- Human Rights Education for Street and Working Children: Principles and Practice
Human rights can be used as tools to help street and working children deal effectively with those difficult, and often confrontational, situations that they must face on a daily basis. One of the greatest problems with teaching human rights is that such rights generally have no part to play in the ethos (or life story) created by many of these children. Throughout their lives, these children are marginalized and forced to live through experiences that seem to have no relationship whatsoever to such a concept as human rights.
This article discusses an approach that joins the subject matter of human rights to the personal life stories of these learners. Part of the approach is metaphorically oriented; it uses a child’s own narrative as an organizer to help the child incorporate the newly acquired concepts into her old ones, and to retain all of them in a new synthetic form. The other part of this approach is much more hands on; its goal is to find an activity that makes children work out their own solutions to problems which relate to their rights or lack of them.
Recent research indicates that in Latin America alone there are nearly 40 million children who live or work in the streets, and this figure is on the [End Page 173] rise. 1 Quite simply, there is an urgent need to build a bridge to this sector of the world’s population. This means improving existing social and educational services offered by state and other important social agencies to this marginalized group, and even adding new ones.
The primary goal of such services is to help street and working children see themselves for what they really are: bona fide members of a democratic community. They must be taught to understand and defend those rights supposedly vouchsafed to them by various constitutions, as well as how to reach out on an ongoing basis to caring individuals working within the more mainstream sectors of society. The moment is all the more ripe for such an endeavor, given the fact that all of the Latin American countries can now be thought of as being democratic.
As mentioned earlier, one possible approach is to provide street and working children with tools to help them deal effectively with the difficult, and often confrontational, situations that they face daily. These important tools can be given to the children by means of specialized programs that simultaneously inculcate a knowledge of human rights. The goal of such programs is to provide children with an ability to understand, internalize, and communicate to others the formal concepts of human rights as they relate to both their lives and the lives of other marginalized persons. Such an approach might work best when employed in tandem with another one: the promotion of a broader public understanding that these children are genuinely disadvantaged vis-à-vis mainstream society.
Their new ability and knowledge will help the children become aware of the true nature of the state and of society, and of the limitations of both. Failing to provide the children with this awareness will result in the feelings of fear and insecurity that they and their families experience on a daily basis feeding upon themselves, and upon that social ignorance which did so much to create these feelings in the first place. Nonetheless, the essential first step leading toward creative confrontation is to teach these children simply how to cope.
Why is such confrontation a necessity? Because the state will always find ways to contend that it is not economically feasible to bring these [End Page 174] millions of children into the mainstream. Pressure will be brought to bear upon the state only when business and professional people, religious groups, and others make a more concerted effort to reach out to street and working children. Curricula that effectively engages children in a dialogue about their rights must be designed and implemented in order to aid these people and groups in their effort to reach out to the children. As Foucault points out, “‘thought’ becomes ‘discourse’ and by viewing the world as if...