The right to be heard and taken seriously
Children have the right to be able to express their views on all matters affecting them and to have those views taken seriously, in accordance with the child’s age and maturity. This does not mean that you must do whatever children want. However it does mean that their feelings, concerns and ideas should be taken into account when you are making decisions about them. This involves both listening and taking on board what the children say.
Activity 1.5: Providing health services to adolescent children
Read the following case study.
A local health centre, in partnership with an NGO that was providing health services to adolescents in the local schools, was doing research into sexually transmitted infections [STIs]. A group of health practitioners visited a secondary school in the local area to conduct the research on the prevalence of STIs.
The practitioners sought permission from the institution’s administration to provide children for them for test. The children were picked randomly and asked to provide specimens of urine, blood and stools for analysis. The results indicated that two of the girls’ specimens revealed an STI infection and one girl tested HIV positive. The results were left with the school administration, and prescription medicine was left with the school principal to administer to the children.
The principal then announced the results in the school assembly and lectured the students not to be involved in sexual activities because some of them had been diagnosed as HIV positive. The affected children were then given the medicine that had been left for them.
The children completely refused to take the medicine and reported the matter to their parents, who were enraged over the whole incident. The girl who was supposedly diagnosed as HIV positive ran way from school and drowned in the nearby river.
Now answer the questions below.
- What rights do you think were violated by the various people in the case study? The health workers? The headmaster?
- What should have happened if the four guiding principles were to be respected?
The case study illustrates a number of ways in which the rights of the children were ignored.
For example you will have noticed that the practitioners only asked permission from the school to administer the tests and did not discuss the matter with the children or their parents. This obviously violates the right to be given information (Article 13) and for ‘the child who is capable of forming his or her own views the right to express those views freely in all matters affecting the child, the views of the child being given due weight in accordance with the age and maturity of the child’ (Article 12).
The results were not discussed with the children or with their parents, and there was no confidentiality for the children affected by this very sensitive medical issue. As a result of the way in which the situation was handled, the two girls affected felt discriminated against, and ultimately one of them died. Certainly, her right to life and optimum development was not protected.
The decisions here were not taken with the best interests of the children being a primary or even the most important consideration. The parents were not involved, and it is important to note that, because of the way the situation was handled, the attempt at a preventative medical intervention was also unsuccessful as the children did not take the medication.
You will probably have identified that good practice here is almost the opposite of what happened. The children should have been given the correct information and asked their views, and their parents should have been involved by the school. The girls should not have been made to feel discriminated against.
The Committee on the Rights of the Child stresses that proper treatment of HIV/AIDS can be undertaken only if the rights of children and adolescents are fully respected. The child’s best interests should therefore guide the consideration of HIV/AIDS at all levels of prevention, treatment, care and support.