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Raffi: Building A World Fit for Children

A movement to put children’s rights at the center of our collective decisions is taking hold.

Raffi Cavoukian with Beluga grads, photo courtesy of the Centre for Child Honouring

Photo courtesy of the Centre for Child Honouring

Raffi meets with "Beluga grads," the young adults who listened to his music when they were children.

“A world fit for children.” Would you vote for that? I bet you would have voted for it when you were a kid. I’d bet my guitar on it.

A movement to put children’s rights at the center of our collective decisions is taking hold—and it’s good news for adults, too.

As individuals, we’re accustomed to putting the needs of children first. It comes naturally to us; we intuitively understand our deep responsibility to the very young. At the societal level, though, we often fail to take their rights and needs (including future ones) into account. Imagine what would happen if we did—if compassion and consideration for children’s well-being became the basis of our collective decisions.

In response to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC), creative steps have been taken in the direction of a more child-friendly world, though much more needs to be done.

The policies that are best for children are also the most socially progressive: generous parental leave like we see in Sweden and Norway, a ban on advertising to children under 12 like the one in Quebec, or a proposed Children’s Environmental Health Bill of Rights in New Brunswick. Sweden’s Child Impact Assessment process, which requires that proposed legislation be evaluated for its present and future impact on children, is an exciting new sign in policy making. These are the makings of a culture of respect that children—and all of us—deserve. A world fit for children is a much nicer place for adults as well, much safer and healthier.

Sweden’s Child Impact Assessment process, which requires that proposed legislation be evaluated for its present and future impact on children, is an exciting new sign in policy making.

Nelson Mandela said in 2000 that empty rhetoric from world leaders is not enough—that we have to “turn this world around, for the children!” I was so taken with his statement that I wrote and recorded a song called “Turn This World Around.” I got to sing it live for Mandela in Toronto in 2001, when Canada made him an honorary citizen. This is the song David Korten now hosts on his Great Turning website.

I think of “the great turning” as a turn to a child-honoring world—a world fit for children, as they say at the United Nations.

While I was a family entertainer making music especially for children under seven, respect was the core value of my career: respect for the child as a whole person. I spent decades studying and reflecting on what children need to thrive, what helps their little light shine.

Since 1997, I’ve been advancing a philosophy I call Child Honouring, a vision that woke me up early one Sunday morning, a vision whole and beckoning me to take it to the world. That’s just what I’ve been doing with a passion ever since.

The newly established Centre for Child Honouring, a not-for-profit organization of which I’m founder and chair, works to advance child honoring as a universal ethic: a holistic code of conduct with a children-first approach to transforming society and restoring our ecosystems.

While I was a family entertainer making music especially for children under seven, respect was the core value of my career: respect for the child as a whole person.

The core of the Child Honouring vision is expressed in A Covenant For Honouring Children, which I wrote in 1999, and the 9 principles to which it gave rise. Spurred by my search of the Declaration of Independence for references to children (there are none), I drafted a similar emancipatory piece for the young. Starting with a Jeffersonian inspiration, “We find these joys to be self-evident, that all children are created whole,” it goes on to affirm the young as holding the caring ideals at the heart of being human, and closes with our duty to use peaceful means to protect and nurture our most vulnerable citizens and the Earth whose diversity sustains us all. This amounts to a solemn declaration of love, for us and for generations to come.

Girls running, photo by Shannon AshleyLeaving It Up to Them
What happens when children raised in radical homes choose the straight and narrow?

The Gulf oil rupture tragedy is the latest sign of a global system that’s broken and needs the radical love that a Child Honoring vision offers—to spark a whole systems shift. The social and environmental justice we wish for our world gains optimal power when we consider what children need to thrive, when their priority needs for developmental health become the basis for all decision making. Such grounds for transformative change would herald a thorough societal detox, a cleanse of the old paradigm’s toxic ways.

We’ve got to connect the dots, to see the whole picture of how dysfunctional belief systems are formed and perpetuated—and how we can build healthier systems to replace them. It’s this proactive power that excites me on the journey to creating a world fit for children.

I hope you visit ChildHonouring.org and say YES! to this vision. Let’s make some new music together!


Raffi CavoukianRaffi Cavoukian, C.M., wrote this article for YES! Magazine, an independent media organization that fuses powerful ideas with practical actions for a just and sustainable world. He is known to millions as Raffi: singer, author, entrepreneur, systems thinker, ecology advocate, and founder of Child Honouring, the children-first way of sustainability.

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