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" Hence, images of children are often used to "reproach the rest of the adult world for its misdemeanours"; and in presenting that picture, children connote "both the future and a moral voice of the 'good self'..."
Burman generalizes that the "universalization of Northern childhood thus mirrors the Northern colonial domination of the South." And interfaced with that dynamic, she continues, is the "Christian symbolism associated with colour ("white-child-angel, black child-devil")... [and] the fact that where "black and white children are portrayed together [in commercials or public service announcements for aid-related agencies] the white figure adopts a protective...and sometimes enveloping...stance towards the black, which...extends beyond the human to the portrayal of animals." And in contemporary aid and development literature, childhood "has been fractured so that only children of the North develop, while children of the South are primarily portrayed as those whose childhoods have been stolen." Children of the North's concerns, in advertising, are "early education and environmental enrichment," while Southern children's concerns are portrayed "on mere survival."
B. Rwezaura: The Concept of the Child's Best Interests in the Changing Economic and Social Context of Sub-Saharan Africa (in the Best Interests of the Child, Philip Alston) 1994: Given the fact that there has been, and still is, a vast disparity between the quality of life and the door of opportunities for children in the North in contrast with children in the South (and in other Third World countries), the United Nations (in 1989) adopted the "Convention on the Rights of the Child." Much fanfare accompanied this convention, and nearly 140 countries have signed on as parties; however, even though the convention gained a lot of support in Africa, there is not yet "an agreed standard by which compliance can be measured," Rwezaura writes.
Among the problems contributing to the lack of enforcement of uniform rights for children in Africa are: a) European colonialism brought Christianity, Islam, and new marriage laws, which resulted in "conflicting social identities and values"; b) the introduction of Western ideas of individualism into pre-capitalist communal societies "as well as the partial and often distorted penetration of capitalism into these economies" have brought social conflicts "and insecurity all over Africa" (83).
That said, it is difficult to imagine children in Africa ("South") ever having opportunities on a par with children in the North, when African children "are still 'given' to other relatives to enhance kinship relationships," according to Rwezaura. "A young married woman may be given a child to look after because she is lonely... [and] a grandparent living apart from adult married children has a right to ask for a child from his son to help make a fire, run errands, and perform all the tasks appropriate to his age" (91). Indeed, an older woman without grandchildren "...would be considered a witch by her peers." In a census poll in Sierra Leone, of women aged 25-29, forty percent reported having given away a child.
Additionally, childhood in the South entails work at an early age, thus, there would be no chance for educational advancement even if schools were universally available, which they are not. "Boys and girls of three years are given the task of herding small stock such as sheep, calves, and goats" in Tanzania (90), Rwezaura continues. And the practice of child-pledging (trading future sons and daughters for grain or cattle) in Zimbabwe is still a reality. And with these practices still in place in Africa - notwithstanding United Nations conventions - is it any wonder that there are such enormous cultural, economic, and moral differences between North and South. And how could anyone knowledgeable about such cultural chasms expect narrowing any time soon?
Allison James: Childhood Identities: Self and Social Relationships in the Experience of the Child 1993: James' perceptions of how childhood is viewed by adults (74) take on notions not unlike Burman and Jenks. "Childhood cannot be regarded...as the universal biological condition of immaturity which all children pass through," James writes. Rather, childhood must be "more critically depicted as embracing particular cultural perceptions" about that biological condition. And those cultural perceptions are shaped by the professions who study children and write about childhood; in Western societies writers emphasize "ideals of happiness and sexual innocence, 'a period of lack of responsibility, with rights to protection and training, but not to autonomy,'" James asserts. These ideals, set forth in the literature, allow adults to justify the "marginal" position children have within Western societies, and justify the "denial of their personhood."
And within the tradition of the literature he describes, "children rarely appear as themselves" (76). Instead, they are "symbolic embodiments of culture"; they are rarely seen as "knowing subjects"; and unfortunately, one consequence of these views of children is that their own "views, thoughts and ideas about growing up were rarely documented." And by accepting this "dominant developmental approach provided by psychology," the perception of children was that they were in a "pre-social period of difference," in other words, not quite human.
And thus, James goes on, the child is depicted as "not yet fully human, as more subject to and dependent upon some essential 'nature' than adults"; e.g., a battle of "culture" vs. "nature."
Michael Freeman: The Moral Status of Children: Essays on the Rights of the Child 1997: Freeman takes the idea of "rights" for children on a number of journeys; initially, he notes (84) that public debate and public policy has centered around the fact that "children are objects of intervention rather than legal subjects." "Children's rights," as a movement, "has been couched predominately in child-saving language, in terms of salvation." It has centered on protecting individual children, rather than defending or defining the rights of children as a community.
And those, Freeman continues, "who argue that, however important rights are, it is not necessary to recognize as such children's rights," are employing one of two operative myths. The first myth "idealizes adult-child relations" (85) by focusing on the cliche that "adults (and parents in particular) have the best interests of children at heart." The second myth is that "childhood is synonymous with innocence," it is the "golden age" of a person's life, and it's a time of "freedom, joy, of play." Therefore, just as "we avoid the responsibilities and adversities of adult life in childhood, so there should be no necessity" to worry about children's rights. Rights, therefore, according to that myth, are to be applied when you grow up to be an adult.
Freeman finds these myths applicable only in "an ideal state of affairs," which clearly is not in place today when countries (in the South) like Brazil and Guatemala are "systematically exterminating children as if they were vermin." Even in the Northern world, the "developed" world, Freeman asserts, "the lives of children are fraught with deprivation." As an example, Freeman alleges that in the UK, in a decade in which "awareness of children's rights has heightened, the number of children living in poverty has more than trebled" (86).
Martin Woodhead: "Psychology and the Cultural Construction of Children's Needs" (in Constructing and Reconstructing Childhood: Contemporary Issues in the Sociological Study of Childhood) 1997: Among Woodhead's noteworthy positions are his rebellious stands against childhood-related cliches. For example, the phrase "children's needs" - as a way of framing childhood - is challenged in this essay by Woodhead: He writes (77) that it "does not stand up to close scrutiny." The phrase "mystifies" more than "enlightens," he asserts; indeed the concept falls comfortably into the "Euro-American developmental psychology" of a "standardized childhood" experience - the conventional family, kindergarten, mother's watchful eye, teachers and nurses fully trained in sensitivity - and that comfort zone leaves out cultural differences between north and south, and it ignores diversity. Another phrase he challenges (80-81) is "best interests of the child"; he writes that "interests," like "needs" are not a quality within a child, but rather, a matter of "cultural interpretation."
The issues surrounding and definitions of "rights" and "needs" are "a very western way of constructing child-adult relationships," he continues. The real challenge is to "interpret children's rights and interests in particular economic, political, religious and cultural contexts."
Abdullahi an-Na'Im: "Cultural Transformation and Normative Consensus on the Best Interests of the Child" (in the Best Interests of the Child) 1994: What are the best interests of the child, and who is to determine those interests? Those are the key questions addressed in this essay, and after discussing the legal ramifications of the United Nations Child Convention, the author, on page 76, offers a five-point model for defining what processes should be followed in order to determine a particular child's "best interests":
One: who is making the "description and characterization" of the best interests, and according to "which framework or orientation"?; two: an analysis is needed to find out the nature of the action, on "what basis and for whose benefit" the action is taken; three: what are the dynamics…[continue]
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