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The Policy Landscape of Play

For all the work that Aroundsquare does in the fields of play, education, and international development, both practical and philosophical, we have never posted anything on this site about what is going on in the upper ups internationally. Turns out, it's not just kids that think play is important. Turns out, there is some interesting policy and commentary in the international arena, and not just the academe. 

The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child

The 1989

UN Convention on the Rights of the Child

sets out universally accepted rights for children. It pulls together the benefits and protection for children which existed previously only in piecemeal, including the 1959

Declaration of the Rights of the Child

. The Convention forms a solid basis for rights based approaches in all matters related to children, and affirms that human rights described elsewhere apply equally to humans under the age of majority. The Convention has been ratified by every country in the world except Somalia, South Sudan, and the United States. Ratification is important because it provides the grounds whereby states can be held legally accountable for their endorsement of the Convention. 

The Convention is broad and comprehensive. It incorporates contemporary thinking children's rights, and also challenges historical limitations on children's position as citizens, and considers their development more broadly than had been commonly the case. The document asks that we look at children's lives holistically, and that we seek out and value children's own perspectives on issues that affect them. This has led many nations to better attend to aspects of children's lives which had previously not been taken seriously, among them, the right to play. 

Article 31--the Right to Play

Much of the Convention outlines an expected range of rights which relate to basic needs and can be taken as fundamental. But it also goes further, into factors concerning children's broader development. Of particular interest is Article 31, defining in clear terms, children's right to play. Article 31 states that:

“That every child has the right to rest and leisure, to engage in play and recreational  activities appropriate to the age of the child and to participate freely in cultural life and the arts.

That member governments shall respect and promote the right of the child to participate fully in cultural and artistic life and shall encourage the provision of appropriate and equal opportunities for cultural, artistic, recreational and leisure activity.”

The rights outlined in the Convention are considered to be inter-dependent, meaning that Article 31 is considered as being important to the achievement and fulfillment of other rights. Play is extremely important to children's development--social, physical, cognitive, and beyond. 

UN General Comment on Article 31

In UN-speak, a General Comment is a quasi legal document which provides a clear interpretation and elaboration of the intentions of a given article. In February 2013, the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child passed a

General Comment on Article 31

. Among the stated objectives of the General Comment was:

"To provide guidance on the legislative, judicial, administrative, social and educational measures necessary to ensure its implementation for all children without discrimination and on the basis of equality of opportunity"

Importantly, the document outlines the importance of Article 31 for children’s well-being and development, and for the realisation of other rights in the Convention. In essence, the General Comment affirms for policy makers what we educators already know--play matters. 

UNGA Resolution on Sport as a Means to Promote Education, Health, Development and Peace

Another related development also came in 2012 with the passing of yet another UNGA resolution recognizing

sport as a means to promoting education, health, development and peace

. This resolution, the latest in a long succession of resolutions on the topic, provides a different perspective on the value of leisure and play, compared with Article 31, and provides further grounds for working together to promote these activities as both inherently and instrumentally valuable. 

Advocacy in International Organizations 

Other work in the UN system has provided support, directly and indirectly, for the advancement of children's right to play. In particular, and not surprisingly, both UNICEF and UNESCO have been strong advocates of play, including the inclusion of play-based approaches in early years schooling. 

On the civil society front, organizations like the

International Play Association


Right to Play

have been strong advocates, with the former spearheading the movement which resulted in the General Comment, and the latter focused more on amateur sports. 

Working downwards from the nearly universal context of children's rights, to general agreements, to the mandates of individual agencies, there is lots going on internationally to support children at play. For those of us working at the grassroots, in the education system, or even the private sector advocating for the same, it is worth being aware that we are not in this alone. 

Matthew Hiebert 2013-04-24