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Children’s Right to Play

The UN states that all children have a right to play. Shouldn’t this include the places where they live?

The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child

The UNCRC is an international treaty that sets out universally recognised rights for all children. It takes into account their needs for development and their needs now as citizens in their own right. It’s a comprehensive benchmark against which a country’s treatment of children can be measured. The UK and nearly all the countries of the world have signed up to the Convention. Two have not: Somalia and the USA.

Article 31: the right to play

Article 31 states that countries must “recognize the right of the child 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.” General Comment 17 further clarifies that governments are expected to ‘respect, protect and fulfil’ this right.

Play is fundamental, not extra

The Convention recognises that free play is not an optional extra for children: it is fundamental to their physical, social, mental and emotional development and intrinsic to their health and happiness in the present moment. As such, play relates closely to many of the other important articles in the Convention. Play can and should happen in many places, the main ones being home, school and free play outdoors. We think this should include the streets and places close to where children live.

The right to play out

However, in the UK and in many other countries, time, space and opportunities for outside free play and playing out have actually been declining for many decades, largely due to increases in traffic. Funding cuts and reduced recognition of the importance of play within central government have also not helped.

Changing things…

Luckily there’s a growing international movement for children’s right to play out. In the UK, this includes many community-based organisations, local play associations and adventure playgrounds; and a growing Playing Out network of parents and residents changing things for play where they live. We at Playing Out CIC are also working on specific rights based projects, like the Bristol Child Friendly City initiative and the Safer Streets in Hartcliffe project led by children, where children’s voices and participation were key. We’re also increasingly speaking out and calling on local and national government to defend children’s right to play out.

Together, we need to promote children’s right to play out freely where they live, near their own front doors, and to call for policy and other change that makes this possible.

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