Child Rights, Pedagogy and Active Childhood Philosophy (ACP)*

By Sichendra Bista

ACP Innovator and Founder of Global Initiatives
GPO Box 10422, Kathmandu, Nepal

*This theme paper was prepared exclusively to present at the National Workshop on Active Childhood Philosophy (ACP) on January 3, 1999 in Kathmandu, Nepal. This theme paper was commented by Dr. Tirtha Raj Khaniya, Vice-Chairman of the Higher Secondary Education Board in a technical session chaired by Dr. Suresh Raj Sharma, leading educationist and Vice-Chancellor of the Kathmandu University.


Participation, as the rhetoric goes, is not synonymous with action. Or, Participation could be heralded as the gateway to action, but nothing absolutism towards activism. The experience that the Global Initiatives for Sustainable Development and Humanitarian Action (GI) garnered after interacting with more than 16 thousand kids including some 5 thousand adolescents, explains that existing chalk-and-talk educational methodology in the resource-constraint could be upgraded with minimal human resources investment like willingness, innovation and commitment among parents, teachers and society, and without any extra material investment. As categorically stated in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) and other international instrument, “child or kid” stated in this document denotes the “person below the age of 18 years”.


Before we get into the Active Childhood Philosophy (ACP), let us review the history and progress make in the child rights sector since it was first raised 75 years ago by an appalling activist Eglata Jebo who eye-witnessed the violation of child rights during the World War I (1914-18). It was the voice and initiative of hundreds of thousands of child rights activists in this direction which raised the eyebrows of the then imperial states, thereby putting pressure to ratify the Geneva Declaration on the Rights of the Child a year later in 1924.

In 1948, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) was ratified bringing about a new dimension towards the defense of the human rights in general. Adoption of the Declaration of the Rights of the Child by the United Nations in 1959 to comply with the UDHR was a major breakthrough after 1924 as the post-World War II world recognized child rights as a special faculty 30 years ago.

Adoption of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) a decade ago (in 1989) was a watershed in this sector whereas the Government of Nepal, complying with the UNCRC ratification, has enacted “an act to provide for safeguarding of the interests of the children” in 1992 (stated as “Child Act of Nepal” hereafter).

Education as a Child Right

Education is a transformation tool, fundamental to the human progress in a civil society. The legal instruments, stated above explains education as a fundamental right of a child.

Article 28 of the UNCRC ensure the child's right to education, and the state's duty to make the primary education free and compulsory.

Likewise, Article 4 Clause 1 of the Child Act of Nepal states, “Parents shall be under an obligation to make arrangements […] to provide education […] to the Child according to economic status of the family.” This national act recognizes child as a person below the age of 16 years.

Education at Par with Child's Rights

Since the first declaration on the child rights was adopted some 75 years ago, a significant progress (in education and in particularly literacy) took place all around the world which is indeed commendable.

The UNICEF team, led by its Executive Director Carol Bellamy, are thankful for bringing out the State of the World's Children 1999, specially focused on education to coincide with a decade of UNCRC.

Take an example of Nepal where general public were not allowed to attend schools till 1953 and very few schools were operative mainly from private initiative with no or minimal assistance from the state.

In the 80s, the transmission of education took place a quantum leap once again with the private sector schools and pre-university institutions and the steadily increasing state expenditure to the schools.

However, chalk-and-baton educational systems in the developing countries could hardly impart the qualification training to prepare the challenges in life at par with the rights of the child as specified in the international instruments like UNCRC.

Article 29 of the UNCRC recognizes that the “administration of the school discipline is to reflect the child's human dignity and education should be directed at developing the child's personality and talents, preparing the child for active life as an adult, fostering respect for basic human rights and developing respect for the child's own cultural and national values and those of others”

Similarly, Article 31 of UNCRC puts an emphasis on the right of children to leisure, play and participation in cultural and artistic activities.

On the contrary, imported educational system in developing countries like Nepal could neither comply with the instruments above either because of resource-constraints or in lack of willingness.

Moreover, education in developing countries like Nepal are, according to Jeremy Seabrook of the Third World Network, “the study of hermeneutics rather than practical realities […] The young people's enthusiasm and eagerness are deeply touching, as their faith that the aim of their studies is the possession of a certificate[…]” due to excessive commercialization.

The increasing distance between resource-rich private schools and the meager state-supported educational institutions in quality and quantity is likely to create social exclusion and segregation in communities. This could be as dangerous as the Nepal Human Development Report 1998 states, “the country may end up with a five-tier basic education model due to enhanced marketization of schools and privatization of knowledge : the expatriate model for the affluent, the private model for the less affluent, the public model for the middle class, out-of-school model for the poor and no model for the poorest.”

In Nepal as in other countries of the subcontinent, there is high drop-out and repetition rates because of several factors : household work burden of children, irregularity of school operation, income poverty, physical distance, low perceived relevance of education, caste and ethnic discrimination, neglect of mother-tongue etc.

But, above all, the inability of the elders and social institutions to create a child-friendly environment where (s)he is treated seriously as a responsible citizen rather than an object, and being aloof from a platform where he could experience freedom so that he could act, create, work and think independently.

Plus the instillation of higher ambition to the kids is also responsible for such drop-out as evident from a Tamang settlement in Sindhupalchok where parents are no longer interested to send their children to school because the primary school programs, funded by the international organizations, instill the high ambition of becoming pilots and doctors in the class. Instigated with the thoughts, kids who attended the single primary school in the village, run away from their homes with the high hopes and landing in Kathmandu as street urchins or child porters. On the other, their parents have to miss the working force which, otherwise, would have been mobilized as cowherd or in farming.

Active Childhood Philosophy and Child Rights

Active Childhood Philosophy (ACP) recognizes all the factors above and endeavors to help kids create their own environment so that they could enjoy all freedom for creative expression and action. (CHART DISPLAY).

The conventional child participatory approach makes kids and adolescents a part of what the adults have created for them in the surrounding or it's just like spoon-feeding whereas ACP recognizes their creativity and freedom, introduces civic obligations, promotes self-reliance and independence, induces a newer sense of self-esteem, and recognizes them as responsible citizens now, not sometime in future.

It is true that participation along does not ensure action. For action, the participants should be motivated or prompted. We have several experience of the kind as evident from the case of Suraj Lama whom we met during one of our ME workshop at Child Workers in Nepal (CWIN) who was reunited with his family in Dharke as he wished immediately after the motivational session of the workshop.

In ACP, participation of the children are not only adequate. They should also act in real time. Several methods like Concentrated Language Encounter (innovated by the Rotary International, Ret ka Gadda an Indian technique) are components of the Multi-media in Education (ME) workshop which is the entry point to ACP.

The Five-Pronged Approach

Since 1996, we've been carrying out several ACP activities which always start with child rights and are based on the best interest of the child. The approach has changed the way more than 16 thousand children think, create, act and work as well as the conventional attitude their elders perceive their proteges.

Likewise, ACP has also proved that the orthodox chalk-and-baton approach of education could be improvised with minimal human resources investment like willingness and innovation on the part of elders and without any additional budgets.

It is the unique way to bridge the vacuum between home and school . In the absence of networking between these two vital institutions, a child has to live in trauma.

ACP has five pronged operational approach, called IMAEL, as follows:

INFLUENCE by making kids aware of their rights, civic obligations and potentials like Multi-media in Education (ME)

MOTIVATE by inducing a newer sense of self-esteem and social responsibility like Students against Pollution assemblies, Eco-literacy Camp

ACTIVATE by integrating them into the mainstream of sustainable development through dialogue, market-oriented solutions and grassroots activism, rather than enforcement and penalties like Adopt A Heritage (AHA), Chharchhimek etc.

EMPOWER by making children acquainted with pluralism, free enterprise and people-power like mock experimentation of parliament, judiciary, press and executive

LOVE by imparting knowledge about human values, humility and tolerance so as to witness universal peace, harmony and solidarity in the face of the violent ethno-regionalism which is much stronger than politics in the post-Cold War era like Hall of Humility and SAP recruitment drives

To materialize, it uses four forms of media (print, folk, electronic and IT) and other interactive tools.


Adoption of ACP is the recognition of child rights. It is amazingly effective, efficient and economic. It is truly useful to the resource-lacking developing societies which are yet to realize that education is irrelevant to betterment of life (this is more or less true, too). The indigenous concept, developed within Nepal need more encouragement if we are really concerned about our future who are none other than our children.


  1. UNICEF, The State of the World's Children 1999
  2. GI-PMC, An Introduction to Multi-media in Education, 1997
  3. NSAC, Nepal Human Development Report 1998
  4. HDC, Human Development Report 1998
  5. GI-PMC, Students Against Pollution, 1997
  6. GI-PMC, People Against Pollution, 1997
  7. UN, Convention on the Rights of the Child, 1989
  8. HMG/N, An Act to Provide for Safeguarding the Interests of Children, 1992
  9. Peace Corps, Youth Development and Environment, 1998
  10. WPR/Third World Network, MBAs to Nowhere, 1998
  11. GI-PMC, Dhikichyaun 1996-97
  12. GI, Mini-UNCRC in Calendar (yet to be published)