Freedom to Play – a Children’s Rights issue

No Right to Play without the Freedom to Play!

A position statement from IPA England

Freedom to play means children are able to play as they choose and can access the space and time they need to do so. Children in England are however losing their freedom to play outside through a combination of traffic, decrease in playable open spaces, restrictions due to COVID-19, and a society which increasingly demonises children in the public realm. This has a damaging effect on children’s health and happiness as well as their right to play.

Article 31 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (1989), created a specific right for all children to engage in play (any behaviour, activity or process initiated, controlled and structured by children themselves)and it came into force in the UK in 1992.

For most children, freedom to play depends on having accessible space which fulfils four ‘location’ criteria (Wheway, 2015):

  • The space outside their home is safe enough for unaccompanied children to be on or to cross;
  • The distance from home to a playable space is no more than 50m (100m maximum);
  • Children can see and be seen from their home, or a trusted friend’s home;
  • The place is “where it’s at”. A place where people are coming and going.

Lack of freedom to play impinges on children’s right to play

For the vast majority of children in England, the only space which could become playable is the street or vehicular access just outside their home.

IPA England believes national and local governments should designate residential streets as priority for pedestrians. This would dramatically increase the percentage of children who have the freedom to play by creating thousands of hectares of playable space at little cost. This would be more effective than trying to create space in already built-up areas.

Adopted by Trustees on December 14, 2020


Wheway, R. (2015). Opportunities for free play. International Journal of Play, 4(3), 270-274. doi:10.1080/21594937.2015.1106048


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