Did you know that play is a human right? The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child 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.”
The Convention on the Rights of the Child reaffirms the idea that children are not merely belonging to or an extension of their parents, but rather a protected population who deserves dignity and respect. The Convention promotes children’s rights to expression, religion, safety, and play. The right to play is interlinked with other protected rights, such as freedom of expression, the right to an adequate standard of living, and protection from harmful work. Not only is it a right, play is also essential to the cognitive, physical, social, and emotional well-being of children and youth.
Around the world there are many circumstances that prevent children from enjoying their right to play, from poverty to exploitative working conditions to violent conflict. Societal expectations can also impact a child’s right to play. Girls between 5 and 14 years old spend 40% more time, or 160 million more hours per day on unpaid household chores compared to boys their age. This disproportionate distribution of labor negatively impacts girls’ education and hinders their ability to play and focus on themselves.
Sadly, this reality is also mirrored in the communities we served at Kakenya’s Dream. In rural Kenya, girls are often forced to take on adult roles and responsibilities that end their childhood abruptly and strip away their right to play. We see this particularly with respect to child marriage. 50% of girls in our community are forced into early marriages as minors. Once married, they’re expected to navigate an adult relationship, maintain a household, and start a family before they themselves have even left childhood.
Here at Kakenya’s Dream, we take the right to play very seriously. Though we often talk about meeting our girls’ most crucial needs, like safety, healthcare, education, and ending practices like child marriage, we also know how important it is to protect their right to play and ensure they’re allowed to act their age, be silly, and enjoy life’s simple pleasures. At our Centers for Excellence, KCE I and II, our students have access to various extracurricular activities including choir, theater, soccer, volleyball, and more. Play is also integrated into our educational programs that are designed to connect students with certain cultural traditions, like Maasai beadwork, dance, and music.
We understand the incredible impact play has on our students. In a community where girls are often viewed as women by the mere age of 12, play is a revolutionary act.