A bully in the playground: examining the role of neoliberal economic globalisation in children's struggle to become 'fully human'.

Author:Davidson, Jennifer C.

    Neoliberal economic globalisation (NEG) and its consequent institutions and processes were not constructed with children in mind. The moment one brings children into the equation, the exclusionary nature of this system is revealed; children experience a special marginalisation under NEG and the struggle to recognise and enforce children's rights is made more difficult under its global dominance.



    What is classified as 'human' today has not been historically constant, and some would argue that this category of personhood may in fact be continuing to evolve (Fukuyama, 2003; Mitchell, 2004; Baxi, 2005a). Baxi's ' logics of exclusion and inclusion' (2005a, p28) considers the evolving criteria for what is fully 'human' (p28) and what is viewed as 'Other' (p28), with various criteria having been used throughout history to disallow people having rights. This lack of rights thereby sustains these groups' states of suffering. He suggests this has included for example slaves, indigenous people, women, the impoverished, and children. Society has treated these 'others' at best as worthy of charity and at worst, as property. It is the increasing achievement of rights which contributes to the emancipation and inclusion of these groups which were formerly excluded as 'other'. Baxi's 'logics of exclusion and inclusion' are applied here to the unique and complex dynamics of children becoming 'fully human' through achievement of internationally recognised human rights.


    The concept of becoming more ' fully human' through the bearing of rights is particularly relevant when considering the complex and changing place of children in wider society. This idea of an evolutionary process can be applied to children from their 'Other' positions as property and later as receivers of charity, to becoming more 'fully human' through the bearing of rights. A brief historical look at the place of children in Western society, for example, supports this view that children have progressed along a Property-Welfare-Rights journey, albeit a potholed, circuitous and faltering one, from being excluded 'Others' toward becoming more 'fully human'.

    Prior to the sixteenth century, children over the age of about six were considered adults, and parents had virtually unobstructed power over their children (Hart, 1991; Burke, 2007). The following several centuries saw a progressive change in the property status of children, with children becoming increasingly more 'valuable and vulnerable' property (Campbell & Covell, 2001, p124). The child-saving movement in the nineteenth century changed children's position further by promoting children as 'potential persons,' and state protective intervention increased in response. Following the Second World War and in line with the wider human rights movement, children advanced from being objects of rights to bearers of rights (Jones, 2005). This culminated in the introduction of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) in 1989.

    A more contemporary example of children's progression to achieving rights and becoming more 'fully human' is seen in the complex problem of child labour, which at one time might have been understood as simply a transactional cost for international trade. As child work became viewed with increasing concern internationally, the issue was then framed as the domain of state sovereignty. It has now evolved into a problem predominantly understood within a human rights paradigm (Myers, 2001; Sanghera, 2008) and codified in international law. (1)

    Children's attainment of rights codified in international public law is an important achievement for improving their circumstances and reducing their suffering. Rights ensure a duty on others, create accountability, and allow for a valid claim. unlike a welfare perspective, a rights perspective places a duty on others and views children and the causes of their problems within their wider societal circumstances. In contrast, a welfare or protectionist approach to children's needs is based on a child's entitlement. This entitlement is defined by others and is easily usurped by various exclusionary criteria which disallow access to services or remedies. This approach does not identify individuals or institutions as having an obligation to meet the specified need; fulfilling the need is dependent on the benevolence of others (Vrouwenfelder, 2006). As such, it is more susceptible to discrimination, changes in priorities and consequent funding.


    The evolving place of children along this Property-Welfare-Rights continuum has not been without its struggles and its opponents, nor has it remained static. The position of children as more 'fully human' and active bearers of rights, however imperfect, continues to be vulnerable to barriers in application and to regression both in practice and in discourse, as we will examine below.

    2.3.1 Barriers in application

    The achievement of children's rights codified in international law is an important component of becoming more 'included' in society. However, despite evidence that children have become bearers of rights, for example through the CRC, in a range of policies and practice areas that directly affect children's lives we continue to see notions of children as property or as passive recipients of welfare based on entitlements rather than on rights. Consider for example in the West, states' reluctance to introduce legislation banning parental corporal punishment (Bitensky, 1998); the low priorities placed on children in government budgets for services for children; the consequent difficulties human services can face when intervening in abusive family situations; and the more lenient sentences for crimes committed against children (Campbell & Covell, 2001). In these and other areas, policies and their related practice do not yet effectively apply the rights which are already enshrined in international, national and regional laws. Exclusionary criteria continue to exist in policy and practice arenas which disallow children enjoying their rights in practice. It is this exclusionary criteria which continues to act as a barrier to children becoming, in Baxi's (2005a) terms, 'fully human'.

    Campbell and Covell (2001) suggest policy and practice which still reflect the view of children as property is due in part to the remarkably quick time period in which the transition to children becoming bearers of rights was accomplished. While the achievement of children bearing international rights has been relatively recent--twenty years this month--this benign interpretation overlooks other possible underlying causes for the stubbornness of these exclusionary criteria in the application of children's rights to practice. The role of NEG in actively perpetuating these barriers is explored further below.

    In addition to exclusionary criteria which may be imposed in the translation of children's rights from law to policy and practice, the very construction of some rights create intrinsic limits to their enforceability. The lack of an individual remedy within the CRC has been criticised as a shortcoming of the instrument, for example. The difficulties which ' third generation' development rights present in the identification of a violator and a violation, in enforcement and in delivering collective remedies are also substantial (Roth, 2004). However, the very search for individual remedies can itself be criticised for its Western roots, which risks perpetuating the exclusion and devaluation of more collective notions of remedy.

    2.3.2 International rhetoric as regression

    The discourse of children's rights is vulnerable not only to exclusionary criteria which limit its applicability to children' s lives and the reduction of their suffering, but this discourse also experiences forms of regression, even within the context of children's rights and international law; the Property-Welfare-Rights continuum is not a linear unidirectional progression. Within the very institutions in which international children's rights were developed and promoted, commitment to children's rights has wavered. A 'retreat from rights' (Jones, 2005) is best exemplified in the United Nations General Assembly Special Session (UNGASS) on Children in 2002, which sought to review the progress for children in the previous decade since the introduction of the CRC and jointly plan for the future. Due to pressure from some governments--t he US in particular--the CRC was removed from being the...

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