Freedom of Expression

A Rights Based Approach to Freedom of Expression

What is freedom of expression?

At an individual level, freedom of expression is key to the development, dignity and fulfilment of every person. Freedom of expression is a civil right guaranteed for children. The have the right to seek, receive and communicate information and ideas of all kinds, and to hold opinions without interference.

The right to freedom of expression is a good indicator of how children in any society are perceived and treated because the extent to which children are able to express their opinions and feelings in society highlights to what degree they are recognised as rights holders.

Human rights standards

Freedom of expression is recognised for everyone in article 19 of the Universal declaration of Human Rights and especially for children in article 13 of the Convention on the Right of the Child (CRC). Article 13 was the subject of some controversy during the drafting process of the CRC.

Article 13 is closely linked with other articles such as the right to participate (article 12), access to information (Article 17), freedom of thought, conscience and religion (Article 14) and freedom of association and freedom of peaceful assembly (Article 15).


What can be done?

Taking a rights based approach to this issue requires States to refrain from preventing children from expressing their views and opinions, or from accessing information. Child protection is often used as an excuse to deprive children of information to which they are entitled. It also confers a positive obligation on States to provide children with opportunities to express their views and encourage them to set up their own channels of communication.

Any attention paid so far to children's right to freedom of expression tends to be through child protection programming. Child rights organisations should advocate for the realisation of children's freedom of expression – as a stand alone issue - through raising public awareness, advocating for changes in policy and legislation, and holding governments accountable for any restriction that prevents this right from being protected, fulfilled and respected.

In today's world, social media provides a bigger space for children to access information and express their views more freely (click here for guides to help children stay safe online). The fact that young people mostly led the series of political uprisings in the Middle East and North Africa that started in December 2010 provides evidence of children's desire and capacity to express themselves politically to achieve greater freedom.

Read CRIN’s editorial on children’s freedom of expression.


Examples of children’s right to freedom of expression in action:

Children’s newspapers!

In India, the Child Reporter and youth journalist blog hosts contributions from child reporters and youth journalists from across India. The blog presents children’s point of views on various issues that impact them or the environment around them.

Supporting others: In 2011, 17 year old Michaela Mycroft won the International Children’s Peace Prize (ICPP) for her commitment to the rights of children with disabilities in her native South Africa. . Her fundraising project later became the Chaeli Campaign, which annually assists more than 3,000 children with disabilities by providing them equipment and physical therapy. The campaign also defends the rights of disabled children and advocates for their acceptance in society.  


Campaigning against discrimination: In the United Kingdom, 13-year-old Chris Whitehead took a stand against his school's discriminatory dress code that allows girls to wear skirts in the summer months yet does not allow boys to wear shorts. To challenge it, he took advantage of a loophole in the school’s uniform policy, whereby boys are not forbidden from wearing a skirt. Around 30 fellow pupils joined Whitehead’s protest by waving placards saying, "Cool shorts, not hot pants" and "What's wrong with my legs?" The protest has since prompted the school to review its uniform policy, while Whitehead has been shortlisted for a Liberty Human Rights award. 

Read more examples in CRIN’s editorial on Human Right’s Day 2011.