Poland’s contribution to the Convention on the Rights of the Child
Summary by Devindree Pillay
Tuesday, May 8, 2012
I attended an inspiring symposium that was hosted by the Polish Embassy. It was interesting to learn from the statement by Ambassador Witold Sobków, Permanent Representative of the Republic of Poland to the United Nations, that Poland was actually the initiator of the Convention on the Rights of the Child which was adopted by the UN General Assembly on the 20th of November 1989.
This did not seem like it was an easy feat, but there was obviously the fuel of deep passion for children that spurred the initiative owards. For over 11 years of negotiations of the Convention, Poland was the leader of the process and finally, the Convention was adopted by the General Assembly, without a vote, in 1989!
The Convention is the first fullest catalogue of children’s rights, which determined the universal norms of the protection of children and ensured children their basic human rights. It calls for It is the rejection of violence, the conviction that a child is a human being, and has the right to be educated and develop, the fact that children are best aware of their own needs, aspirations, and emotions – and thus should have the right to have their opinion respected by adults, including the right to respect, the right not to know something, the right to failure, the right to privacy, the right to personal opinion, and even the right to property! This is undoubtedly a true expression of respect…
The draft of the Convention was derived from the Polish School of pedagogical thought based mostly on concepts of education and psychology as espoused by Janusz Korczak. In 1912, having served in the Russo-Japanese war as a military doctor, he established an orphanage for Jewish children in Warsaw. Holding a vision of children being great leaders, he ran the orphanage like a microcosmic democracy. The children had their own parliament, newspaper and court, in which they debated transgressions against the school’s code and suitable penalties – although apparently these were often leavened by sympathetic understanding of each child’s background and inner world. In effect, Korczak was administering an education in natural justice and ethical psychology. He believed in the full dignity of children (“the oldest proletariat in the world”), and their need for love and respect. This was a remarkable human being whom I would consider to be respect personified! He walked the talk.
Janusz Korczak is best known for his truly heroic final act: incarcerated in the Warsaw ghetto, with nearly 200 children from the orphanage he ran, he decided to refuse the offers of rescue he received from his Polish friends, and to accompany the children instead on their journey to Treblinka, and to certain death. His profound courage and his rigorous compassion held till the very end.
This legacy now still lives on because the Convention on the Rights of the Child is acknowledged as the greatest international achievement with regards to the rights of a child. This important achievement continues to inform decisions which serve all children of the world.