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A General Comment on Article 31 to Deepen Understanding of Play

I have often been asked about the relevance or value of indepth case studies in local contexts when surely (according to many) any serious policy change can only come from more systematic (such as quantitative surveys) of many cases. There is no denying the power of numbers, but numbers alone are unable to construct knowledge or truth about phenomenon which may be very hard to capture in a survey. A firm believer in the power of stories and ethnographic fieldwork I continue to challenge the number logic.

Play@Khirkee was another such indepth exploration of community life through ethnographic means. It allowed me to deepen my understanding of play in local urban space. And it also informed an international audience.

IPA (International Play Association) for the last four years had been working hard to elaborate and enhance understanding about children’s right to play. It had held several global consultations along with other like minded organizations with the support of the Bernard van Leer Foundation. Finally this year IPA had been able to convince the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child to prepare a General Comment on article 31 of the UNCRC.

Why a general comment? There had been some discomfort with the lack of clarity among the constructs represented in Article 31 of the UN CRC such as play, leisure, recreation, sports etc. Often these terms are used interchangeably and therefore policies flowing from this article are equally muddled.

“A General Comment is an official statement adopted by the UN Committee that elaborates on the meaning of an aspect of the Convention that seems to require further interpretation or emphasis. The aim of the General Comment is to increase state accountability.

In order to highlight the urgency of a General Comment on article 31, in 2010 IPA successfully conducted (with the support of the Bernard van Leer Foundation) eight regional consultations on children’s right to play. At this point an eighth organization (Childwatch International) committed to the General Comment goal. The Consultations were held in South Africa, Kenya, Bulgaria, Lebanon, India, Thailand, Japan, and Mexico. The results of these consultations, which explored the global status of article 31, led to the UN Committee’s decision that a General Comment would be developed.” (IPA 2011)

Drafting a General Comment is a huge task involving an elaborate international process. IPA to its credit has embarked on this process and assembled an international Working Group that will help to draft the General Comment in consultation with a panel of experts. I have the privilege of being invited to serve as a member of the international Working Group.

This brings me back to the point of local vs. global studies. I do have a large body of work on children’s environments but I had never only focused on play as I did in Play@Khirkee. This very indepth local study contributed to my keynote speech at the IPA 50th anniversary conference as well as showcased to the world how Indian children play and make sense of local places. As a direct consequence of that IPA invited me to join the international panel drafting the General Comment to deepen understanding of play at a global level. The world indeed is more glocal than one had imagined! And a two thumbs up for indepth local studies!

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