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Rights of Children

The legal tradition in the United States, based upon the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, and heavily influenced by the humanitarian efforts of the UN, has recently turned its attention to the rights of children.  Tremendous lip service is often paid to the cultural importance of children in the United States: “Children are our most precious resource,” “it takes a village to raise a child,” “children are the future,” and so forth.  But all too often children have been used as the possessions of adults. 

Rights of Children

Children because of their age are denied rights which as adults we consider to be basic human rights.  They have their freedom and autonomy limited in a number of ways which range from the relatively unimportant to the highly significant: from being denied the right to choose which films to see, or at what time to go to bed, or which clothes to wear, to being denied the right to vote.  Children form a large, long-suffering and oppressed grouping in society.

As teenagers each one of us has chafed at the perceived unfairness of “the system” that restricts access to the adult world: age restrictions on driving, voting, and drinking alcohol.  As adults, we argue that such limitations of autonomy are, in reality, designed to protect children.  But the legal reality of the United States proves that children, do have specific rights.

traces the development of children’s rights from the 19th century, beginning in 1879 with Jean Vallès’s novel L’Enfant.  His concerns mirrored the child-saving movement, an effort that established juvenile courts, better orphanages and modern schools.  In the United States, at the end of the century, a research paper on rights of children wrote forcibly about children’s rights, expressing the idea that the child is an autonomous individual.  In 1924, the Geneva Declaration maintained that children were an investment for the future.  But it was not until 1959, that the United Nations issued its Declaration of the Rights of the Child, outlining ten principles, including the right to non-discrimination, special protection by law, adequate nutrition, and protection from neglect, cruelty and exploitation.

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