Advancing the Development and Application of the Right to Play

Project led by Dr Naomi Lott, funded by the Economic and Social Research Council, from October 2021 to June 2023.

The right to play is widely regarded as a forgotten right. Despite it being over 30 years since the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the child's right to play has so far been undervalued and overlooked in children's rights literature and in practice. Nevertheless, extensive research shows that play is crucial to children's development (e.g. Brown, 2010; Lillard, 2010), and has considerable intrinsic value (Csikszentmihalyi, 2014; Glenn et al., 2012; Nicholson et al., 2014). The historic lack of engagement with the right to play has led to poor implementation and protection of the right, which prevents children from enjoying their right to play fully.

This fellowship will draw attention to the right to play. The publication of my research in leading academic journals will begin to fill the substantial gap in literature on this right. These papers will both contextualise play within the broader child rights field and share findings from empirical research. The aim of drawing attention to the right to play will also be met through hosting a conference on the right to play to 'disseminate and discuss' key research and experiences. Academics, non-governmental organisations, and members of the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child will be invited to engage collaboratively and bi-directionally to examine the interdependence of the right to play with other rights enshrined within the Convention on the Rights of the Child, and what impact this may have for advocacy and realisation of the right. This conference will be the first in its kind in applying this neglected right to the broader children's rights framework and drawing together multiple stakeholders to build upon existing knowledge and experience to better protect and realise the right to play. One valuable output of this conference will be an edited collection that draws connections with the right to play and other Convention rights. I will also undergo media training with the intention of working more closely with general media platforms to disseminate my research and engage a wider audience in this important issue.

My research shows that the challenges facing children in their enjoyment of the right to play are significant and broad ranging. The scope of these challenges requires that varied steps are taken to encourage engagement with the right, and to better understand ways to overcome challenges to enjoyment of the right. However, some children face additional challenges on top of those faced by the majority. Data gathered during my PhD suggests that gender and poverty add further unique obstacles to enjoyment of the right. This fellowship will include supplementary analysis of this data in order to understand these unique contexts, to identify the challenges that arise relating to gender and poverty, and to examine ways in which corresponding challenges can be addressed. This research will benefit some of the most vulnerable children worldwide.