Krätzä is a group of people in Berlin who are concerned about children's rights, and are working for fundamental changes in society. Every evening a dozen of so of the twenty members turn up to discuss new action, answer emails, drink tea and coffee, talk about life, read texts that other Krätzä people have written, discuss their website or the next edition of their magazine, Regenbogen (Rainbow, in English), prepare for events or conferences, get information stands ready, organise the distribution of new texts or leaflets and so on. The members of Krätzä are almost all between fourteen and twenty years old.
It all began in 1992 with a few simple questions, for instance: are parents allowed to force you to put on clothes that you don't want to wear? When do people go to bed? Are teachers allowed to stop you going to the loo? A whole booklet of young people's problems was soon compiled. Before long they found they had moved on from the specific daily injustices of which young people are often the victims to much more general questions. What gives parents the right to make rules for their children? Why do we have compulsory schooling? Wouldn't it be better to replace it with a right to education? Why do children not have the vote?
The KinderRÄchTsZÄnker (Children's Rights Fighters) have been working on these and similar questions for the last few years, and they have found that the main difficulty, again and again, has been reaching the point where something is really changed. In many children's parliaments, in 'Children advise Senator' sessions, Children's Days, Children's Summits and other events the KinderRÄchTsZänker have found that it is almost impossible even to discuss significant matters, let alone to have any real influence. Young people are only invited to discuss problems which the grown-ups actually already know about and could solve themselves, such as, for example, the increased efforts of the government to encourage the use of the energy-saving light-bulb, or the setting up of a 30 kph speed limit, or safer road-crossings in front of schools. A further peculiarity is that the subject of school seldom comes up. People talk a lot about violence in schools, but the violence of the schools themselves, that is to say the violence that arises from the system and is perhaps a cause of the violence of young people, is generally ignored. The main problem, which is always avoided, is this:- Children are not perceived as citizens with really equal rights and interests.
Krätzä have therefore turned to other methods of getting their points across. They have designed and displayed posters, which have attracted much support. The posters consist almost entirely of text, which people waiting in the underground stations have plenty of time to read. The KRÄTZÄ people have been interviewed by journalists and they published touchstones for the 1994 election which were sent to all the main political parties. In response, the parties, almost without exception, sent the thick brochure they sent to everyone, but made no effort to respond to the touchstones themselves. The group, represented by two of its members, aged 13 and 16, went to the Constitutional Court in Karlsruhe, and demanded not to be excluded from the right to vote any longer. Even though the constitutional demand was dismissed without discussion, it had its effect. The subject has been raised, and it is still being discussed everywhere.
Seventeen young Krätzä people went to Nicaragua for four weeks, in order to make contact with the children's movement there, and to learn to understand its attitude to child labour. Through work one can learn a lot, have the experience of being important and take responsibility. What's more one may become financially independent. Of course exploitation and abuse must be prevented. But is a general prohibition on children's work the right way of setting about it?
Krätzä has also drawn public attention to the question of compulsory schooling. After preparing an extensive written justification, Benjamin Kiesewetter, a member of the group, refused to take part in chemistry lessons for more than six months. In spite of his seven-page justification, to which neither the school itself nor the educational authority responded, and in spite of his eventually renewed participation in lessons (under protest) the student was excluded from the school. An appeal against this "disciplinary measure" resulted in the local educational authority reversing this exclusion. However, Benjamin had to continue to take chemistry until the court made a final decision as to whether schoolchildren were allowed to stay out of lessons in some subjects if they gave good reasons. The case aroused great interest in the media, as a positive outcome would have meant that other schoolchildren would have followed Benjamin's example.
The Berlin Administrative Court finally decided against freedom from instruction. The consequent request that the appeal should be heard by the Higher Administrative Court was refused. At the end of the year Benjamin got a top grade in chemistry and legally dropped the subject.
Krätzä would like to grow, but it sees risks in growth. The members do not want to lose their independence and spontaneity, and they are determined to avoid management structure and hierarchy. Everyone must have equal rights, regardless of age.
Although as yet nothing material has changed, they are making progress. They have increased public awareness, they have the ear of the media, their demands are gaining credibility, various groups and organisations publicly support their objectives, and Krätzä people are often invited to speak about their ideas.
They have a web site that is partly in English - http://www.kraetzae.de/ . It is well worth a visit.