The following article and photographs were written and taken by Sophie Biddle, an independent Lead Research Analyst for Just For Kidz.
Over 80 academics from all over the world gathered at the 5th International Conference on the Geographies of Children, Youth, and Families at Loughborough University. Children’s rights, as outlined by the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), played a prominent role in the research presented. Presenters at this conference were asked: How does this age of global uncertainty impact children and young people? How are young people finding the space to forage their own identities and transitions in today’s world?
Children and young people largely did not vote for the austerity measures, Brexit, or for the current U.S. president. These policies and political leaders are contributing to an atmosphere of divisiveness and extreme poverty on a global scale. In fact, young people largely voted against these issues, instead advocating for a more inclusive and balanced world. With young people’s voices being ignored, it’s vital that older adults (who hold more sway in our political systems) amplify children’s voices, advocating for societies that respect the rights of all residents.
The conference opened with a keynote speech by Professor Gill Valentine. Valentine is a highly respected researcher of children’s and feminist geographies. Her books Cool Places: Geographies of Youth Cultures and Public Space and the Culture of Childhood are prominent texts in the fields of children’s geographies and children’s rights. Valentine’s speech focused on her latest research. She offered new models for researching the impact of climate change on families, namely the use of community theatre, poetry, and community empowerment projects. The use of research models like Valentine’s which allow young people to be active participants is an encouraging sign that academic studies will continue to shift focus away from studying the child to instead amplifying the voices of children.
Professor Anne Trine Kjørholt also delivered a keynote speech, advocating for a holistic approach to implementing children’s rights. Kjørholt argued that too often there is a large emphasis on creating mandatory, western-centric education in previously colonized countries in the name of children’s rights. She argued that while guaranteeing children access to education is a key part of the U.N. CRC, there must also be equal emphasis placed on children’s right to play. Play is a critical part of child development and wellbeing. Kjørholt proposed new early childhood development models that focused on empowering communities and children. These models place grandparents and older children as important teachers of local knowledge. Additionally, Kjørholt argues that this new shift in early childhood development must include creating time and safe spaces for children to play.
The 5th International Conference on the Geographies of Children, Youth, and Families showed a promising shift in the way researchers and academics seek to understand children and children’s rights. By embracing respectful research practices that empower young people to share their lived experiences, adults will be better allies to young people in their fight for equal rights.