The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) is an international human rights treaty that grants all children and young people (aged 17 and under) a comprehensive set of rights and it was adopted by the United Nations on 20 November 1989. As a result 20 November is known as Universal Children's Day.
The United Kingdom signed the Convention on 19 April 1990, ratified it on 16 December 1991 and it came into force in the UK on 15 January 1992. When a country ratifies the Convention it agrees to do everything it can to implement it.
The rights set out in the UNCRC include, among many others, certain cultural rights and these are related to the education system. They are to be found in articles 29, 30 and 31 which incorporate the following commitments:
1. States Parties agree that the education of the child shall be directed to:
(c) The development of respect for the child’s parents, his or her own cultural identity, language and values, for the national values of the country in which the child is living, the country from which he or she may originate, and for civilizations different from his or her own.
In those States in which ethnic, religious or linguistic minorities or persons of indigenous origin exist, a child belonging to such a minority or who is indigenous shall not be denied the right, in community with other members of his or her group, to enjoy his or her own culture, to profess and practise his or her own religion, or to use his or her own language.
2. States Parties 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.
Children have cultural rights and within our schools and youth provision they should be able to learn about the culture of their home and community. This is something to which children are entitled and should be part of their cultural entitlement. I believe that there is a differential in the implementation of this right across the school sectors, with a higher level of provision in many schools in the Roman Catholic and Irish medium sectors, where there is a strong emphasis on Irish culture, including Irish traditional music, Irish dancing, Irish games and the Irish language.
We are starting to see a change and I was delighted to see the introduction of tuition in the Lambeg drum and fife in the Boys Model School in Belfast but there is a need to monitor the implementation of this right and ensure that children in all sectors, including the controlled sector, learn about their own culture.