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Associations and InstitutionsAnnual 

64th IFLA Conference Logo

   64th IFLA General Conference
   August 16 - August 21, 1998


Code Number: 042-113-E
Division Number: III.
Professional Group: Libraries for Children and Young Adults
Joint Meeting with: -
Meeting Number: 113.
Simultaneous Interpretation:   Yes

The right of the child to information and its practical impact on children's libraries

Marian Koren
NBLC, Netherlands Public Library Association
The Hague, Netherlands


1 Rights of the Child

It took mankind a long time to accept that human rights apply to all human beings without exception. This means a universal understanding that `the basis which unites us all as citizens of one community can be nothing else than respect for the human being as such. Without that basis a society or a real human community is excluded.'(1) The UN Declaration, of which we celebrate the 50th anniversary this year, emphasises as a final basis for all law and justice, the inherent human dignity and the inalienable rights which every human being possesses by nature.

`Children's rights are an integral part of human rights. The whole human rights programme of the United Nations is of direct relevance to children inasmuch as the ultimate aim of the programme is the well-being of every individual person in national as well as international society. But even more, the whole human rights endeavour may be said to be built on the foundation of care and love for children and respect for their rights. The special place of children in society is recognised in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and pervades the whole framework of international human rights standards.'(2)

2 Right to Information

The study of the child's developmental process reveals that information plays an indispensable role. In essence, the child is an information seeker. Information affects the physical, emotional, cognitive and social development of the child and this fact has far-reaching implications for the child's providers of information. It is important that all children have access to information and can benefit from such information processes, regardless of the place and time in which they live. Are children legally protected while they grow up, seek information and develop as human beings? As this question regards all children, an international approach is useful.(7)

In tracing a right to information in the Convention on the Rights of the Child, explicit formulations are found in the child's right to freedom of expression (article 13) and his right of access to information (article 17). The latter refers to the role of the mass media in providing information and material from a variety of sources. Implicit formulations of the right to information provide a wider spectrum. They refer to the role of information in the process of upbringing by parents, the development of the child's personality; his freedom to express views in all matters concerning his life; the freedom of thought, conscience and religion; and, the respect for his private life. Other implicit formulations are related to the child's right to information which supports his social participation, such as his freedom of association; the possibilities of the child to participate in cultural life; his access to education; and, his right to know about his rights.

A closer look at the right to information in its most explicit formulations is interesting for librarians because the articles reveal the approach, which has been intended by the drafters of the Convention. Not only States but especially NGO's have contributed a lot to the final version. The actual formulation of article 17 (8) was mainly proposed by the Bahá'í Community, a NGO that promotes international understanding, world citizenship and stresses the importance of this education and supports the work of the United Nations.(9) In a commentary the positive task of the mass media was stressed to convey appropriate information; to support educational programmes; to promote the cultural heritage of the child and to inform the child of the wider world of which he is part.(11) As the provision of information is related to an educational aim, another proposal (article 29) was put forward by Bahá'í as well. Bahá'í considers education as the most important means of improving the human condition, of safeguarding human rights and of establishing peace and justice on earth. But such education `cannot simply be academic education, or book-learning. The kind of education that is required is education of the character. It is not sufficient, for example simply to tell the child that he has a duty to respect human rights. What is required is guidance and training that will develop in the child qualities that are indispensable if the child is to become a promoter and protector of human rights.'(12)

In this way it is clear that access to information has especially to be provided in view of the educational potential and the understanding of human values protected in human rights.

3 Implementation in public libraries

The Convention on the Rights of the Child is a special treaty as it not only formulates obligations for the states, but also speaks of the primary responsibility of parents for the upbringing and development of the child. But also other individuals and institutions have obligations if one thinks of the child's right to be heard in administrative and judicial proceedings or the child's right to education. In general, all human beings have a duty to respect each other and each other's rights. As the child for example has a right to express his views in all matters affecting the child, there is a clear obligation for all who are taking decisions, formulating policies or creating the child's environment, either in schools, in the street or elsewhere to organise the participation of children. There is no reason to exempt libraries and librarians from these obligations of human rights. On the contrary, there is ample reason for libraries to showing library commitment to children's rights, as they are already committed to the UNESCO Manifesto, the IFLA Guidelines and through their States to general international consensus on human rights: The Universal Declaration and the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.

As all states (and even the USA has at least signed the Convention) are parties to the Convention and have accepted its obligations, they are committed to implement the various articles and provisions of the Convention. The role and activities of public libraries can be considered as part of this implementation of the Convention. So therefore no public library can maintain that it has nothing to do with the Convention or with children's rights. In fact, nobody can refrain from being concerned with the human rights of children.

The States Parties to the Convention on the Right of the Child are obliged to implement its articles and principles. What are the obligations when speaking of the implementation in the public library as a public institution?

General obligations:

To the general obligations formulated in the Convention belong the following ones, which also have to be fulfilled in the public library:

Apart from these general obligations, there are more specific ones, also applicable in libraries.

Specific obligations

To these specific obligations belong the provisions of for example article 17:

4 Practical recommendations

What measures can be taken by libraries to implement the above mentioned human rights of children. What can they do on their own, what must be done in co-operation, nationally and internationally?

Here are just some practical recommendations, which can be elaborated further on during the IFLA-conference and meetings in the home countries.

On the national and international level:

On the local level implementation of the right to information requires for example:

Other conclusions can be drawn from this introduction of the right to information in the Convention on the Rights of the Child. As was mentioned before, much of the realisation of the child's right to information, depends on those professionally involved. These professional groups have to exercise self-discipline and ensure that they perform high quality work. They should set up their own codes of ethics, and verify whether they meet the high aspirations of their craftsmanship and human values like honesty, dignity and respect. The promotion of and respect for children's rights depends on these professionals, and their awareness of rights.

Rights need to be translated into everyday life situations. Therefore, the assistance of living human beings who have a sense of human values, and who can professionally translate this sensitiveness and respect into aspiring stories, is needed. These are the stories a child will benefit from, as they will honestly help him to seek an answer to his question of life. The first priority of a professional is to ensure that no child, wherever he may live, and whatever circumstances he may encounter, is excluded from essential stories. All other motives of professionals should be scrutinised and stripped of their self-serving elements. Let's work on the child's right to information.

Let's respect and celebrate the Rights of the Child in libraries!


  1. Scheltens, D., Mens en mensenrechten, Samsom, Alphen aan den Rijn, 1981, p. 15.

  2. Boven, Th. van, Children's Rights. Address at the opening meeting of the International Forum on the Rights of the Child, Budapest, Hungary, 1 June 1979, in: Thoolen, H. (ed.), People matter. Views on International Human Rights Policy by Theo van Boven, Director of the United Nations Division of Human Rights 1977-1982, p. 157.

  3. Freeman, M., The Rights and Wrongs of Children, Frances Pinter, Lon-don, 1983, p. 7.

  4. Verhellen, E., Convention on the Rights of the Child. Background, motivation, strategies, main themes, Garant, Leuven/Apeldoorn, 1994, p. 18.

  5. Langen, M. de, Children's rights, in: Verhellen, E., F. Spiesschaert (eds.), Ombudswork for children, Acco, Leuven/Amersfoort, 1989, p. 487.

  6. UN Doc. GA Res 44/25, 1989.

  7. See for a thorough study on which also this paper is based: Koren, M., Tell me! The Right of the Child to Information, NBLC, The Hague, 1996.

  8. Goodman, D., Analysis of the First Session of the Committee on the Rights of the Child, in: Netherlands Quarterly of Human Rights, Vol. 10, 1992, 1, p. 50.

  9. Bookbird, Vol. 28, 1, 1990. and Letter dated 18 November 1985 submitted to the Centre for Human Rights, UN Doc. E/CN.4/1987/WG.1/WP.2, p. 6.

  10. UN Doc. E/CN.4/1987/25, p. 7.


United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child 1989