Children’s rights are defined in numerous manners, including a wide spectrum of civil, cultural, economic, social and political rights.
Their rights tend to be of two general types: those advocating for children as autonomous persons under the law and those placing a claim on society for protection from harms perpetrated on children because of their dependency.
In 1984, Joseph Raz, a philosopher and an advocate of positivism said that “a right is created when a law is based on and expresses the view of someone’s value and significance which is sufficient enough to be grounds for holding another subject to a duty”, quoting the said statement applicable to children’s rights.
In connection to this, a 1986 study conducted by John Eekelaar remarked that historically, legal obligations towards children were imposed not to primarily protect the interests of children themselves, but to further other interests of usually their legal guardians (e.g. the father). A key example of this is the imposition of parental support to rectify the threat of social instability that can be brought about by mass unemployment, which will lead to unequivocal chaos. This has also brought the introduction of the right of the father to the child’s custody where it is viewed as the father’s vindictive right rather than the child’s. Like what Eekelaar pointed out, these rights heavily values the interest of the greater community rather than the child’s interests.
But, there are rights that children may freely exercise independent of their guardians, which Eekelaar suggested as the following:
- Basic Interests – These includes the child’s primary rights to psychosocial, physiologic and emotional attention given to them by their parents or guardians.
- Growth Potential – Stipulates that each and every child should have equal opportunity to develop to their maximum capability, maximizing all possible resources around them during their growth years.
- Independence – The basic right of a child to be of his own free will, the liberty to be who the child wants to be, be it socially or personally. A lifestyle which the child deems rightfully his/hers not dictated by the people, who surround him/her; this of course has to be under the careful guidance of the parents/guardian.
Michael Freeman, a barrister and a professor of English Law published a book in 1983 entitled “The Rights and Wrongs of Children” gave emphasis on the four cornerstones of children’s rights, namely;
- Children’s Right to Welfare wherein every child should have an equal opportunity to education, proper healthcare / medical care and to develop their potentials by giving them equal development opportunities.
- Children’s Right to Protection where the child is protected from abuse, neglect, exploitation and discrimination. For example, a child has the right to enjoy himself/herself in a safe environment for playing. This also includes the protection of the child’s development process in which parents and adults must appreciate the child’s evolving capacities to develop the child’s confidence.
- Children’s Right to be Treated like Adults, the child’s right to be treated as an independent being capable of making decisions for themselves which the state deems legally acceptable depending on the case.
- Children’s Right Against Parents, parental roles have shifted over time and children have the right to say yes or no to their parents to some extent and to make decisions which are not damaging to the child such as choices of clothes, hairstyle to contraceptives and education. Some of these choices are legally acceptable depending on the state and court of law.