On this day 25 years ago, New York City made a bold statement in affirming its commitment to children in the city. Will the city now take bold steps to act on this commitment?
On November 20th 1989, the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), enacting a framework that has become the foundation of international children’s rights. The CRC asserts the rights of people under the age of 18 as holders of inalienable human rights, who by virtue of their immaturity and inexperience are accorded special protections and provisions. The CRC is an instrument through which massive global changes have been made to increase boy’s and girl’s access to education, receive life-saving immunizations, and ensure their protection from violence. Furthermore, the CRC recognizes the rights of children as active participants in society — this includes their rights to speak, be heard, and have their views taken into account on matters that affect them.
The very next day, on November 21st 1989, the City Council of New York City unanimously passed Resolution 1891 in support of the CRC. In particular, it called upon city agencies to address issues concerning housing, nutrition, education, protection, medical care, recreation, and economic opportunities for children in New York City. Twenty-five years on, has the city fulfilled its duty to “ensure that all children receive the level of support necessary for the realization of these rights?”
By passing Resolution 1891, New York recognized children’s civil and political rights. Recognizing children’s political rights asserts that children have a role to play in shaping their conditions, that they have a role to play as part of a system that responds to the needs of its citizens, that they have a role to play in how their cities are run. This summer, the city passed Resolution 115 which worked its way through the State legislative channels to amend the Public Officer’s Law permitting 16 and 17-year-olds to be members of community boards. This has been an impressive shift to recognize and expand democracy, directly engaging those who have yet to have a vote to participate in decision-making regarding their communities. This amendment recognizes children as resources and agents of change in their communities. This amendment is what respecting children’s rights to participation looks like in the sphere of city governance.
Young people have long been active contributors to the city: young people tend community gardens, run LGBTQ centers, and respond to disasters as they did after hurricane Sandy. Politically, youth in New York City agitate for educational reform, demand changes to unjust policing practices, and contribute to participatory budgeting processes. Young people already participate in a variety of decision-making bodies as part of the after school programs, department agencies, and in their own child managed organizations.
As with many others, I hold hope that with the change in city administration this year, New York is in a progressive moment. I am inspired by the prospect that this city will once again take bold steps in respecting human rights. This time, I hope that the city moves beyond rhetoric to transform how it engages young people, moves beyond putting young people’s recommendations out on parade, only to leave them on a shelf to collect dust. The Mayor’s Office is investigating how to create a youth governance body that will work together with adults in making decisions regarding policies that affect young people. This is an opportunity to create a youth governing body with the power to set forth policies that respond to the 1.8 million children in the city. Moreover, this is an opportunity to create a youth governing body that is deeply democratic, connected to youth on community boards, and young people already active in our communities. This city can build a system that harnesses young people’s knowledge of the city, and invites them to propose creative, pragmatic solutions that respond to the issues they face.
It has been 25 years since the city resolved to support the rights of children in New York, including their rights to political participation. It is time we engage children in the governance our communities. I call on the city to create meaningful, deeply democratic ways of working with young people to make New York City better for all its inhabitants.