By: Amelia Jarvis

A child’s right to housing is often considered in a highly straightforward manner. If a child has four walls and a roof over their head, then surely they must have a home, right? Contrary to this narrow method of conceptualizing the housing rights of children, I believe that it is crucial to consider the role of infrastructure when discussing a child’s right to housing. More specifically, I argue that a distinction must be made between a house/shelter and a home. In Wiik’s (2009) article on child homelessness, she opens her piece with an Irish proverb that states, “brick and mortar make a house, but the laughter of children make a home”. This statement highlights the notion that while physical shelter is without a doubt a necessary component to a child’s right to housing, it is but one component among many that must be examined in order to fully respect housing rights for children.

First and foremost, parents and the family play key roles when it comes to children’s housing. Access to stable, adequate housing provides children with a safe environment, the security that allows them to participate fully in the social, educational, and community aspects of their lives, and the privacy needed to foster their individual autonomy. Moreover, the ability to operate as a family unit is rooted in parents’ capacity to fulfill their child rearing obligations comfortably in the home. Parents need a safe space where they can build and shape their child’s character, while maintaining the ability to discipline their children in a manner that best suits the family’s needs and values. A home must be a comfortable space where parents feel that they can guide their children towards independence and positive life choices through unconditional support and love.

I believe that another component of a child’s right to housing is the connection between housing and a child’s access to education. Insecure housing and frequent mobility can lead to a higher number of absences from school and ultimately poorer school performance. As Wiik (2009) explains, if we want to take the educational rights of children seriously, we are compelled to confront child homelessness. This suggests the indivisibility and interrelatedness of housing rights and education rights. It is extremely difficult for a child to have one of these rights fulfilled when the other is unfulfilled. Children who do not have access to a stable and secure home are much less able to learn than children who do. This can be a result of exposure to violence or abuse, a lack of space to complete their homework, and loss of sleep, all of which can affect a child’s learning abilities. This can have long-term effects on children, and ultimately their educational underachievement may result in them becoming homeless later in life. It is for this reason that I believe that housing rights and education rights cannot and should not be considered in isolation of one another.

A home is essential for a child to flourish and participate fully in everyday life. Housing rights intersect with many different aspects of children’s lives, as well as with other fundamental rights. The housing rights of a child are complex and multi-dimensional, and thus they must be treated as such. As civil rights activist Maya Angelou writes, “The ache for home lives in all of us, the safe space where we can go as we are and not be questioned”.