Centre for Research on Families and Relationships

Making rights real for children. What a welcome strapline for Scottish Government's children's policy and service reform

by CRFR staff writer


Professor Irene Rizzini is Professor at the Pontifical Catholic University of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil (PUC-Rio) and Director of the International Center for Research and Policy on Childhood (CIESPI) at PUC-Rio. She is visiting Scotland thanks to the Leverhulme Trust Visiting Professorship.


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As recognised in the recent seminar series on the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) in Scotland, Scotland has made considerable progress in realising children’s rights. But we still have much further to go: for example, in comprehensively recognising all of children’s human rights and in ensuring children and young people’s participation is meaningful, effective and sustainable. With the further commitments to recognising chidlren’s rights in September’s Programme of Government, it is timely to learn from elsewhere and particularly in ways that can offer new perspectives and opportunities for Scotland.

Professor Irene Rizzini has provided a seminar series in locations across Scotland, with the title Making Rights Real: Lessons from South America. The idea was to share the experiences from Latin and South America, in contexts of substantial child poverty (about two in five of every children, according to CEPAL 2013) and the highest rate of homicides for children and young people in the world (UNICEF 2014). The region is known for its world-leading examples of realising children’s rights – such as child budgeting and constitutional commitments to children’s rights. What can be learned from the social movements and innovative practices, and the ideas that underlie them?

In her seminars, Irene has described how Brazil’s early legal acceptance of the CRC in domestic law not only helped provide a legal framework for children’s rights but, more broadly, was part of a human rights discussion about inequalities and social justice for all. What opportunities would a serious consideration of full CRC incorporation bring to Scottish policy and practice? What challenges would a children’s rights approach have, to examples of discrimination against children such as their limited access to legal aid or barriers to sibling contact?

Through the seminars, Irene has shared the concepts of participatión ciudadana and protagonismo. The first emphasises young people’s social participation and engagement as citizens. The second emphasises young people’s place and role in society as proactive actors, having autonomy and a sense of agency. As Scotland increases in its commitment to children and young people’s participation, it is timely to challenge our own practices. For example, participation in Scotland can often be restricted to adults’ agendas – which can be normative, limited and unwelcoming of resistance and substantial challenge. We often separate out children and young people’s participation from other civic engagement and social movements, so that their engagement as citizens is limited.

Children in action as part of the project Children and the City; Methodologies for Listening to Children
Irene has shared her experiences with creative and participatory methodologies for listening to children. Over 400 children have been involved in such initiatives in school settings this year in Rio de Janeiro, generating reflections based on an ongoing project designed to exploring and understanding processes of participation, allowing the expression of a diversity of childhoods. In this study the children can choose a variety of ways of expressing themselves, from drawing, telling stories, poetry and so forth to talk about the contexts and the city they live in.

Children’s drawings inspired by the study about methodologies to listen to children (CIESPI/PUC-Rio University, Brasil, 2017)

Irene is returning to Brazil at the end of November, with collaborations continuing on children and young people’s participation with CRFR and collaborating institutions.