For the Inaugural UN International Day of Play: A Framework for Implementing the Right to Play

by | Jun 11, 2024

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About Naomi Lott

Lecturer in Law, UCL; John Fell Research Fellow, University of Oxford; Rights Lab Visiting Fellow in Law, Survivor Support and Children’s Rights, University of Nottingham Dr Naomi Lott’s primary research interests are in the field of children's rights, with a particular focus on children's economic, social and cultural rights, and particularly the right to play. Naomi completed a PhD at the University of Nottingham on the child's right to play, examining the right from conception through to implementation. Naomi has conducted research on modern slavery and children's rights in conjunction with the United Nations University, Delta 8.7, the ILO and IOM, and the Rights Lab at the University of Nottingham. Naomi has recently completed a Postdoctoral Research Fellowship at the University of Oxford, and has published her work on the right to play in The Right of the Child to Play: From Conception to Implementation (Routledge, 2023).

The 11th June marks the first International Day of Play. This is an important moment for recognising that all children, from all backgrounds, and of all ages, have a right to play.

This right was resigned to the sidelines; referred to as a forgotten or neglected right. However, decades of research has evidenced that play is critical for children’s development and well-being. Yet, in practice, children face significant barriers to the enjoyment of their right to play. They are unwelcome in public spaces, with the areas around their homes and schools designed in a way that prioritises cars. Perceptions of children as either too vulnerable to play out or too much of a nuisance, keeps them indoors and away from outdoor play spaces. There is a misconceived belief that play only applies to younger children. Their time for play is squashed through ever increasing competitors for their attention and free time. Play is viewed as a frivolous activity, a waste of children’s time. Their online space is poorly regulated and presents a plethora of questions around children’s safe play. Increasing pressures on parents and guardians, also form a barrier to children’s play.

So, how do we implement this right?

Following in-depth research investigating the importance of play for children, the barriers and challenges facing the enjoyment of this right, the legal basis of the right (the drafting processes of the Declaration on the Rights of the Child and the Convention on the Rights of the Child), the historical and current work of the Committee on the Rights of the Child in relation to the right to play, and the practices of those supporting implementation of the right, I delineated the scope and content of the right to play. (Published in The Right of the Child to Play: From Conception to Implementation (Routledge, 2023)).

This research informed the development of a framework for implementing the right to play with four distinct but interrelated elements: space, time, acceptance, rights-informed. Deficiency in any one of these factors severely limits the chance of the right being realised or enjoyed. It is only at the intersection of all these factors that the right can be fully implemented.


The requirement that children have space to play has two components: children need both physical space and mental space to enjoy their right to play.

On physical space, children’s play spaces need to be accessible, safe, and resourced. This must be caveated with an acknowledgement that concerns of children’s safety often impede upon children’s opportunities to play; thus, there is a need to balance the need for risk and freedom in spaces available for play, and the need to ensure that children are not exposed to unnecessary levels of harm.

The mental space component is equally important and relates closely to the implementation of other children’s rights. It requires, for example, that children are protected from abuse, the impacts of trauma, the effects of poverty, the impacts of conflict, the pressures of competitive schooling and extracurricular activities, and that children have adequate rest. Without this, children will face deficiencies in energy, motivation, and mental space for play.


Without time to play, children cannot enjoy their right to play. This factor requires that competing pressures on children’s free time are limited. This will impact upon education policies and practices surrounding school hours, the time available for play within the school day, and the level of homework or additional tuition outside of the school day. It also relates to children’s time engaged in work (and the freedom afforded within work for play), whether paid or domestic. It is critical that time for play is additional to time for rest, recreation and arts.


This factor encompasses the need to ensure a broad acceptance of the child’s right to play. Underscoring all the challenges facing the realisation of the right to play is a profound lack of understanding of the value of play for children – intrinsic and instrumental – and what the right to play contains.

Children have a right to play – this is not based on parental or societal permission to play; it is their legal right, and thus it must be respected, protected, and fulfilled.

Societal attitudes towards children’s play must be addressed. This impacts where children can play, the perceptions of children in the public space, and views of play as a frivolous or deficit activity.

This factor requires implementation of Article 42 of the UNCRC, which obligates States to ensure the Convention is widely known.


The principles in the Convention are interdependent, indivisible, and interrelated (Article 5 of the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action). Thus, implementation of the right to play requires application of, and engagement with, other UNCRC rights.

Rights that relate to children’s protection from harm are already implicated in the above discussion, but this factor also requires an understanding of how the right to play relates to the child’s evolving capacities, the right to be heard, the best interests of the child, the right to non-discrimination, the right to life, survival and development, as well as other rights such as education, health, freedom of expression and association, identity, social protection.

A forthcoming edited collection details many of these and their relationship with the right to play (Lott, N. (ed), The Interdependence of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child: Implementing and Understanding the Relationship of the Right to Play with other Convention Rights (Springer, Forthcoming 2024)).


This four-part framework is advanced in more detail in a paper. It applies this framework to the 3AQ measures (accessibility, availability, acceptability, quality), and offers detailed examples of what steps are necessary for implementing the right to play and what questions can be asked to monitor the fulfilment of the right.

It is hoped that greater recognition of this right will help children, their families, schools and local communities, advocate for children to have an enjoyable childhood and create an environment that is both accepting and encouraging of children’s play.

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