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Children’s Rights through Picture Books - Gifts from a Swedish Children’s Book Author -

Hatsuko Kawana
Professor, Faculty of Human Sciences, Waseda University

Have you ever heard of the Convention on the Rights of the Child? By bringing the world’s wisdom together, the United Nations (UN) General Assembly adopted this Convention in 1989, so that all children around the globe could live happily. Five years later in 1994, the Japanese government ratified the Convention. However, the guiding principles of respecting the fundamental human rights of children, as well as their right to express their opinions and the right to self-determination, and protecting their best interest as stated in the Convention have not yet fully taken root in Japan. Child abuse, poverty, truancy, bullying, suicide, delinquency, and the like have become social problems, causing many children to suffer. Against this backdrop, an exhibition of illustrations by Charlie Norman, a Swedish artist who depicts the rights of children, will be held at the Waseda Gallery (Building No.27) until the end of February, with the aim to ensure that children are raised and educated based on their rights.

I hope that visitors could imagine how harsh the lives of some children are in the world and what joyful dreams others have through about a dozen of Norman’s simple illustrations on display. It would be great if this exhibition inspires you to take the first step to support children at home, at school, and in the local community, in accordance with the philosophy of the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

How this exhibition came to be

What led me to organize this exhibition was my encounter with a booklet entitled “Barnens Lag.” Ingel-san, the wife of Mr. Hideo Tanisawa, a joint researcher who lived in the suburb of Stockholm, showed me this booklet when I stayed with them in the autumn of 2005. I do not understand Swedish at all but was fascinated at the 13 simple illustrations in the booklet as soon as I saw them (published in 1990 by Save the Children Sweden, an international NGO).

I avidly took photographs of all the booklet’s pages. After returning home, I started to use the photos as teaching materials for the classes I taught, such as the course for students at the School of Human Sciences on Children and Family Studies and the e-School (Internet Degree Program) course for working adults on the Well-being of Children and Family. From what was written in reaction papers, I got a strong sense that these illustrations could lead to action-based initiatives for children’s rights because they have been excellent at invoking images of the situations children are in. Moreover, I came to wish that picture books on children’s rights would be published in Japan also and that exhibitions on the same subject would be organized, providing more people with opportunities to think about children’s rights.

Then, my chance finally came! In the summer of 2015, when I visited Stockholm again accompanied by graduate students, I met Mr. Norman, the artist who had painted the illustrations. I told him about the ideas I had developed over the past ten years and obtained his permission to use his illustrations. I realized then that Mr. Norman was a very famous artist, who had been asked by not only Sweden but South America, South Africa, and other regions to provide illustration on children’s rights.

I heard that this booklet was made by the Save the Children Sweden, which immediately ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1990, a year after the Convention was adopted by the UN General Assembly. The booklet addresses the circumstances of children both inside and outside Sweden in those days, with the purpose of educating adults engaged in supporting children’s rights in mind. Mr. Norman said that it had brought about tremendous results.

In addition to the illustrations, the original booklet carries photos and explanations of them, but it was not realistically possible to find all photographers and writers involved to obtain their permission for reproducing their photograph and writing. I decided to focus on Mr. Norman’s illustrations, obtaining a license to publish the picture book in Japan and organizing exhibitions of his works to tour the country.

History of children’s rights development and the signing of the Convention on the Rights of the Child

I learned that children’s rights had been developed through pioneers such as Dr. Janusz Korczak, who was sent to the Treblinka extermination camp and died there in 1942 with some 200 orphans he had raised. The efforts of such advocates had come to fruition in the 54 articles of the Convention.

At a symposium held at Toyo University in 2008, I attended a special lecture by Professor Yanghee Lee, Chairperson of the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child. In order to protect children’s rights, she said that she was watching the countries that ratified the Convention to check whether they were keeping their promises with children and continuing to send recommendations for corrective action if there were any violations or deficiencies (leaving her with no time to enjoy the beautiful scenery of Geneva). Impressed by her lecture, I was awakened to this need of protecting children’s rights, though a little too late. I started to think that as a university teacher, I must not only disseminate the idea of children’s rights and educate the public, but also participate in the drafting and implementation of policies related to children.

Preparing the exhibition

Preparing the exhibition, which included looking for a gallery that would enlarge the illustrations to A1 size and display them in frames, and producing and distributing the posters and flyers, was a collaborative effort with students who had never experienced organizing such an event. At the end of October in 2016, the illustrations were exhibited at the Tokorozawa Campus Festival as part of my seminar under the title, “Do you know the Convention on the Rights of the Child?” However, the exhibition was poorly attended due to its secluded location and lack of publicity. The students and I soon took heart, and thanks to the tremendous support from the Social Contribution Section at Saitama Toyopet, the illustrations were exhibited at a gallery in the company’s showroom until the end of November. What’s more, a foster parent association in Saitama Prefecture and two other organizations whose members had attended the exhibition have requested me to lend them the framed works, so that the illustrations could be shown at a booth set for a local children’s festival. I am very pleased to do so.

Then, a dream-like offer came in. As part of its cherry-blossom viewing plan, the Kyoto Prefectural Government decided to exhibit the illustrations for nine days from March 25 to April 2 at a conference room on the second floor of the Former Main Building (an Important Cultural Property) of the government office, which looks out over the cherry blossoms in full bloom in the courtyard.

Exhibit at the Waseda Gallery

February is the season of entrance examinations. No one is allowed to enter the Waseda campus except test takers, teachers and personnel who supervise the examinations. But guardians who accompany their children and spend time at the waiting room in the Okuma Auditorium will be guided to the Gallery in Building No.27, so that they can see the framed works on the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

I sometimes give the lecture, “A child will grow even if they do not or do have parents,” to warn adults that child abuse does not only consist of neglecting education but also excessive interventions that violate children’s rights. There are various kinds of students who sit for examinations to enter Waseda University, and sometimes, some of them are foster or adopted children who live far from Tokyo and are accompanied by their foster or adoptive parents.

“Konpeki no Sora Shogakukin,” Waseda University’s new scholarship program established for graduates from a children’s home in FY2017, has become a topic of conversation among the parties concerned. I asked the Scholarships and Financial Assistance Section of the Student Affairs Division to not only apply the program to children raised in such homes but also to expand so that foster or adopted children are included, and the Section is setting out to do so. I hope that these students under social services and the foster or adoptive parents who accompany them will look at the exhibits at the Waseda Gallery when they visit the University for entrance examination.

“Everyone was a child long ago...” If this exhibition could provide as many visitors as possible with an opportunity to look back on their childhood, consider children’s rights as their own matters, and become involved in helping children, it would be easier to take action for children.

I invite you to visit the Waseda Gallery.

Exhibition: Children’s Rights through Picture Books - Gifts from a Swedish Children’s Book Author
Date and Time:
February 1 (Wed) to February 28 (Tues.) 2017
10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. (Closed on Sundays)
Waseda Gallery, First Basement Floor, Building No.27, Waseda University
Organized by:
the Kawana Laboratory, Faculty of Human Sciences, Waseda University
Hatsuko Kawana (Department of Health and Social Welfare, Faculty of Human Science, Waseda University)

Hatsuko Kawana
Professor, Faculty of Human Sciences, Waseda University

After graduating from Ochanomizu University with a bachelor’s degree in education, Hatsuko Kawana worked for the editorial division of a publishing company, Teikyo University’s School of Medicine, and other organizations. She has taught family welfare for children (children welfare) at the Faculty of Human Sciences, Waseda University since 2003. Her field of expertise is the social protection for children with disabilities. Together with students from Waseda University’s Study Group of Foster Parents, she is working to shift from childcare in facilities to childcare by foster parents and adoption arrangements, so that children who live far away from their real parents are raised in a family environment. She is also engaged in developing social workers, making the most of her social welfare worker’s license and doctor’s degree in medicine.