London conference celebrates the 30th birthday of the CRC

Organised by the Children's Rights Alliance for England (part of Just for Kids Law), UCL and the Foundling Museum, the conference looked at the past, present and future of children's rights in the UK and around the world.
8 Nov 2019

On 7 November, children's rights campaigners joined with policymakers, academics and young activists at University College London to celebrate the 30th birthday of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC). Delegates had the chance to learn and reflect on the achievements of the CRC over the last 30 years, as well as discuss the pressing issues for child rights in the UK and around the world, and explore where progress could be made in the future.

The conference opened with a powerful spoken word performance from Alexandra Otubanjo about why children's rights are so important to ensure children feel empowered and respected in their communities.

How can I know what is wrong and what is right? What are my rights? ... We have the right to be empowered!

Alexandra Otubanjo

This was followed by two keynote speeches, the first from international children's rights consultant - and founder of CRAE - Gerison Lansdown, who talked about how the introduction of the CRC changed the narrative on children's place in society. "The CRC shifted us from a  needs-based approach to children to a rights-based one," she said, detailing the benefits of this approach when it comes to recognising children's agency and vulnerability. She warned against current shifts from a rights-based to a wellness-based approach to children's needs by policymakers, and reflected on what still needs to be done in a world of stark inequalities both between and within individual countries. "Child rights are no magic wand," she concluded. "They won't themselves solve the world's problems. They are a set of obligations that governments have signed up to, and we need to keep challenging them on that."

The UNCRC shifted us from a  needs-based approach to children to a rights-based one

Gerison Lansdown

The second keynote speaker was Louise King, Director of Policy and Campaigns at Just for Kids Law and Director of the Children's Rights Alliance for England. Louise reflected on the huge shift in culture since the CRC was first signed. "I read Roald Dahl's Boy to my son and he found it unbelievable that there was a time teachers could hit children in class. But this was the case in some schools in England until the 1990s," she reminded the audience. As well as looking at other achievements, she went on to list the many areas where children's rights are still being neglected in England, such as children being housed in inappropriate temporary accommodation, use of Tasers and spit-hoods on children by police, and rising numbers of school exclusions. She finished on a high though, reminding the audience of the progress that has been made over the last 30 years, much of which would not have been possible without the CRC, concluding: "I'm pleased everyone is here on this 30th anniversary to celebrate the transformative power of children's rights."

I'm pleased everyone is here on this 30th anniversary to celebrate the transformative power of children's rights.

Louise King

For the rest of the morning and early afternoon of the conference, delegates broke out into a wide variety of workshops organised by young people, youth organisations and academics.  There were sessions on empowerment, environment, policy, international contexts and research, where delegates shared knowledge, best practice, campaigning and storytelling skills for promoting children's rights.

The conference concluded with a panel discussing children’s rights and the importance of marking young people’s activism and participation in society. The panel featured Anmol Kaur Singh and Angelina Nayler, two of the young activists involved in CRAE's Change it! campaign, as well as Isabelle Mathews from Unicef UK's Youth Advisory Board. "We need to teach all our children and young people that they have rights," Anmol said, "No one knows young people more than young people themselves - that's why youth participation is so important. ... Us young people are the voices of the future."

We need to teach all our children and young people that they have rights

Anmol Sigh Kaur

It was a fitting way to end an event that put children and young people at the heart of the debate on children's rights.