We talk about children’s rights and the voices the old Man of Belem echo, dreading the conversation and asking “what about duties?”. Today I’m questioning the duty of adults to respect and promote children’s rights.

Rights and duties are not mutually exclusive and are interrelated. We must convey to children their responsibility, at home, at school and in society, setting an example of respecting them as full people with autonomy in line with their rights.

According to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC), a child is “any person under the age of 18”.

It is often we, mothers, fathers, carers, teachers, decision-makers and governments who stand between the child and rights or access to them.

Some of the rights in crisis in post-contemporary society:

— Right to participation
— Right to privacy and security
— Right to play
— Right to leisure and culture
— Right to a sustainable planet

There is a huge gap from rights to practice that makes it urgent to change the way children are seen and treated, and how we design for their well-being.

Design for children’s rights. How can design contribute?

Design has a major social impact and a significant role in childhood. It influences learning, defines and parameterises play, whether in the design of toys, environments, services and experiences. Design choices will enhance or hinder children’s development and autonomy. For example, if playgrounds or school playgrounds are designed for adults, reinforcing their fears and need for control and overprotection, then children are being deprived of learning through risk. The function and purpose of the playground also ceases to exist and it becomes a boring and frustration-inducing space. Decision-makers and municipalities bear a great deal of responsibility because, in order to avoid complaints, they ignore the best interests of children and disregard their rights. To remedy the situation, they must take into account the child’s right to be heard and to participate in decisions that affect them, including them. By taking children’s rights into account and adopting co-design methodologies, including them in the design process, designers and all those involved in creating interfaces for humans will create more inclusive, sustainable, intuitive and safe products, services and spaces.

Screens, social networks and digital rights

One of the greatest threats to children’s safety is the violation of their right to privacy and self-image – “sharenting” or the practice of parents sharing images of their children on social networks, which they justify with the illusion that they have private accounts, oblivious to the multitude of real risks they pose to children. Also harmful is the parental style of control and surveillance, which invades children’s privacy, movements and actions through geolocalisation and pushes them towards dependence on monitoring devices, in a false illusion of security.

The right to rest and leisure is in crisis due to overloaded schedules and hyper-stimulation by screens. Replacing play with excessive, purposeless use of technology exposes children to health and safety risks.

Play is fundamental because children learn, it is the work of childhood, according to Maria Montessori. Play, which is increasingly scarce in children’s lives, is marked by adult impositions in terms of time, space and even type. Free play, which stems from the child’s spontaneity and interests, no longer has a place. Children should enjoy the street for physical literacy and urban mobility, but are our cities designed for play?

Play is so important that last month the UN established 11 June as the International Day of Play, raising awareness of the need for it in children’s development.

It takes a village to raise a child, says the African proverb.

When rights and design come together, it becomes easier to design in a global and ethical way. To this end, the Designing for Children’s Rights (D4CR) association has created a guide for designers and businesses on responsible design standards for children.

Article 42 calls on governments to actively promote the dissemination of UNCRC content to children and adults. In 2021, Amnesty International, Angelina Jolie and Geraldine Van Bueren, editor of the CRC launched the book “Know Your Rights and Claim Them” which offers practical guidance on exercising rights, with tips on activism and political advocacy.

This article was published in Portuguese in the newspaper PÚBLICO.

Convention on the Rights of the Child
Designing for Children’s Rights

and in our Resources page