance their education, be used for communication, make information more accessible and allow for collaboration with other students. Children and teenagers will also have more opportunities later in life if they have access to, and understand, how to use computers and the internet as many jobs rely on this knowledge.

This picture, from UNICEF Malaysia  illustrates how positive, and what potential there can be, for children using technology:

There are great concerns about children who do not have the opportunity to access technology. The term, "digital divide", refers to the gap between those who have ready access, and the skills to utilise, information and communication technologies and the internet, and those who do not.

My own organisation, Children's Helpers Worldwide, supports locally-run children's projects around the world.  Two education centres we support in South Africa and Romania have computers and an internet connection. Most of the children who attend the South African centre come from townships, whilst the majority of the children at the Romanian centre come from poverty-stricken Roma communities. Without these centres, they would not have the chance to familiarise themselves with this technology. One of the areas to be discussed at the DGD, is the inequality children face in accessing these resources and how this affects their rights.

There are many issues surrounding children's use of the internet, but one thing we can all agree on, is that it is here to stay. Advances in technology often occur more rapidly than the time it takes to make policy and pass legislation, making it challenging for law-makers to keep up. It is very positive that today's DGD will focus on Digital Media and Children's Rights and this will clarify how the Convention can protect children and their rights online in today's world. The discussion should be an interesting and a fruitful one.

Watch the discussion, taking place in Geneva, live here.
Join in the discussion on twitter, following the hashtag #DGD2014 or by leaving comments on this facebook event page.

12 May 2014

Grateful to CHW's Supporters

The past month has been very difficult personally, and I had to travel abroad for a family funeral. During this time, the volunteers and supporters of my charity, CHW, have continued to be amazing, and have done a lot for the children we support. A couple of weeks ago, CHW turned seven! I am so happy that we reached this point and so grateful to everyone who made this possible! 

05 April 2014

Long Break and Sad News

Since December, I have mostly been working abroad and it was not easy to get online, so I took a long (and unintended!) break from this blog. Now I am back home in London, I will be able to post regularly again.

I was so sad to see that the last post I was able to write from Argentina was about "a baby from Bolivia". Tragically, she passed away earlier this week. She had complicated health conditions and the staff at the home where she was living gave her the best care possible. They all loved this little girl very much. They made her short life a happy one. I hope they will draw strength from this as they come to terms with what has happened, and continue to provide care to the others in the home. They were in touch with me the day the baby passed away, and we stayed in contact whilst she was being taken to the chapel. A teenager who is also under the care of that organisation, wrote to me and said that the home seemed empty without the baby.

Running a children's charity can be so difficult, because you get to know about so much pain and it can really  make your heart ache - both for the children and for those who work with them too. 

I once wrote a post about some of the challenges of running a children's charity, and I have great admiration for people who have dedicated their lives to working with children in need, sharing their pain, whilst trying to make the world a better place for them.

I saw a beautiful quote on the facebook page "Angel Baby" which I find so fitting whenever I think about the "baby from Bolivia", who was so well-loved by all in the home:

"There is no foot too small that it cannot leave an imprint on this world."

18 December 2013

A Baby from Bolivia...

I am in Argentina right now, and will be working on projects here for the next few weeks. I have visited an organisation my charity, CHW, supports, called Bethel. Bethel has eighteen houses for orphaned and abandoned children. Three of the houses are for people with disabilities. Some of the people in these houses are adults. They were children when they arrived at Bethel, and could not live independently once they grew up.

Entrance of House 5

During my first visit to Argentina, I volunteered in House 5, one of the houses for people with disabilities. There are now some new people who have come to live in House 5, including a baby of one year and one month. She can only be fed through a tube. Her mother was from Bolivia and was working in Argentina. She abandoned this baby in a hospital when she was a few months old. Now this child will stay in Argentina for the rest of her life. The mother may even had left by now. It is a very sad story, but, to be honest, this baby has ended up in a very good place. The staff at Bethel care so much for the children, and House 5 always feels like it is full of warmth and love. Despite how this baby's life began, Bethel will give her the best life possible.

With Alicia, one of the physiotherapists.
Last time I was there, my charity paid for a donation of nappies.

05 December 2013

Travel theme: Sky

I recently found Ailsa's weekly travel themes. Last week, the response I posted to her travel theme, about a day I spent in Cape Town, on a trip with the children from the three creches run by Seawind Educare. This week, the theme is "sky" and it reminded me of Seawind Educare and Cape Town again!

When I read the theme, I thought of this photo, of children at one of Seawind Educare's creches playing outside, with a beautiful, bright blue sky in the background!

I find Cape Town very beautiful. The people I work with there are also trying to make life more beautiful for the children at their projects. Yesterday, I posted an appeal from Seawind Educare for clothes and toys for the children, on my charity's website. If anyone from Cape Town happens to read this and wants to donate items, or arrange a collection for these children, that would be amazing! If you are interested in helping, please get in touch by leaving a comment below, or you can contact me using the details on the "about" page.

Here are some more photos of the sky from my last trip to Cape Town in February/March 2013: