Children have rights, and should be treated in a fair and balanced way. These rights include the right to a name, the right to be protected, the right to receive information from any source, the right to freedom of expression, and the right to freedom of religion. However, the most important of these rights is the right to be self-determined, which is the right to make your own decisions in your life.
Various debates have attempted to shed light on the nature and value of these rights. For example, the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) provides an exemplary statement of children’s rights, and also distinguishes between positive rights and moral rights.
Although the term ‘rights’ can have many meanings, the most commonly accepted definition is the legal entitlement to certain rights. According to this definition, every child is entitled to the protection of the state, as well as to be given a proper name and nationality. They should not be subjected to any form of abuse or exploitation. Their privacy should be safeguarded, their communications should be secure, and they should be allowed to participate in cultural activities. Lastly, the right to be a part of a family and to be supported by their parents is a universally accepted right.
There are a number of debates about whether children actually have the right to be free. Some argue that giving a child freedom of choice would deprive them of their identity, and others claim that children are incapable of making wise choices. On the other hand, others believe that allowing them to choose is a positive step toward autonomy, and thus a good thing.
Many of the more sweeping and comprehensive human rights treaties are premised on the assumption that children have rights. This is not necessarily a bad thing, since children are unique in that they are not all mentally impaired. While they may not have the cognitive capabilities to make thoughtful choices, it is a good idea to consider the best interests of the child in any decision, particularly if they are young.
One important factor to keep in mind when considering the rights of children is the concept of proxy exercise. A proxy exercise means that someone other than the child is empowered to make a decision for the child, in case they are not competent to do so. The right to be heard is a good example of a proxy exercise. It should be remembered, however, that only when a child is unable to exercise a choice does it come into play.
While a variety of discussions about the best way to protect the rights of children have tended to be marred by cultural differences, there are some basic truths to be considered. The United Nations 1989 convention on the rights of the child is an example. Though not the first international human rights convention, it has made a positive impact on children’s rights. In a world where children are frequently maltreated, there are many benefits to a well-written treaty such as this one.