No child’s play

Published June 11, 2024 Updated June 11, 2024 08:24am

IN March this year, the UN General Assembly declared that the International Day of Play would be observed annually on June 11. This announcement has come after a long advocacy campaign led by Unicef, global civil society, and organisations such as Right To Play.

So, today the world is celebrating its inaugural Day of Play with the object of encouraging more conscious efforts to ensure that children across the world can exercise their right to play. For some, it may seem frivolous for the international body to declare a day dedicated to celebrating play. However, as natural and accessible as it may seem, children, globally, are finding it difficult to have access to a healthy, joyful playtime.

Data from global research across 36 countries by the Lego Group reveals that 73 per cent of children believe that adults don’t take play, and its importance to learning, seriously. Research conducted by the Child and Youth Advisory Board, an international platform, indicates that over 20pc of children in Asia are of the view that they are not allowed to play; the figure is less than 10pc for Europe and America. Additionally, 38pc of children in regions impacted by natural disasters express concerns about the lack of safe play spaces.

Play is a biological and cognitive necessity and is absolutely essential for children’s holistic development. Play is instinctive; it comes naturally to every child, and adult. It is vital to build 21st-century skills among children, such as problem-solving, creative thinking, collaboration and resilience.

Children’s right to play must be ensured at every level.

Play is also a great equaliser, if only access to it is made equitable. This, unfortunately, seems like a distant dream at present. Children and other young people, particularly those with special needs, face many barriers to play. One in three children and young people do not have time to play; one in five lack safe spaces to play; and one in five have no one to play with. Global conflicts, such as in Gaza and Ukraine, and frequent natural disasters, such as Pakistan’s floods in recent years, have left millions of children at risk and without any opportunities to learn and play. Which is why it is more important than ever before for more organised and robust calls for global and local action to ensure that children get a conducive environment to play in and learn, regardless of their race, social class, etc.

It is important to stress that for our governments and policymakers, ensuring equal access to play opportunities for all children, is no child’s play. It should be considered serious business and must not be taken for granted as it has been in our country.

Pakistan’s National Curriculum Framework and National Education Policy do not take into account the foundational significance of play. Pakistani children and youth spend the least amount of time playing during the school day when compared to other countries in South Asia.

According to education statistics by the Academy of Educational Planning and Management, only a limited number of schools in Pakistan provide adequate playground facilities. Many schools, particularly in the urban areas, lack the space or resources to offer recreational activities to students.

A survey conducted by the Children’s Global Network Pakistan highlights that in many public schools, playtime is often neglected due to the overemphasis on academic performance. Our policymakers focusing on education must understand the importance of play in overcoming learning losses. It is time to call upon parents, teachers, school managements, local and national governments, the UN and civil society, as well as businesses, to take action in their respective domains so that children’s right to play can be ensured at every level.

The issue of access becomes more horrifying when we talk about girls’ right to play and sports. Misplaced ideas regarding menstruation and puberty, along with several other cultural barriers, limit their participation in play even within the confines of their homes. This has resulted in the drastically low participation of girls in play and sport; millions of girls reach adulthood without experiencing the simple joy of playing and understanding the full potential of their minds and bodies.

There is a dire need for religious leaders and scholars to break these barriers by influencing and educating society to open up space for millions of girls to participate in play activities. As a society, we need to bring back board games in family gatherings to help revive the culture of play in our lives. This will strengthen social connections, and improve the physical and mental health and well-being of children as well as adults.

The writer works as the country director of the non-profit Right To Play International in Pakistan.

akhayam@righttoplay.com

Published in Dawn, June 11th, 2024

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