“I Am a Child! I Have Rights!”：Exhibit Highlights Human Rights of the Young
Chen Chun-fang /photo byJimmy Lin /tr. byJonathan Barnard
courtesy of the National Human Rights Museum
“What I want to be when I grow up.” Do you remember that assignment from elementary school? Now, years later, have you become the adult you envisioned?
Janusz Korczak, known as the father of the children’s rights movement, once said, “Every child has the right to their own dreams and secrets.” Our present constructs our children’s future. Let us understand the rights of children and build a world that is friendly to children now, so that they can cultivate what is beautiful and unique to them.
In 1989 the United Nations adopted the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), which declares that adults should do their best to ensure that children enjoy four basic rights: the rights to survival, to development, to protection and to participation. Last year was the 30th anniversary of the adoption of the convention, and to mark the occasion the National Human Rights Museum (NHRM), located in the Jing-Mei White Terror Memorial Park, staged a special exhibition entitled “I’m a Child! I Have Rights!”
Chien Hsiao-shan of the National Human Rights Museum planned the exhibit on children’s rights to help young people understand that they have the power to change society and build a future with greater consciousness of human rights.
A space for family conversations
Inside the exhibition space, childlike animations appear on a screen. A window opens, to represent the sentiment: “Please open a door for us to understand the world.” Content from the CRC has been turned into animations to express children’s sincere appeals to adults.
Chien Hsiao-shan, secretary of the Exhibition and Education Division at the museum, who planned the exhibition, explains that children are vulnerable and unable to feed and support themselves. Therefore, they need adults to protect and care for them. But they also need to be respected as thinking individuals. We cannot deprive them of their own voices.
During the planning stage, Chien visited both elementary schools and junior and senior high schools, introducing the concept of children’s rights and gathering children’s thoughts on the subject. Some girls hoped to overturn dress-code regulations so they could wear pants instead of skirts; other students hoped to have the freedom to select their own meals…. These small aspirations reflect how adults are accustomed to unselfconsciously making decisions on behalf of children while overlooking their right to express their own opinions. Chien encouraged children to turn their thoughts into creative illustrations, and then the children’s voices and creations were turned into videos, as the exhibit became a platform for children’s voices.
In Chinese society parents have long held great hopes for their offspring, while believing that children should listen to adults and be well behaved. Those notions are deeply rooted and will not be changed overnight. Chien emphasizes that the point of understanding children’s rights isn’t to blame parents but rather to open a space for conversation and to create opportunities for change.
The lack of rigid dogma, along with the wide variety of colorful illustrations and videos and fun interactive exhibits, make the exhibition “I’m a Child! I Have Rights!” worth a trip. (photo by Jimmy Lin)
A small systematic revolution
Action is what brings ideals into reality. The Association of Parent Participating Education in Taiwan (APPET) is a group that forcefully promotes the implementation of children’s rights and pushes for the elimination of hitting, scolding, threatening, terrorizing, and other harmful behaviors in the parent‡child relationship.
The group has also continually promoted a child-friendly environment. For instance, it has pushed the Taiwan Railway Administration to establish cars reserved for families. Ang Le Siok, an APPET board member, explains that they don’t want people to think that this step was taken because the public thinks that children are too loud. Rather, they hope that everyone understands that long-distance travel isn’t easy for children: Spatially constricted, they become bored, since sitting for hours goes against their basic nature of wanting to move and play. One can’t simply take the standpoint of adults and demand that children maintain perfect order and stay quiet to conform to unrealistic standards that society has about children.
An elementary teacher with more than 20 years of experience, Ang knows that the high value placed on educational advancement in Taiwanese society is something that is highly resistant to change. Apart from needing to do their homework for school, elementary-school students also must go to after-school classes. They all too easily fall into an abyss of rigid memorization and rote copying. Ang, meanwhile, encourages reading, journal writing and other unconventional assignments. Although such assignments increase understanding and critical thinking, they often meet with little support because they don’t necessarily bring higher marks. When children, after drilling with repetitive exercises, can answer exam questions without really needing to think about them, most adults consider that a point of pride. Ang, to the contrary, regards it as alarming. Children may look well organized, but they lack creativity and imagination. “Everyone becomes an object of mass production,” Ang says.
In her classroom, Ang does her best to let children gain multiple perspectives. For instance, when the textbook mentions Formosa Plastics founder Wang Yung-ching, lauding him as an entrepreneur who created employment opportunities, Ang will also bring up the explosion at the Sixth Naphtha Cracker plant, his numerous marriages, and other aspects of his life for discussion. Or when the class discusses topics such as women scientists or gay athletes, she introduces content about gender and sexual orientation equality. Ang hopes that children will come to see that the world is colorful and diverse, and that success doesn’t simply mean making a lot of money. Ecofriendly small farmers, for example, can also achieve success on their own terms.
With respect to the educational realm’s cautious attitude toward teaching materials, Ang believes that education must be at the cutting edge of an era. Whether one is talking about relationships education or gender equality education, these should broaden children’s horizons so that they can see the world in all its diversity and gain empathy for groups unlike their own.
In a workshop space set up at the National Human Rights Museum, children let their creativity run wild in zines that express their own opinions and ways of thinking.
The parents of this new era bring their children to participate in social movements, open-mindedly discussing all manner of issues with them and broadening their horizons.
Can adults be questioned?
Chien Hsiao-shan explains that apart from introducing adults to children’s rights, the exhibition has another core goal: to get children to see their own power. Consequently the museum came up with the theme “Seeing children’s power” for a section of the exhibition. Last year, students at Kaohsiung Senior High School and Kaohsiung Girls Senior High School collected their classmates’ signatures for a petition entitled, “End the Posting of College Acceptances: Resist Rigid Models of Success and Stop Perpetuating Myths.” It caused quite a stir on high-school campuses, and quite a few schools stopped posting college acceptance rates or lists of students earning full marks. Through their activism, students reminded adults that they shouldn’t emphasize educational advancement at the expense of the development of the whole person. It was a true demonstration of the power of children in Taiwan.
Some may worry that if children grow up in an environment that puts an emphasis on children’s rights, they may become arrogant and obstinate. But in the children of the Adult Thinking Society, we can observe critical thinking and a reflective spirit.
The group was founded by children who had participated with their parents in Children’s Culture Study activities. The youngest member is five, and the oldest, former society president Hans Li, is 14. The group advocates for children’s free speech and for “researching adults via discussions and critical thinking,” says sixth grader and current society president Charlie Qiu. Since 2018, the society has been putting on a series of Q&As, including “Adults’ White Lies” and “Adults, May We Ask…?” The children themselves planned both the style and the content of these events. “Why do adults always use age as the ultimate litmus test?” “Why do adults always forget that they too were once children?” The children came up with questions on their own and invited adults to answer. With the give and take came greater mutual understanding.
Many organizations in Taiwan are striving to promote children’s rights. Some are moving quickly, others pushing more slowly—but each has adopted its own methods with the aim of allowing the voices of children to be heard. And alike they aspire to let children be themselves.
“I’m a Child! I Have Rights!” is being held at the National Human Rights Museum until May 3. In the latter half of the year it will move to the Southern Branch of the National Palace Museum in Chiayi and the National Museum of Taiwan History in Tainan. The National Human Rights Museum also plans to put content from the exhibit on exhibition boards that schools can borrow for their own displays. All the hard work put into the exhibit was undertaken to put the core values of children’s rights in front of more children, so that human rights education can gain strong roots in society for a better future.
Supported by a group of adults who want children’s voices to be heard, the children of the Adult Thinking Society voice their opinions in a well-organized and clear manner.
Retrieve from Taiwan Panorama