‘Smile’: educating children on their rights
Not-for-profit project Smile aims to educate children in the Netherlands on child rights and raise awareness in the taboo areas of child and sexual abuse as well as adoption.
A recent case of sexual abuse of children at a childcare centre in Amsterdam is just further proof of how we need to raise awareness and bring taboo subjects such as child abuse into the open according to children's rights activist Marcia Engel. Marcia believes that her latest educational project ‘Smile’ can fill this gap. The international adoptee saw project ‘Smile’ as a natural extension of the work she had already started with Plan Angel, a network to help international adoptees and their next of kin trace one another at no financial cost.
“We began the series with the topic of adoption,” says Marcia. “We thought that we needed to inform children about the reality of adoption as there is still a lot of stigma attached to adoptees and their biological families. If you really want to make changes in awareness you need to teach children from an early age to talk about sensitive topics so that when they are older it they can speak on these topics easily as well as have a clearer idea.”
Marcia recalls a presentation she had seen at her own children’s school which, like most material offered to children on this topic, she considers outdated. “They were basically teaching the children that there was this poor mother, who couldn’t financially support her sick child, who gave the child up for adoption to allow the child a better chance in life. We forget that if we say a child’s biological mother was poor and couldn’t look after her child adequately, we are basically saying that the child is poor and neglected and already their origin is seen as second-rate,” says Marcia.
Marcia is aware that adoption isn’t just about a child being ‘sad’ but also about a child growing up without their natural family. How that feels, what the child feels, what the mother might have felt at losing her child; this is what she wants to convey to children through ‘Smile’.
As well as looking at adoption, Smile addresses child abuse, sexual abuse and child rights.
“I think that it is good to tell children about things that they probably aren’t aware of. We wanted to combine all the ‘heavy’ subjects,” says Marcia. “Child abuse and sexual abuse are taboo subjects. It is important inform children as well as adults about this kind of thing. Abuse can occur anywhere, from at home to in the school gym. We don’t necessarily want to provoke children to tell their classmates that they are being abused at home if this is the case. But we do want to inform children that they can go to their teacher or the child helpline to speak someone, and that it isn’t normal that this is happening to them. Our main aim in running these educational courses is prevention, awareness and self-reliance.”
Kindertelefoon, a free helpline that children can call (0800-0423), endorses the project after verifying that the project was a valuable contribution to raising awareness and helping children find a way out from an otherwise dead-end situation.
“So far the children have really liked it,” says Marcia of the pilot project they have already run through one school in the Netherlands. “They wanted to get involved and say something!”
Smile uses comic strips to help children to get involved with situations and to visualize them and to open up discussions. The modules have been drawn up under the professional guidance of Samantha Harteveld. The lessons, which are currently in the Dutch language only, last about an hour and a half and cost EUR 95. Topics following on from the first topic, should the school want more than one module are half price.
“We are not-for-profit and only cover our costs,” says Marcia. "The schools get a subsidy from the government to use for whichever extra courses they choose and naturally we hope that they choose Smile.
For more information visit the Smile website: www.edusmile.org/edusmile/smile/smileui/Home.aspx