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Lost in translation: The translation of Article 12 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child into educational legislation

Carol Robinson, Edge Hill University

The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) (UN, 1989) includes 54 articles outlining rights and freedoms for children. The UNCRC provides formal acknowledgement of the rights to which children are entitled and has been ratified by all countries worldwide with the exception of the United States of America. In our article, ‘The translation of articles from the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child into education legislation’ published in the Curriculum Journal , we argue that in the process of putting UNCRC articles into practice, the articles migrate through several stages of transition, which leads to these articles being reshaped and a subsequent divide between the intended children’s rights and ‘on the ground’ practices.

‘To highlight how articles are modified during their transition from the UNCRC into policy and practice, we conducted an in-depth and critical analysis focusing on the reshaping of one article during one stage of the translation process. Specifically, we looked in detail at how Part 1 of Article 12 was translated into education legislation within England.’
(Robinson, Quennerstedt, & I‘Anson, 2019).

Drawing on the United Nations’ reading of this article (UN, 2009), we identified the following principles as pertaining to the article.

  • Children should be:
    • informed about: matters to enable them to form their oven views; how their views are considered; and the outcomes of decisions affecting them
    • supported to understand they have the right to express views freely within enabling and encouraging environments
    • given opportunities to decide whether or not they want to exercise their right to be heard.
  • When children are capable of forming their own views, these should be taken seriously and their views should be considered on a case-by-case basis.
  • It should be recognised that children may express views in nonverbal as well as verbal ways.

We then scrutinised all English education regulations, acts of parliament and government statutory guidance for mainstream schools between 2002 and 2018 to identify explicit and implicit references to the article and its principles – our analysis made four core findings.

  • Explicit reference to encouraging practitioners to take pupils’ views seriously in accordance with their age and maturity and ensuring the context in which pupils exercise their right to be heard is enabling.
  • There is a lack of emphasis on supporting pupils to understand they have the right to express their views, encouraging pupils to express their views ‘freely’ and providing opportunities for pupils to express views in ways other than verbally.
  • Very little reference is made to informing pupils about the outcomes of decisions that affect them, or to pupils’ views being assessed on a case-by-case basis.
  • There is a complete lack of reference to children being given the opportunity to decide whether or not they want to exercise their right to be heard.

We conclude that principles pertaining to Article 12 incorporated within education legislation reflect education ministers’ and civil servants’ individual political assessment vis-a-vis the desirability of particular principles in relation to policy commitments and agenda. Of particular concern is that those responsible for enacting the legislation may believe in good faith that they are engaging with the article from the UNCRC, while in actuality they are enacting a partial rendition (I’Anson, Quennerstedt, & Robinson, 2017). For example, current English education legislation significantly narrows children’s right ‘to express those views freely in all matters affecting the child’ (UN, 1989) and encourages processes and procedures to support the expression of pupils’ views to be defined by adults.

As a consequence, it is practitioners and other adults in schools who determine the aspects of school life where pupils are invited to voice their opinion and in which pupils’ opinions are sought, with little or no opportunities for pupils to exercise free choice about their involvement. Furthermore, although Article 12’s reference to the right for children’s views to be given ‘due weight in accordance with the age and maturity of the child’ is included in education legislation, guidance on how to implement this is lacking. Implementation is, therefore, dependent upon practitioners’ perspectives of how ‘capable’ they consider pupils to be in voicing their opinion and, significantly, on which perspectives practitioners choose to place the most emphasis.

‘It is practitioners and other adults in schools who determine the aspects of school life where pupils are invited to voice their opinion and in which pupils’ opinions are sought, with little or no opportunities for pupils to exercise free choice about their involvement.’

So, it is the article in translation – as it appears in a given state’s education legislation – that is mobilised into school policies and practices, which creates the potential for a further widening of the divide between the original article and the version that is implemented in reality.


This blog is based on the article ‘The translation of articles from the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child into education legislation: The narrowing of Article 12 as a consequence of translation’ by Carol Robinson, Ann Quennerstedt and John I’Anson, published in the Curriculum Journal [https://doi.org/10.1002/curj.6].


References

I’Anson, J. Quennerstedt, A., & Robinson, C. (2017) The international economy of children’s rights: Issues in translation. International Journal of Children’s Rights, 25(1), 50–67. https://doi.org/10.1163/15718182-02501004

Robinson, C., Quennerstedt, A., & I‘Anson, J. (2019) The translation of articles from the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child into education legislation: The narrowing of Article 12 as a consequence of translation. Curriculum Journal, 31(3). Advance online publication. https://doi.org/10.1002/curj.6

United Nations [UN]. (1989). The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC). General Assembly Resolution 44/25, 20 November 1989. Retrieved from https://www.ohchr.org/en/professionalinterest/pages/crc.aspx

United Nations [UN]. (2009). UN Committee on the Rights of the Child: General comment no 12 – The rights of the child to be heard. Retrieved from https://www2.ohchr.org/english/bodies/crc/docs/AdvanceVersions/CRC-C-GC-12.pdf