What Is a Child?

Every child has the right to health, education and protection, no matter where they live. They should be able to grow up in peace, with the help of their families and communities, and without fear or discrimination. Children are at the heart of our efforts to build a more just and sustainable world.

Children need to learn how to be safe, to play and explore in healthy environments, to make friends, and to try out different activities. All this helps them develop the skills they need to be able to think and solve problems. Children are also better able to learn when they feel secure and loved, which is why it’s important that parents and all adults who look after them stick to the same rules and routines. Children tend to mimic the behaviour they see adults doing, so if you’re yelling when they try to touch an open fire, chances are they’ll do it too!

In the broadest sense, a child is any human being who has not reached the age of majority, or the stage of puberty. But there are differences between how a child is defined in different cultures and in law.

This seminar series interrogates different definitions of the ‘child’ to understand their implications for research, policy and practice. It looks at how a child has been understood through history and in different cultures, to examine the nature of childhood and its relationship with development and growth.

Children are everywhere, but millions of them are denied a fair chance in life because they’re born into poverty or into circumstances beyond their control. Poverty can prevent them from getting the healthcare and education they need to thrive, and can have a lasting impact on their health and wellbeing.

Many children live with violence and trauma, which can have long-lasting effects on their mental and physical health. They can become less trusting and more withdrawn, and may be prone to anxiety or depression. When they experience trauma, it’s important to listen to them and to not dismiss their fears. Distraction and physical comfort – such as a cuddle or a favourite toy – can be helpful, too.

It’s vital that children have access to good quality care and education, so they can lead happy and fulfilling lives and contribute fully to society. They should be able to speak their own language and be proud of their culture, religion or traditions, even if these are not widely shared in the country they live in. They should be protected from being forced to take part in war or work for dangerous employers, and to get help if they have been hurt, neglected, treated badly or affected by conflict or disaster. When children break the law, they should be provided with solutions that offer them a chance to turn things around and make amends. They should never be imprisoned. This is especially important for girls, who are more likely than boys to be locked up for minor crimes.