Children's rights: Schools urged not to punish protesting students

Written by: Pete Henshaw | Published:
Protest protection: Angelina Jolie is the co-author of a new book from Amnesty International explaining children's rights (Image: Lachlan Bailey/Art Partner)

Schools are being urged to allow students to take part in protests – such as those focused on climate change – and to teach children about their rights.

It comes as Amnesty International has published a guide for students written by Professor Geraldine Van Bueren, one of the original drafters of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, and actress and campaigner Angelina Jolie.

Know Your Rights and Claim Them explains what child rights are, how they came in to being, how governments are failing to uphold them, and how young people can protect themselves and others.

At the same time, Amnesty is calling on UK schools to commit to allowing children to take part in protests without the fear of punishment if they take place during school hours. It wants to see protection from punishment for those “taking action in defence of human rights while in school”.

A YouGov poll for the human rights charity found that 27 per cent of more than 1,000 pupils aged eight to 15 thought that they should be able to protest even if it meant missing school time. Only 14 per cent of around 1,200 parents polled agreed.

Vinuki Bakmeedeniya, from Amnesty UK’s Children’s Network, who acted as a consultant for the book, said: “Schools should encourage young people to protest and stand up to injustice. Learning about your own personal power to change what’s wrong is the most precious lesson of all.”

The book has been backed by climate campaigner Greta Thunberg, who launched the global School Strike for Climate movement, which has seen millions of children skip school in order to protest against government inaction on climate change.

Amnesty also wants children to be taught about their rights. The same YouGov research found that 83 per cent of the respondents said they know little or nothing about their own rights; eighty per cent thought it should be compulsory to be taught about rights in school.

The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child states that children have a right to life, dignity, and health; identity; equality and non-discrimination; a safe place to live; protection from harm; participation (including the right to be heard); bodily integrity; protection from armed violence; justice and liberty; privacy; minority and indigenous rights; education; play; freedom of thought; and voice and peaceful protest.

The book features stories of young activists who are at the forefront of human rights change, including UK-based campaigners such as the “Glasgow Girls”, a group of students who campaigned to change the law around dawn immigration raids and prevent their friend from being removed, and 13-year-old transgender girl Emily Waldron who campaigns for equality and trans rights.

The book, which is aimed at students aged 12 and up, also includes a guide for would-be protestors on what to do if pepper sprayed, how to talk to the police if they are challenged, and what to do if they are arrested.

Other advice includes tips on being a trans or non-binary ally, and steps to take if a young person – or someone known to them – is being sexually groomed or abused.

Angelina Jolie said: “If governments kept their word, and if all adults respected children’s rights, there would be no need for this book. Governments signed up to protect children’s rights in 1989, yet many of them are still failing to listen to the voices of children.

“Children have rights just as adults do and they should have the power and agency to claim them. It’s time to remind the world of its commitment to children’s rights.”


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