Thoughts on Children's Rights: What Do Other Countries Have That the U.S. Doesn't?

2015 London, England

2016 Dublin, Ireland and Belfast, Northern Ireland

2017 Helsinki, Finland and Tallinn, Estonia

2018 Rome, Italy

2019 Edinburgh, Scotland

What do these cities have in common related to young people and youth work? At least two things, they:

  1. Were destinations of choice for NAA’s International Learning Exchange (ILE).
  2. Have coordinated systems with policies and funding that support youth work.

Each year as an ILE participant I heard loud and clear that there was one key commitment driving the youth work system, the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. According to, “The Convention–an important agreement by countries who have promised to protect children’s rights–defines who children are, all of their rights, and the related responsibilities of governments.”

These are basic rights that cannot be taken away from children. Basic rights with principles highly aligned with NAA’s Code of Ethics for Out-of-School Time Professionals and Core Knowledge, Skills, and Competencies, such as the following:

2. No discrimination – All children have all these rights, no matter who they are, where they live, what language they speak, what their religion is, what they think, what they look like, if they are a boy or girl, if they have a disability if they are rich or poor, and no matter who their parents or families are or what their parents or families believe or do. No child should be treated unfairly for any reason.

3. Best interests of the child – When adults make decisions, they should think about how their decisions will affect children. All adults should do what is best for children. Governments should make sure children are protected and looked after by their parents, or by other people when this is needed. Governments should make sure that people and places responsible for looking after children are doing a good job.

4. Making rights real – Governments must do all they can to make sure that every child in their countries can enjoy all the rights in this Convention.

12. Respect for children’s views – Children have the right to give their opinions freely on issues that affect them. Adults should listen and take children seriously.

13. Sharing thoughts freely – Children have the right to share freely with others what they learn, think, and feel, by talking, drawing, writing, or in any other way unless it harms other people.

29. Aims of education – Children’s education should help them fully develop their personalities, talents, and abilities. It should teach them to understand their own rights and to respect other people’s rights, cultures, and differences. It should help them to live peacefully and protect the environment.

30. Minority culture, language and religion – Children have the right to use their own language, culture, and religion – even if these are not shared by most people in the country where they live.

31. Rest, play, culture, arts – Every child has the right to rest, relax, play, and take part in cultural and creative activities.

To date, the United States continues to be the only country in the world that has not ratified the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child. To date, the US does not have a coordinated system for youth services, including Out-of-School Time.

As OST professionals, on this International Children’s Day, we should consider this recommendation by Jonathan Todres law professor at Georgia State University, “Our collective resolution should be to guarantee that no child is left behind – not in the political slogan – sense of the word, but rather undertaking a genuine commitment to reach every child and secure his or her rights. A national Children’s Bill of Rights would be a good start.”

Contributed by Heidi Ham, Chief Operating Officer, National AfterSchool Association