14/05/2014 05:30 BST | Updated 13/07/2014 06:59 BST

It's Time to Stand Up for Childhood

The rights of children in the UK are under threat from advertising and our growing digital and screen-based lifestyle. It is time we unmask advertising and place it where it belongs: beside pornography, as a real threat to childhood. We must get kids back outdoors again.

Ensuring children grow up in a stable environment is something that can only happen with the right support. Despite Prime Minister David Cameron's assurance that "we back Sure Start", hundreds of children's centres have been closed due to government cuts, and many more are unable to provide childcare services. Meanwhile, attempts to improve parental leave rights have been watered down; the economic 'recovery' has been put before gender equality and family security.

One party is opposing this worrying tide - the Green Party. As well as fighting for more affordable childcare, the Green Party wants to introduce the most comprehensive shared parental leave package of all the parties: a full month of leave for both parents followed by 22 months to be shared between them.

I've heard no other politician talk about the 'right to childhood', which I believe deserve to be recognised as fundamental, alongside the right to education or to healthcare as part of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. Although childhood is a broad concept, it encompasses things like: the freedom to play, the freedom to explore one's environment, the freedom to make mistakes and learn from them, the right not to be exposed to sex and violence and the ability to trust one's elders and those in authority.

I want to widen the debate on how to defend childhood in the digital age. It is not just through online pornography that children's freedom is under threat. Our commercial culture forces imagery into the mainstream that can be just as corrosive to childhood, but yet we accept it without question. Every day, children are bombarded by advertisements which give them a distorted sense of the value of commercial products. Unlike adults, children are unable to engage critically with advertising messages, and there is evidence that children under eight are unaware of their persuasive intent. This is a profound threat to children's intellectual freedom and their right to construct their own identities. Adverts aimed at children enjoy an everyday normality they do not deserve. It is time we unmask advertising and place it where it belongs: beside pornography, as a real threat to the right to childhood.

Only the Green Party want to see children protected from targeted advertising, bringing child rights in line with some of our more enlightened European neighbours including Sweden and Norway, where bans in some media are already in place.

But more than this, Greens are fighting to reverse the changes to childhood we have seen over the past 30 years. The average "roaming distance" of children at play has shrunk by 90%. As parents have come to see outside play as dangerous, screen media has largely replaced the natural environment in children's lives. This has been linked health conditions such as the ominous-sounding 'nature deficit disorder' - a bundle of symptoms comprising attention deficit, lower happiness and slower learning. Getting children away from screens and outdoors needs to be a public health priority.

Although parents have a key role to play in reversing the trend, we must change the political culture in which liberal economics determines all value. The work of organisations such as the Wild Network (a collection of charities united by their desire to connect children with nature) should be acknowledged with ring-fenced funding. With the European elections on the May 22 approaching, the Green Party is finally putting happiness at the top of the political agenda.

Read my report on Saving Childhood & Families (PDF)

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