Understanding Children’s Right to Expression


Dr. Khine Khine Win

By tradition, we respect the elderly and those who occupy high position in society. We learn to always obey them. We are also told that we cannot express an opinion or idea contrary to theirs. This unfortunately leads to lack of freedom of expression and opinion and confidence. This is true among parents and teachers or in the relationship between adults and children.
Children are not objects that adults act on, but members of the community that deserve respect. Adults must respect children by allowing them to express their ideas or opinions, especially in matters affecting their wellbeing. International children’s rights are commonly analyzed with regard to the 4 Ps- Protection, Prevention, Provision and Participation. The most fundamental personal freedoms are the freedom of speech, expression, movement, thought, consciousness, religion and the right to a private life. Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states “Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression: this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers”.  Indeed, the right to freedom of expression is protected in many international and regional treaties. For children, there is international human rights instruments, “Convention on the Rights of Children, CRC” provides extensive protection for the rights to freedom of expression and information and related rights both directly (articles 12, 13, 14 , 15 and 17). Under the human rights systems, Myanmar has ratified aforementioned Convention and have obligation to protect the rights covered by the convention or to realize those rights as much as they can possibly do.
Children have the right, as do the adults, to have an opinion, to express it and to meet in order to share their point of view. And they have the right to have an opinion different from their parents. While taking into account their age, as well as their degree of maturity and discernment, children have the right to have their opinion considered. However, there are situations in which children’s right to freedom of expression may be restricted. For example, there is international concern about children’s access to harmful material on the internet, or to websites through which children may be placed in danger. Moreover, we should know that too much freedom is like too much water for a plant- the roots can rot.
Parents or teachers often baffled to see their child or student being defiant and uncooperative.  It’s hard to relate to our child’s feelings and frustrations when we feel ignored by our child or feel that our child is purposely fighting us. In this situation we must understand the following basic concept: “Children listen to us more or less as well as they feel listened to”. In this regard, we must listened children feelings as active listening improves communication in the parent child relationship and teacher student relationship. Active listening can deepen the bond, the trust, the mutual respect and mutual understanding in relationship.  And also active listening pay the respect of children’s right to freedom of expression.
At primary and secondary schools, teachers should explain the right to freedom of expression and opinion and the need for it and also should explain the need to respect other people’s rights to freedom of expression and opinion. As students spend a good deal of times studying teachers can develop a good understanding of teacher’s beliefs. A teacher who behaves unjustly or abusively will have little positive effect. For example: “Today we are going to talk about freedom of expression- shut up in the back row!” In such circumstances, children will learn mostly about Power, and considerably less about Rights. As teachers are the frontier workers in the field of education and education is an important tool for the growth of an individual. In this regard, teaching personality is very important for the children to understand their basic rights at the beginning stage.
Ultimately and without doubt, every children regardless of disabled or not have the right to express their feelings and opinion to their parents, elder people, families and teachers especially regarding the matters affecting their wellbeing. To enhance children’s social and emotional development, we must allow children to express their feelings, thoughts and opinion. This is an opportunity for us to teach them to listen other’s opinion and respect of others rights.
References: Human Rights Lesson Plans for Southeast Asian Schools
             : ABC Teaching Human Rights, Practical activities for primary and secondary school, UN

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