Sunday, May 15, 2011

Two concepts of children's rights and the boy in a skirt

Later. The video I originally posted here has disappeared from Youtube, but you can still find it on the BBC News site.

In my contribution to the 2006 booklet Liberalism - Something to Shout About I examined this paradox: the more rights we give children the less freedom they have. On those rights I observed:
The last time there was a significant children's rights movement in Britain was during the late 1960s and 1970s, when polical radicalism was in the air more generally. That movement was largely run by children and teenagers themselves and has as its targets abuses like corporal punishment, petty uniform regulations and the keeping of secret records by schools. The youngsters taking part were clear that their rights were to be asserted against the state and the schools that it ran.

In today's children's rights movement, there is no place for children themselves and no challenging schools - indeed the keeping of confidential records is central to the movement. Instead it is parents who are seen as the threat to children's rights and the state as the body that upholds them.

This odd view explains how a commitment to those rights can coexist comfortably with the remarkably restrictive policies with which we now surround children - curfews, ASBOs and the like. If the 1960s movement was an attempt at Kids' Liberation (as it would undoubtedly have been called in those days), the our present-day version has more in common with the child-saving efforts of the nineteenth century.
All of which explains why I was pleased to see Chris Whitehead's protest. His understanding of children's rights is clearly of the 1960s' variety, even if in those days 12-year-olds would probably have been demanding the right not to wear shorts.

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