Due to their vulnerability, children have a higher likelihood of being exposed to exploitation and abuse. Children’s rights seek to offer protection and care that is appropriate for the normal growth and development of a child by ensuring that they live within an environment that is free from physical, emotional, and mental abuse. In most cases, this involves the intervention of international and intergovernmental organizations such as the International Labor Organization (ILO), World Bank, and UN agencies in order to campaign against and stop all forms of children abuse and exploitation. Disabled children are particularly more vulnerable and are more likely to be abused than non-disabled children. Specifically, children with communication impairments, learning disabilities, and behavioral disorders are at a higher risk thereby calling for specific policies and statutory provisions for their protection. While there are comprehensive provisions for the same, the challenge lies in the implementation stage. This paper seeks to contribute in raising an awareness among parents, children, and relevant policy makers on the framework of children rights and their importance.
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The first organization that was entirely devoted to the protection of children was the 1875 New York Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NYSPCC). However, even before this time, children were not bereft of protection. Soon, other governmental and non-governmental child protection organizations were popping up as well as juvenile courts. These progressive movements primarily challenged the reluctance of courts in interfering in family matters, called for the promotion of wide reforms in child welfare, and successfully pushed for the passage of laws prohibiting child labour and provision of compulsory education (The Law Library of Congress, 2007). The Children’s Bureau, created in 1912, gives the federal government a leadership role in the protection of children. An important legislation to this end is the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (CAPTA). Child abuse and neglect took center stage of child protection and it was not until the 1970s that recognition of the harmful effects of sexual abuse on children raised an awareness on the prevalence of the same (Myers, 2008). Since then, the field has tremendously grown.
The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) is the most comprehensive international instrument on the rights of the child, which must be respected, protected, and promoted. Under article 3, the CRC requires that all activities undertaken by the public or private organizations of its member states to always have the best interests of the child as their primary consideration. There is a general consensus that the best interests of a child is a multi-dimensional construct encompassing the physical, psychological, material, and social dimensions of the child (Yanghee, 2009). The CRC recognizes that the family is the most fundamental societal unit for the protection of a child. It provides for the right of education, identity, non-separation from parents against the child’s will, expression, religion, thought, association, peaceful assembly, play, and many more. However, although the United States has signed the Convention, it is one of the two countries in the world that has not ratified it. Many organizations in the country, particularly those working with children, such as the Girls Scouts advocate for the ratification. However, there has been inadequate governmental support for the same. This is not to say that children in the US are inadequately protected. In the contrary, children enjoy all the rights and freedoms encompassed in the constitution. However, ratification of the Convention would have an additional value in providing both a mandate and a framework for action on issues directly affecting children.
Child labour can be referred to as the epitome of abuse of children rights. There are millions of children worldwide who are forced into child labour with a majority of them being under hazardous conditions, such as mines, operation of heavy machinery, harmful chemicals in the agricultural sector, and in more traumatic situations such as forced prostitution and pornography, child soldiers, and debt bondage. Children are the greatly affected group by forced labour. Their weak bodies exposes them to diseases and injuries, which further hampers their chances of having a happy livelihood. Harmful effects include reduced learning achievement as a working child cannot attend school or do homework at the same time. This minimizes their chances of being absorbed in the human resources of the national economic development (Heady 2). Lack of cognitive skills in most cases translates to future lack of social skills, which increases social problems, such as drug use and prostitution.
Any work performed by children should not interfere with their education or normal childhood and should not violate labor standards. This means that they can be engaged in minimal work such as helping out in household chores, running family businesses, or in other activities that are relevant in their acquisition of practical skills and experience or pocket money. This contributes to their becoming productive members of the community. The international community has been active in advocacy against child labour. Of great importance is the International Labor Convention No. 182 on the Worst Forms of Child Labor (C-182). Most governments, including the federal government, have adopted this convention and created national frameworks for the protection of children as well as offering intervention mechanisms such as providing compulsory education and investing in other instrumental areas of a child’s development, for example, health, nutrition, and sanitation.
Other challenges hindering the full enjoyment of children rights include poverty and child mistreatment. The rates of poverty in the USA are highly dependent on the ethnic background of the child. For example, children from Africa-American and Hispanic backgrounds are at a higher risk of suffering from poverty than their counterparts from other backgrounds. Children from poor backgrounds are faced with a host of other challenges such as fewer opportunities to advance their education in institutions of higher learning, hence the likelihood of getting better paying jobs later on in their lives is minimized. They also have lower accessibility to quality health care facilities as they have no health insurance or are underinsured. Further, due to their poor economic background, such families are in most cases unable to afford enough and nutritious food, which may cause both physical and mental health problems such as immune system deficiencies, anxiety, and depression in children. In turn, such children are unable to perform well in schools and may face difficulties in simple tasks of reading and writing. Consequently, they may drop out of schools, which in effect, continues the vicious cycle of poverty.
The child protection system forms a fundamental aspect of the modern society. Unfortunately, there are rare cases when the public gets to hear of the success stories of this system as it is only featured in mainstream media when things go terribly wrong, such as when social services fail to remove a vulnerable child or when the removal is unnecessary. However, such occurrences are inevitable in the challenging work of child protection and it is essential that people appreciate the critical role of the system. This is because the system, with its flaws and challenges, saves lives and futures in addition to according a child the chance to live a healthy and fulfilling life in an environment where all her/his rights are protected.
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- Heady, C., n. d. What is the Effect of Child Labour on Learning Achievement? Evidence from Ghana. UNICEF, Innocenti Working Papers, No. 79.
- Myers, J. E. D., (2008). A Short History of Child Protection in America. Family Law Quarterly, 42(3), pp. 449-464.
- The Law Library of Congress, (2009). International Laws: Children’s Rights. LOC.
- Yanghee, L., (2009). Child Rights and Child Well-being. OECD.