Right to play
Every child has the right to play. This means every single child, whatever their culture, impairment, gender, language, background, behaviour or need.
The right to play is accepted universally and is set out in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC). The convention lists the 42 rights that children and teenagers (under the age of 18) have.
Article 31 of the convention states: ‘Every child has the right to rest and leisure, to engage in play and recreational activities appropriate to the age of the child and to participate freely in cultural life and the arts.’
Right to play in Wales
The UNCRC is a legally binding international agreement and is recognised by the Welsh Government and the UK Government. In 2002, the Welsh Government published the first play policy in the world. It is based on the principle that the UNCRC recognises the importance of play.
The Children’s Commissioner for Wales champions children’s rights. Children have repeatedly told successive commissioners that play is important to them for a happy childhood – and they continue to say this.
Wales UNCRC Monitoring Group
Play Wales is a member of the Wales UNCRC Monitoring Group. This national alliance of non-governmental and academic organisations monitors and promotes the UNCRC in Wales and produces and submits reports to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child. These reports, which include sections on play, show how much Wales’ law, policy and practice has responded to the Committee’s Concluding Observations to the UK Government.
The United Nations sees children’s play as highly important, and therefore adopted General Comment no. 17 on Article 31 of the UNCRC.
A General Comment is an official statement that elaborates on the meaning of an aspect of the UNCRC that needs further interpretation or emphasis. The aim of this General Comment, produced by the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, is to clarify the importance of Article 31. It also aims to increase accountability among countries that have signed up to the Convention.
General Comment no. 17 defines play: ‘as a behaviour, activity or process initiated, controlled and structured by children. Play takes place whenever and wherever opportunities arise.’ The objectives of General Comment no. 17 are to:
- Increase understanding of Article 31’s importance, both for children’s wellbeing and development, and for helping other rights in the Convention to be achieved.
- Clarify the provisions and obligations that are associated with Article 31.
- Provide guidance on the legislative, judicial, administrative, social and educational measures needed for Article 31 to be implemented for all children without discrimination.
General Comment no. 17 helpfully lists the key characteristics of play:
IPA film about children’s right to play
The International Play Association (IPA) produced a vibrant short film to celebrate and promote children’s right to play.
Right to play workshop
This aims to raise awareness about the right to play. It also aims to empower children and teenagers to stand up for better opportunities to play and meet up with their friends. The workshop is designed for playworkers, participation workers, youth workers and school staff to use in schools and other structured settings.