Think of the Children! Children’s agency and the protection of their rights

December 2020

DCL candidate Atagün Mert Kejanlıoğlu, Professor Shauna Van Praagh, Professor Angela CampbellLegal scholars are primed to create spaces for a dialogue on children’s rights, writes Atagün Mert Kejanlıoğlu, a doctoral candidate and member of a legal research team led by two McGill Law professors that focuses on access to justice for youth. Considering children’s current needs — and not only their futures — will lead to enriched perspectives.

Even if there is some truth to the commonly-held belief that children are our future, this rhetoric does not sufficiently take into account that they are first and foremost human beings who hold rights today.

Acknowledging this simple perspective and what it entails is an essential first step toward understanding children’s rights, as I learned upon joining the team of Section 9 of the research project Accès au Droit et à la Justice, led by Prof. Shauna Van Praagh and Prof. Angela Campbell.

Particular understandings of children and childhood are not merely personal opinions — these understandings are crucial to the ways in which we interpret the vast array of rights set out in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child.

In order to take children’s perspectives seriously when discussing their rights, it is necessary to acknowledge their agency and their capacity to make rational decisions, rather than seeing them as beings in need of protection until they become adults.

Children must be part of the conversation

It is easier to write about this first step than it is to take it. First, we should multiply the occasions where children are actively participating in conversations about their rights. These conversations include not only general policy discussions, but also individual decisions on a child’s future.

Beyond ensuring children’s participation, adults should also engage with one another. Lawyers, social workers, nurses, and teachers all work with children and perceive their problems from different perspectives. A dialogue among these different actors of the system is indispensable to developing a more comprehensive and liberating view of children’s rights. Overall, we need to “ask the child question” more often, and create spaces where we can ask the question.

Opening a ‘childish’ space in legal education

Legal scholars can also contribute to the creation of such spaces by encouraging law students to think about children, and by discussing the importance of children’s rights within legal education. This is not a complicated task since most legal issues raised in the classroom already affect children. Our team’s blog, which invites researchers to think about the effects of the pandemic on children, is a simple example of a space for such discussions.

Thinking more about children – and with children – will ultimately lead to enriched perspectives. Every step of life is precious and full of experiences.

Children’s voices are undermined when childhood is considered as something to grow out of. However, if we start listening to children, we will realize that they have a lot to teach us.

By Mr. Atagün Mert Kejanlıoğlu, doctoral candidate, Faculty of Law, McGill University

 


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