A recent article from the Child Rights Information Network pointed out that freedom of expression and access to information is a good marker for “gauging perceptions of children in any society, because the extent to which children are able to express their opinions and feelings can show how much they are recognised as rights holders.”
We go on (rightly) about young people’s right to participate, to have a voice and influence. But how does this happen if cut off from information held about an individual, about a particular group or community? In events we have run with children and young people getting accessible and relevant information is often a top priority. They talk about it as the gateway to having an effective voice and influence.
One of my favourite Investing in Children (http://www.iic-uk.org/Newsletter.htm) stories is the one about transport and a fair deal on fares. Initial attempts to affect change were thwarted by stubborn adults hiding behind disinformation. Undaunted, the young activists spent the next year researching. Equipped at their next encounter with facts and figures, they won the case and got the fare concessions.
Being given the information you need can be a mark of real respect and partnership, taking you seriously and helping you make massive personal decisions. Sue Morgan is a brilliant cancer nurse at Leeds General Infirmary. When a child said “what colour is my tumour?” she did not dismiss or ridicule. She asked around and found other young people also wanted to know what this scary thing looked like. They wanted to know about their cancer so they could face their fears, take some control and better make choices on the what, where and when of treatment. So, she worked with the scientists and cancer doctors to make it possible for those who wanted to see their tumour under the microscope: “It’s large and spiky with evil eyes and sharp teeth”; “Seeing it helps me know what I’m fighting.” Sue has also been working nationally to develop tools and web resources so that some young people first diagnosed with cancer can think through the information they need about treatments, wards and facilities to make critical decisions about whether they have their treatment at a main specialist hospital or at a local one.
No wonder then that the big laws that govern our countries and direct nations on the rights of children and young people speak so powerfully about children and young people’s fundamental right to information. Here are two of them.
“Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference, and impart information and ideas through any media regardless of frontiers” (Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Art. 19).
“The child shall have the right to freedom of expression; this right shall include freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other media of the child’s choice” (Convention on the Rights of the Child, Art. 13).
But just a note of caution, as Tim Davies warns, data is not information is not knowledge is not wisdom. Or to turn it around, it is what we do with the information to create understanding that helps us change transport policy or make better personal decisions about our cancer care. I find this diagram http://is.gd/fd9AC really helpful in making that connection.