Freedom of expression has been given recognition at the International, Regional, and National levels as a core human right. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) under article 19 has given recognition to the right to freedom of expression and provides:
Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.
Likewise, we find the right recognized under the ICCPR and regional human rights treaties also, provide protection to the right and guarantee freedom of expression. Freedom of expression covers the right to receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds through different media of the person’s choice. Here the mode of expression could vary and the expressed information also encompasses various forms of information. Freedom of opinion which is provided alongside freedom of expression includes the right to hold opinions of any kind for whatever reason that the person chooses. This right also includes the right not to be forced to hold a certain opinion or not to hold a certain opinion. This right is essential for the protection and promotion of human rights and constitutes the necessary pre-condition of the protection of the right to democracy.
The right is not however without limits and there could be limitations and the limitations are provided under article19(3) of the ICCPR. The right is thus limited when it is provided by law and is necessary with the intent to respect the rights and reputations of others, for public order, health, or morals. This, therefore, implies that the limit should be legal, legitimate, and proportional to the aim that it is intended to achieve.
The international human rights treaties provided above guarantee freedom of expression to all which could also encompass children. In addition to these instruments, there needs to be a consideration of the Convention on the Rights of the Child which deals with the rights of children. Accordingly, freedom of expression has been given recognition under article 13 which reads as follows:
- The child shall have the right to freedom of expression; this right shall include freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other media of the child’s choice.
- The exercise of this right may be subject to certain restrictions, but these shall only be such as are provided by law and are necessary: a) For respect of the rights or reputations of others; or b) For the protection of national security or of public order (ordre public), or of public health or morals.
One peculiar feature of the CRC is that there is no inclusion of the right to hold opinions without interference which is one of the features of the ICCPR. The extent of the recognition of the right by the state in preventing excessive abuse of the right or interference by states is a bit unclear. There could be cases in which the right of children’s freedom of expression could be legitimately limited by parents but it may not conform to the international limitation standards. As a way to resolve this conflicting ways there could be possible solutions which could relate to the use of legislations which extreme restrictions by parents and at the same time ensure respect for the exercise of the right. And in addition there could be the use of awareness creation programs as well as the use of complaint mechanism in place.
At the regional level the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights has incorporated the right under article 9. In addition, Article 7 of the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child has given recognition to Freedom of Expression and provides:
Every child who is capable of communicating his or her own views shall be assured the right to express his opinions freely in all matters and to disseminate his opinions subject to such restrictions as are prescribed by laws.
When looking at the conditions provided in ACRWC in that there are no limits or restrictions to the limitations provided as they are set without any conditions so long as permitted by law.16 In addition there is a limit to the protection of freedom of expression of a child that is “capable of communicating his opinions freely”.
In the case of Ethiopia, the Constitution has provided freedom of expression under article 29. In addition, the FDRE Constitution under article 13(2) provided that the international human rights treaties that Ethiopia has adopted would also be applicable in relation to human rights. This in turn results in the applicability of the principles of the rights along with the limitations of the rights. Hence, it can be said that in dealing with the right of children’s freedom of expression we see that there is the possibility of referring to those human rights treaties that the state is a party to.
As has been indicated, the right to freedom of expression is related to and is a base for the protection of other human rights. Thus, this makes it necessary to have a protection measure of the rights and children be guaranteed with this right to ensure the protection of their other rights as well. Seeing the Ethiopian context of the protection of the right we can see that there is a lack of specific legislation regarding children. This is a problem as the protections that need to be specific to children will be lacking and the protections will be similar as those of others. But children being a vulnerable section of society need special protection and attention in relation to their rights.
If we look at the case of New Zealand there is a positive involvement of the youth in the Prime Minister’s Youth Advisory Forum established in New Zealand in 1998. It provides 15 youngsters aged between 12 and 25 to be able to meet three times a year with Cabinet Members and the prime minister. It is aimed at providing young children with the chance to speak directly to the prime minister and cabinet on issues concerning them and other government issues as well. This forum being a way for young people to express themselves and will have positive impacts on the rights of children. Such positive actions could have positive impacts and allow children’s views to also be included and heard. And this experience could be taken as a sign of positive actions that enables children to freely express themselves.
Thus, there needs to be a consideration of the absence of proper legal protection of the rights of children in relation to expression and more needs to be done. There needs to be attention towards ensuring their right to expression and educating the public of its importance. Coming up with possible ways that could enable children to freely express themselves in family settings and in public places is thus critical. Considering the society that we live in Ethiopia we need to consider the impact that this will have on children’s development and growth. Enabling them to express themselves will also further their other human rights. In addition, hearing the views of children would be a great way to involve them in the areas that concern them and make it more inclusive. There should also be a consideration of the positive action of other nations that we need to take into account regarding ensuring freedom of expression.
By: Bersabeh Solomon