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Opinion piece in The West Australian - Rights fundamental to our children's wellbeing


By Commissioner Colin Pettit

Most adults in our community would acknowledge and respect the importance of human rights. But almost a quarter of our state’s population is under 18 – what rights do these young people have?

While children have rights just like we adults do, they rely on us to uphold their rights and to teach them the importance of respecting the rights of others.

As we celebrate Children’s Week, it is a timely reminder to think about the children in our lives – in our families, our workplaces or more broadly in our community – and whether or not we are doing all we can to uphold children’s rights.

Australia was one of many nations to ratify the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, now more than 25 years old, which outlines the fundamental rights of children world-wide.

My role was established 11 years ago by the WA Parliament as part of a commitment to the children and young people of WA that they would live in a state where they were safe, healthy, happy and learning. But this is not the responsibility of my role alone.

My predecessors and I have consulted with thousands of children on a range of issues, including their experiences of youth justice and out-of-home care, staying engaged at school and their health and wellbeing. In all of these conversations, anywhere in WA, children often raise the same key factors that are important to their wellbeing – family, friends, education, culture (for Aboriginal students) as well as being respected and acknowledged.

This week I have released a Statement of Commitment to WA children and young people that draws on both the UN Convention and the views of WA children. There are nine simple rights explained in simple terms for children to understand.

The Statement of Commitment doesn’t replace the UN Charter, but adds a local context and is intended to guide the community’s collective efforts in ensuring our children and young people are safe, healthy, happy and learning.

The Statement of Commitment is that all WA children and young people have the right to:
be safe and feel safe everywhere
belong and ‘be me’
be treated fairly and humanely
contribute, make decisions and be listened to
education and lifelong learning
explore, express and create
a healthy life
play, have fun and be active
be loved.

They may be written in simple terms, however these rights are fundamental to a child’s wellbeing.

While the majority of WA children and young people are thriving, there are a concerning number who do not have the opportunity to feel safe everywhere or live a healthy life.

This week’s National Apology to those impacted by child sexual abuse within our institutions highlights the damage that can be done when a child’s fundamental right to safety is denied. This abuse must never be repeated.

Any WA organisation working with children needs to ensure that the rights of children are understood and respected by all levels of staff and that these rights are embedded into policies and practices.

I ask that anyone reading today reflects on these nine rights and asks themselves what role they have in helping to deliver these rights to WA children and young people.

It is important that children have the opportunity to have their views heard, to raise concerns when they feel their rights, such as being safe, are compromised and for these concerns to be responded to accordingly.

A discussion around rights is also important for children and young people to understand that with rights come responsibilities. When young people have an understanding of their own rights, then they can better respect the rights of others.

Everyone has a responsibility, including family, carers and the broader community to work together to deliver these rights.

* Published in The West Australian on page 22, 25 October 2018