Today’s youth has a broad global perspective, and as you may have seen in the news, young people are committed now more than ever to advancing human rights. This December 10th, as we celebrate International Human Rights Day, take some time to educate students on their human rights and how they can protect their freedoms.

What is International Human Rights Day?

International Human Rights Day is observed every year on December 10th, as it commemorates the day in 1948 the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. According to the UHCHR (United Nations Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner), the formal inception wasn’t until two years later in 1950 when the assembly asked all states to adopt December 10th as Human Rights Day.

The Declaration of Human Rights Day sets out a broad range of human rights that all individuals, regardless of their race, nationality, sex, religion, or any other status, are entitled to. For example, everyone is entitled to rights such as the right to life and liberty, the right to work, the right to an education, as well as freedoms such as freedom from slavery, freedom of expression, and so on.

Why is it Important to Celebrate International Human Rights Day with Students?

Educating our youth about human rights is important because many of us take them for granted every single day. Having knowledge of these rights and these laws that protect us all will give students the skills they need to defend them or apply them in their own daily lives. It will also help them understand how they should be treated as well as how they should treat others. Educating students about human rights empowers them with learning outside of the classroom and onto the playgrounds, their homes, and even in their community. It can help create a healthier school culture that can lead to reduced bullying and other negative or unwanted behaviors.

Ways to Celebrate International Human Rights Day in Class

One of the best ways to educate students on human rights is to start by showing them the history. Have students watch this short YouTube video to get some background about human rights before you dig deeper into the topic. Once they understand the basics and the history, you can move on to classroom activities.

Human Rights as a Human Being

To continue the conversation about human rights, show students the abbreviated version of the Declaration of Human Rights. Explain that after World War ll, all of the countries agreed on a document that would make the world more peaceful if everyone respected every human being.

Then ask students, “What does it mean to be human?” Write down student answers as they brainstorm. Then ask, “What is a right when we speak of a human right?” Record these different meanings as well. Next, write down this definition:

Human rights belong to all people regardless of their sex, race, color, language, national origin, age, class, religion, or political beliefs. They are universal rights, simply because we exist as human beings.

Ask students to write a brief paragraph explaining one way they could make their community more peaceful by showing respect to others.

Mapping Human Rights

Each community and neighborhood has a variety of different landmarks that can each be associated with a different human right. For example, a church or other place of worship would be associated with the freedom of religion. This activity challenges students to work together in small groups to create a map of their community as well as identify what human right is associated with each landmark. Younger students can be given a map as well as a list of human rights, while older students can draw their own map and research which human right correlates with each landmark.

Create a Human Rights Tree

Fruit trees only produce one specific fruit, but a magical (pretend) human rights tree can produce a variety of different fruits. For this activity, have students use craft supplies to create a one-of-a-kind piece of fruit that has a specific human right written on it. Students can choose from the United Nations copy of the Declaration of Human Rights. Create a wall display of a tree with a lot of branches that students can attach their magical human rights fruit onto.

Human Rights Group Project

Students will work in teams or small groups to illustrate a specific human right that they choose from the abbreviated Universal Declaration of Human Rights list. For this presentation, students can create a skit, commercial, online presentation, iMovie, song, dance, or any other way they feel will best illustrate their chosen topic. Once projects are completed, classmates must try and guess which human right each group is presenting.

Take-Action through the Youth for Human Rights Organization

The actions of young people and other like-minded individuals can create awareness and even build movements in their community. The website Youth for Human Rights helps young people become one voice for human rights awareness by helping them take action. Students can get involved by petitioning their government and making human rights education part of the curriculum or get involved in creative competitions like art, essay, and poetry contests.

Start a Family Service Project

Human Rights Day is the perfect opportunity to challenge students to start a family service project. This can be anything from putting together care packages for those in need to dropping off extra food from home to the local food bank. If volunteering isn’t something that students and their families are able to do, then children can simply make cards for those in need.

An education in human rights will help students appreciate the rights they have. Knowing about their rights and responsibilities, as well as understanding them, will help them gain a better understanding of the world around them. Children of all ages may feel or see something unjust at some point in their lives, and having a human rights education can help build upon that understanding of injustice and explore the human rights that are around us.