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The History of Children's Rights: Whose Story?

Early European notions of what would now be recognised as children's rights emphasized both children's need for special protection and their place in society within families and schools, but not in the workplace. Although these ideas were current throughout the nineteenth century (in child labor reform for example) the first identification of children as sub ects of rights, rather than ob ects of concern, is usually associated with the work of Eglantyne !ebb. "ne outcome of this splendid Edwardian lady's experiences in charitable work with the #acedonian $elief %und during the &alkan 'ar of the early twentieth century was that, at the outbreak of the %irst 'orld 'ar, she declared herself a pacifist. (his was not a popular decision among the ingoistic &ritish public, but she remained stalwart, insisting that )all wars are waged against children.) #iss !ebb was the prime mo*er behind both the +a*e the ,hildren #o*ement and the -nternational .eace /nion. (he former organisation, set up in 0101, was dedicated to child protection and operated under a 2eclaration of ,hild $ights. (his was the first global charter protecting the rights of a particular section of the community focused on children. -t was taken o*er almost without alteration by the 3eague of 4ations in 0156 as the 7ene*a 2eclaration of the $ights of the ,hild, and with some additions and amendments by the /4 in 0181. ,hildren had already been mentioned in the 0169 /4 /ni*ersal 2eclaration of :uman $ights, which established the modern human rights principle of interference in the affairs of other so*ereign states. Article 58, .aragraph 5 of the /ni*ersal 2eclaration states that )#otherhood and children are entitled to special care and assistance. All children, whether born in or out of wedlock, shall en oy the same social protection.) "ther 2eclarations and ,o*enants, both of the /4 and of other inter;go*ernmental bodies, such as the ,ouncil of Europe, the "rganisation of African /nity and the .an;American "rganisation, ha*e echoed this concern about protection, which is based on the percei*ed de*elopmental immaturity of young children. (&yrne, 0119) -ndeed, the original 0156 2eclaration was based on ideas of child welfare, rather than child rights, assuming that children re<uire adult protection in order to ensure the exercise of their rights. (hese ideas persisted through the re;drafting of the 2eclaration during the lifetime of the 3eague of 4ations, as well as in the 0181 /4 2eclaration of the $ights of the ,hild. (hus children continued to be seen as ob ects of international human rights law and not as sub ects of rights. Another children's rights agenda, which goes beyond protection to considering children as full sub ects of human rights, including rights of self;determination, became part of the international community's consciousness in 01=1, the /4 -nternational >ear of the ,hild, during which the /4 ,ommission on :uman $ights began to consider the .olish go*ernment's 01=9 proposal for a ,$, based on the text of the 0181 2eclaration. (he fact that the proposal came from .oland, at a time when the -ron ,urtain still split Europe into two different worlds is often attributed to the life and work of !anusz ?orczak, a pioneer of child welfare who, in 0165, died with orphan children from the 'arsaw 7hetto. ("lczak, 01@8)

.oland can also claim a current child rights hero in .rofessor Adam 3opatka, who is sometimes referred to as the )%ather of the ,on*ention) and ser*ed as the .resident of the 'orking 7roup on the ,$,. (his assembly of go*ernment representati*es met annually in 7ene*a between 01=1 and 0199. -t was responsible for the painstaking process of turning an original 01;point draft into the 86;Article human rights instrument adopted by the 7eneral Assembly of the /4 in 4o*ember 0191. (hat the drafting process took the best part of a decade was due to the many social and legal differences between states. A paragraph on children born outside wedlock, for example, became a topic of debate because of the di*ersity of forms of marriage and marriage laws. Articles on adoption and fostering raised the completely different perspecti*es on these issues in -slam and ,hristianity. (2etrick, 0115) (he resultant text is imprecise, but has the ad*antage of co*ering the whole range of human rights notions ;; not only ci*il and political, but also economic, social and cultural rights. (he imprecision may be irritating from the point of *iew of international agencies, such as /4-,E%, which look for uni*ersal standards that can be easily encompassed by global programming. +ome rights, such as protection against sexual exploitation, might ne*er ha*e been part of the ,$, if the 'orking 7roup had not constantly sought consensus. A further ad*antage of the relati*ely *ague wording is that it makes it possible for regional instruments such as the "rganisation of African /nity ("A/) African ,harter on the $ights and 'elfare of the ,hild to be drafted. %ew African countries participated consistently in the drafting process for the ,$,, although African countries were among the first to submit reports. (he "A/ felt that in the face of local economic, social and political conditions, a complementary instrument was necessary in order to implement the ,$, in African countries. (hus the African ,harter was first drafted in 0199 at a regional meeting to discuss a final draft of the ,$,, and is designed to )retain the spirit as well as the substance of AtheB letter) of the /4 ,on*ention, while making )special pro*isions guided by the ground situation in Africa.) ("rganisation of African /nity, 011C) (he same considerations apply to the implementation of the /4 instrument through its incorporation into the domestic law of ratifying states. 4e*ertheless, it is notable that the main input to the drafting process came from the nations of the 4orth, which has resulted in accusations of cultural bias as well as renewed debates about whether human rights can be applied uni*ersally. As anthropologist and child rights campaigner !o &oyden has pointed out, globalisation is not ust an economic concept, but applies also to the cultural imperialism that underpins economic structuresD the images of childhood fa*ored in the industrial 4orth ha*e been exported to the +outh. (he *iew that childhood is a fixed notion, )defined by biological and physiological facts) rather than culture or society, is explicit in international children's rights legislation. (he rights lobby is in the forefront of the global spread of norms of childhood that are integral to the history and culture of Europe and 4orth America. :uman $ights and ,hildren's $ights (here is a weaker myth holding sway outside human rights circles that /4-,E% in*ented, wrote and controls the ,$,, but the drafting process of the 019Cs was dri*en

by the non;go*ernmental sector. /4-,E% is recorded as showing a )total lack of initial interest in the exercise) and did not send strong delegations to the 'orking 7roup until 019@, by which time it had become clear that in time the text of the ,$, would be put before the /4 7eneral Assembly for adoption. (,antwell, 0115) 4e*ertheless, /4-,E% was instrumental in promoting the widespread ratification of the /4 ,on*ention through organising the 011C 'orld +ummit for ,hildren. (his meeting of =0 world leaders in 4ew >ork was the largest e*er meeting of heads of state and had the ob ecti*e of obtaining their signatures to this new human rights document. -n this respect it was supremely successful. -t is part of the o*erall myth of the ,$, (appearing to be a compulsory preface to any account ;; historical or otherwise) that no other piece of human rights law has come into force so rapidly, nor recei*ed <uite so much public attention. A second ob ecti*e of the +ummit was to ensure that children actually en oy the rights pro*ided. (he meeting ended with agreement on a .lan of Action that included twel*e broad goals to be achie*ed before 5CCC. All signatories promised to de*elop national plans of action to this end, and to report on progress at fi*e;year inter*als. >et it is clear that in this respect the +ummit was unsuccessful. -n some cases the narrowly concei*ed twel*e +ummit goals ha*e obscured, or well nigh obliterated, the much broader range of rights in the ,$,. -n others, national plans of action ha*e been drawn up but not pro*ided with a budget sufficient for implementation. +ometimes the only changes made are legal. -n some cases, nothing has happened at all. As &elgian lawyer Eugeen Eerhellen has pointed out, it often seems as if there is more concern to protect children's rights than to protect children. ,hildren ha*e not always been on the human rights agenda as a separate group. -ndeed, the human rights agenda itself is a relati*ely recent historical phenomenon. (he <uestion of children's rights was not an issue for the %rench 2eclaration of the $ights of #an in 0=9C. ,hildren were regarded as a residual category of person, lacking full human rights. At that time European societies simply thought of children as the property of their parents, and not particularly *aluable property at that. According to &lackstone's 0=89 legal commentaries in England, for instance, child abduction was not theft in the legal sense unless the child happened to be dressed. (he thief was regarded as ha*ing stolen the clothes. Apart from that, child theft was tantamount to stealing a corpse. -n the case of both a dead body and a li*e child, no legal person was in*ol*ed. (he modern era of international human rights law can be said to begin with the establishment of the /4 system after the 01F1;0168 +econd 'orld 'ar, specifically with the /ni*ersal 2eclaration of :uman $ights in 0169. (he 2eclaration clearly established the principle that nations that are members of an intergo*ernmental body, such as the /4, can inter*ene in the domestic affairs of other states to ensure that citizens' rights are respected. A number of other treaties followed the /ni*ersal 2eclaration, dealing with different groups of persons and rights. &ut rights are indi*isible. (he ,$, is only concei*able, and can only be implemented, if it is seen in the context of the international human rights agenda in its entirety. -n the .reamble to the

,on*ention this is made clear through reference to preceding human rights instruments. $ights that are not spelt out in the ,$,, but which applied to children before it was drafted and adopted, include consideration of their special needs and *ulnerability in times of armed conflict, as well as protection against trafficking, exploitati*e work, torture and prostitution. 2uring the 019Cs, many (e*en some child rights acti*ists) claimed that, as children are human beings and the sub ects of all human rights, they did not need a special human rights instrument de*oted to them as a group. >et it is clear from current histories of child rights that children are *iewed as ob ects of rights in a discourse of welfare concern more often than they are recognised as sub ects of rights. (he ,$, is inno*ati*e in making it clear that, with respect to international human rights law, children are acti*e sub ects. (hey not only re<uire certain forms of protection in addition to the )normal) entitlements of human rights law, they also re<uire special forms of protection because they are in a *ulnerable position, both legally and de*elopmentally. (hese entitlements include the right to ha*e their opinion taken into consideration when adults take decisions on their behalf (Article 05), to express their *iews (Article 0F) and to oin or form associations to represent their own interests (Article 08). ,hildren in the :istory of ,hild $ightsG (hus the accepted current histories of child rights are based on what adults ha*e done and should do for children. (hey do not pro*ide information about actions children might ha*e taken toward their own self;determination. As the historical record has been almost entirely in the hands of adults, this is not surprising. +till, the record is not entirely blank. $oyal and aristocratic children ha*e had a place in history, often wielding power well below the age at which they would be able to *ote in elections, but more often under the tutorship of adults who exercised power on their behalf. -n 0505, ,hildren's ,rusades mobilised thousands of children eight years old and older to march across Europe from %rance and 7ermany to recapture the :oly 3and for ,hristianity. (hey were not led by adults, but by boys, +tephen of ,loyes in %rance and 4icholas from ,ologne, both 05 years of age. 4e*ertheless, e*en the number of fictional accounts of this mo*ement is small compared to the literature on other crusades. (7ray, 091=H #unroe, 0106) #ost of children's political actions in Europe concentrated on schools. (:oyles, 01=1) A petition for better school discipline was presented to the English .arliament in 0@@1 by a boy belie*ed to be linked with the 3e*ellers, a group associated with ideas of social e<uality. (Ennew, 019@) Adults rarely seem to ha*e taken this type of action seriously. ,hildren's strikes for better education and discipline in England in 0991, 0100, 0106 and the 015Cs all tended to be tri*ialised by the media. 3ikewise, schoolchildren who formed unions in %rance and the /nited ?ingdom in acti*ities associated with the student mo*ements of 01@9 that produced the now largely forgotten 3ittle $ed +choolbook (:ansen I !ensen, 01=0) were either assumed to be mimicking uni*ersity students or regarded as re<uiring more effecti*e adult control. ,hildren ha*e also organised outside formal schooling. -n 0911 4ew >ork newspaper boys formed a union to combat wage cuts imposed by newspaper barons. -n 01C5 in the /+A, children went on strike together

with adults to draw attention to child work in mining. (#c?echnie I :obbs, 0119) ,hildren and youth in 7hana took independent action against agricultural employers in the 01@Cs and 01=Cs. (Ean :eer, 0195) +ince the mid;01=Cs, some groups working with street and working children, particularly agencies with a background in workers' rights rather than in child welfare, ha*e also promoted the de*elopment of political and organizational skills among children. E*en though these efforts pre;dated the adoption of the ,$, they are clearly in the spirit of Article 08, the children's right to form associations, especially in *iew of the uni*ersal ban on children oining trade unions. ,hildren's independent assertion of their *iews and rights is not only fre<uently tri*ialised by adults ;; it can also be *iolently suppressed. Examples of suppression abound in countries in the +outh, where the di*ision between adult and child is often more blurred than in the 4orth. ,hildren were at the forefront of the fight against Apartheid in +outh Africa and in the intifada in .alestine, suffering death, in ury and imprisonment alongside adults, and fre<uently initiating political action. >et, in the peace processes following these struggles there is a resurgence of the tendency to under*alue their contribution. Adults no longer treat the former child fighters as heroes, preferring to pathologise them as traumatised *ictims, assuming that their future contribution to the societies they helped establish will be negati*e. ,hildren may be permitted to make history, but they are excluded from making policy. (hey can be *ery percepti*e about the way adults colonise and reinterpret their acti*ities. (hus, when adults began to take o*er the en*ironmental mo*ement called set settal that had been initiated by +enegalese children and youth, the young people *oted with their feet and the mo*ement failed. :istory +ince )(he ,on*ention) "*er a decade has passed since the ,$, came into force, and the history of child rights has not stood still. "ne ma or change has been a new attitude on the part of professionals in child welfare, and some radical changes of action among child welfare organisations. /4-,E%, for example, once managed through setting health goals for uni*ersal achie*ement, makes explicit in its 011@ #ission +tatement that the organisation's work begins from a child rights perspecti*e. At the start of the twenty;first century it is no longer possible for policies concerning children to be de*eloped without at least nominally taking children into account as sub ects of rights, howe*er mistaken or hostile some notions of child rights may be. (his change has had three main conse<uencesD A new approach to children and childhood, in which children are seen as sub ects of rights, with their own perspecti*esH (he realisation that children are not simply passi*e ob ects of concern or *ictims but that they make important contributions to societyH A demand for more and better information about all aspects of children's li*es.

.erhaps more importantly, the ,$, has gi*en rise to a wide range of new, supplementary international human rights agreements concerning children. (hese include "ptional .rotocols to the ,on*ention itself, on sexual exploitation and children in armed conflict. -n addition, ,on*ention 095 of the -nterna;tional 3abour ,onfe;rence on )worst forms) of child labor and the 011= ,on*ention on land mines ha*e both been the sub ect of widespread debates that would almost certainly not ha*e taken place without the stimulus of the /4 ,on*ention on the $ights of the ,hild. "ther, less well known, international treaties and agreements that ha*e been drawn up for children during this period expand the rights pro*ided for children in the spheres of ustice, adoption and education. "ne of the more interesting tendencies in child welfare circles o*er the past decade has been a *ast flowering of organisations ad*ocating child participation (*ariously defined) using the pro*isions of Articles 05, 0F and 08 of the ,$, to gi*e a child rights gloss to their acti*ities. (hese organisations ha*e organised <uasi;political meetings of children, such as children's parliaments, at both national and international le*els. A number of well;established nongo*ernmental organisations in de*eloping countries ha*e children in*ol*ed at all le*els of decision making including, in most cases, what are normally considered to be )adult) acti*ities like fundraising and pro ect management. >outh representati*es ha*e attended some parts of well;publicised international conferences on the en*ironment, human rights, social de*elopment and child labor. Although the children usually ha*e adult accompaniment, they are said to prepare their own presentations and speeches. 4e*ertheless, children tend to participate through adult selection rather than as child representati*es, it sometimes seems that any child's *oice will be regarded as ha*ing a special authenticity, as long as it is heard on a public platform and applauded by adults. -t is important to realise that *isibility does not e<ual participation. ('oollcombe, 0119) At this point, there is little e*idence that the *iews of young people ha*e had any effect on policy making. -ndeed, with respect to child workers from the +outh who ask to be accorded the dignity of work, their *iews are regularly drowned out by adult;orchestrated cries for the elimination of child labor. (hus, the history of child rights continues to be the history of adult actions. (his will be the case as long as adults fail to take into consideration their fundamental duties under Articles 05, 0F and 08 of the ,$, and in*ite children to the tables at which policies are decided and e*aluated, facilitating debates in which children can take their meaningful and rightful places. $eferences I further reading &oyden, !. (011C). ),hildhood and the .olicymakers,) in ,onstructing and $econstructing ,hildhood. !ames, !., I .rout, A., Eds. 3ondon, 4ew >ork, .hiladelphiaD %almer .ress. .p 096;508. &yrne, -. (0119). (he :uman $ights of +treet and 'orking ,hildren. 3ondonD -ntermediate (echnology .ublications.

,antwell, 4. (0115). )(he "rigins, 2e*elopment and +ignificance of the /nited 4ations ,on*ention on the $ights of the ,hild,) in (he /nited 4ations ,on*ention on the $ights of the ,hildD A 7uide to the )(ra*aux .rJparatoires.) 2etrick, +., Ed. 2ordrecht, &oston, 3ondonD #artinus 4i hoff .ublishers. .p. 01;FC. 2errick, +., Ed. (0115). (he /nited 4ations ,on*ention on the $ights of the ,hildD A 7uide to the )(ra*aux .rJparatoires.) 2ordrecht, &oston, 3ondonD #artinus 4i hoff .ublishers. Ennew, !. (019@). (he +exual Exploitation of ,hildren. ,ambridgeD .olity .ress. 7ray, 7.K. (091=). (he ,hildren's ,rusade, 3ondon. :ansen, +., I !ensen, !. (01=0). (he 3ittle $ed +choolbook. 3ondon. :oyles, #. (01=1). ,hanging ,hildhood. 3ondonD 'riters and $eaders .ublishing ,ollecti*e. #c?echnie, !., I :obbs, +., (0119). 'orking ,hildrenD $econsidering the 2ebates. AmsterdamD -nternational 'orking 7roup on ,hild 3abour. #unroe, 2.,. (0106). (he ,hildren's ,rusade. American :istorical $e*iew, L-L. "lczak, :. (01@8). #ister 2octoD (he 3ife of !anusz ?orczak. 3ondonD .eter 2a*ies. "rganisation of African /nity. (011C). $eport of the -nter7o*ernmental 7roup #eeting on the 2raft African ,harter on the $ights of the ,hild, 0=;50 April, 011C. Addis Ababa. Ean :oer, 4. (0195). ,hild 3abour and the 2e*elopment of ,apitalist Agciculture in 7hana. 2e*elopment and ,hange, 0F, pp 611;806. Eerhellen, E. (011=). Expert E*idence. $eportD %irst .ublic :earings of the -nternational (ribunal for ,hildren's $ights. -nternational &ureau of ,hildren's $ights. #ontreal. 'oollcombe, 2. (0119). ,hildren's ,onferences and ,ouncils. +tepping %orwardD ,hildren and >oung .eople's .articipation in the 2e*elopment .rocess. !ohnson, E., -*an;+mith, E., 7ordon, 7., .ridmore, .., +cott, .., Eds. 3ondonD -ntermediate (echnology .ublications. .p. 5F@;56C. Article copyright ,ultural +ur*i*al, -nc.

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