Play, however, trivialised and misunderstood in our society is an inalienable right accorded to children in the Article 31 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC, 1992). The Article enshrines the right of a child to play, recreation, rest, leisure, and participation in cultural and artistic life. The 193 countries, including India that have ratified the UNCRC, are legally bound to uphold and promote this right through laws, policies and action.
The value of playing for healthy development of children is widely acknowledged. Yet there is concern that children’s spontaneous as well as structured play and recreational activities are threatened across the world due to urbanisation, parental fear, pressure of educational achievements, etc.
For many years, child rights experts and advocates have shared the view that the Article 31 was not well understood and in some contexts not appreciated by adults. Many had hoped for an official interpretation of this article or a UN “General Comment (GC)”, the primary purpose of which is to deepen understanding of a particular aspect of the Convention.
India’s National Policy of Children (NPC, 1974) for the past 38 years did not include the word ‘play’ in its text. However, NGOs working with children using a rights-based approach often point out, the right to play is the only right that seems to be available particularly to the large numbers of children living in poverty. The revised NPC (2013) adopts a strong rights-based approach and does include the word play in one place bundled with other Article 31 (UNCRC) rights. India like many other countries have never reported on Article 31 and provided no information on state of children’s play and recreation; nor explained policies or measures that promote or create opportunities for these.
Perhaps the GC 17, which was adopted by the UN on February 1 and launched on September 30 to celebrate the child’s right to play, will enable India to better fulfil Article 31 rights in future such as through evidence-based policies, legislation, planning, adequate budgeting to ensure that every child has sufficient time, space and provisions in his/her life for play, recreation and other Article 31 rights. All tiers of government have a role in implementing these rights which include investing in municipal planning to create environments that promote children’s well-being.
Cultural translations and child-friendly versions of the GC are already available in some countries. India too should make versions for all stakeholders, including children and parents, to raise awareness and change cultural attitudes, including of the government which attach such low value to these rights.
Sudeshna Chatterjee is CEO, Action for Children’s Environments,New Delhi.
The views expressed by the author are personal.