How the WHY? festival helps children to explore their rights

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Our Rights Respecting Schools team recently ran a workshop with children at London Southbank’s WHY? What’s Happening for the Young festival, exploring children’s rights and the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. Paul Harris, one of our Professional Advisers, writes about the festival.

It’s Friday morning and against the backdrop of the London Eye and the Parliament buildings across the river, I’m at the Southbank Centre watching Frances Bestley, Unicef UK’s Programme Director for the Rights Respecting Schools Award, give a presentation on the Convention on the Rights of the Child to hundreds of children and young people. It’s all part of the Southbank’s WHY? What’s Happening for the Young festival – an annual celebration of rights for children and young people.

Pupils in the first workshop are from two different schools – Deanesfield and Coleridge Primary – which have both started their rights respecting journey with Unicef UK. The group is looking at the difference between “wants”, “needs” and “rights” and children are playing a great part in the discussion. To start things off, Frances shows them pairs of pictures – one a “need” and the other a “want”.  The children decide which is which and have to justify their choices, and this is harder than it looks. They give very articulate and thoughtful contributions and are able to establish some of the real needs that all children have.

Check out our “Wants and Needs” teaching resource

After talking about the difference between a “want” and a “need”, they go into the trickier question: are all these needs the same as rights?  Here the pupils start to skilfully distinguish between the two and begin to link the pictures to specific rights of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. These are rights not just for some children in some countries but for all children throughout the world. “Without rights I wouldn’t grow up to be the best person I could be”, said one pupil. Another pupil commented that with rights, “everyone feels safe, happy and confident in everything they do”.

After lunch, young people from Sarah Bonnell School and Limes College came along to a second workshop run by Unicef. They were also very engaged and perceptive in their contributions with one student saying that rights “defined who I am”.

Back to that view across London and to the Houses of Parliament. Good debates don’t just happen at Westminster, they are taking place here and now. Today’s event was a great affirmation of young people wanting to engage, understand and learn more about the rights of children- not just for themselves, not just for the UK but for all the children, everywhere.