Children’s Human Rights and the Politics of Childhood

Authored by: Alison M.S. Watson

The Ashgate Research Companion to Ethics and International Relations

Print publication date:  September  2009
Online publication date:  April  2016

Print ISBN: 9780754671015
eBook ISBN: 9781315612935
Adobe ISBN: 9781317043546

10.4324/9781315612935.ch15

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Abstract

The issue of children and human rights would at first glance appear to be a non-controversial area. Of all of the categories of person covered by international human rights legislation, it is arguably children who need our greatest protection, for it is they who suffer, or will suffer, the most as a result of those circumstances that continue to plague the international community – deprivation, wars, climatic degradation and disease. Figures suggest that around 26,500 children aged five and under die every day for reasons that are related to poverty, hunger and easily preventable illnesses, whilst more than 2 million children have died, and 6 million children have been permanently disabled or seriously injured, over the last decade as a direct result of armed conflict. Moreover, UNICEF figures suggest an estimated 20 million children have had to leave their homes as a result of war and the abuses of war and are living either as refugees or as part of the internally displaced within their own borders. Given such figures, it is no surprise that the most widely accepted piece of international human rights legislation in history is the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC), signed in 1989, and since ratified by almost every country in the world – Somalia and the US being the only two exceptions (a point to which this chapter will later return). However, scratch beneath the surface of such initiatives and we see a different story – one in which the protection of children may be more rhetoric than reality, and too where the very nature of the meaning of rights themselves become contested. This chapter seeks to examine the issues surrounding the exercise of children’s human rights, and how these translate into practice. After a brief history of the development of the current legal regime surrounding the child, this chapter will examine what I believe to be the key issues facing the human rights of the child in an international context – namely our own representation of the child and the notions of agency, rights and participation that result from this – from both theoretical and practical standpoints, and will demonstrate that their examination is important not only for children as rights-holders, but ultimately for everyone. The chapter will conclude with some suggestions for further research.

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