What Is a Child?

A child is a human being who is not yet an adult. Children have the right to health, education and protection from violence and extreme poverty. Every country and society has a responsibility to ensure that all children can reach their full potential. From the UN’s focus on education to the global efforts to reduce preventable childhood deaths, from child labour to disease-eradication programmes, from child sponsorship to the work of the UN children’s agencies, the United Nations system is committed to improving the lives of children everywhere.

Originally derived from the Old English cild, the word child has retained its meaning of “young person” to this day. Biologically, it means any person below the age of puberty (or a similar milestone). Legally, it refers to anyone below the age of majority. Children are generally regarded as less competent than adults, and can only make decisions with the permission of an adult or in accordance with family law. For this reason, they are often referred to as minors in legal contexts.

Although the term “child” usually applies to a male or female, the word can also be used colloquially to describe any young person, regardless of gender. The words kid and nipper are often used in informal or humorous contexts to refer to a young person, particularly one who is naughty or annoying. The word immature may be used to denote a young person who exhibits behavior that is unusual for someone their age, such as throwing a temper tantrum.

Storytelling and reading to children are important for a child’s development. It helps them learn the sounds and meanings of words, develop their concentration and social skills, and grow their imaginations. It also teaches them about other cultures, people and places. Children who grow up with parents who read to them regularly are more likely to be readers and writers themselves.

The first books for children appeared in the 16th century. They were called hornbooks and taught children simple information such as the alphabet and the Lord’s Prayer. By the 19th century, there was a boom in children’s literature. Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland is considered the first English classic written for children, and it opened the “First Golden Age” of children’s books.

The short stories in Joyce’s 1914 collection Dubliners, such as ‘The Sisters’ and ‘Father Flynn’, explore the themes of adulthood and the transition from childhood to maturity. A child’s life can be shaped by their experiences, the opportunities and limitations of their parents, schools and communities. Children who live in extreme poverty are less likely to have a good quality of life, as are those who experience violence and conflict. The United Nations has made significant progress towards achieving the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) that aim to improve the lives of children worldwide. These goals include reducing child mortality, increasing school attendance and reducing the prevalence of chronic diseases. However, much remains to be done.