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The Childhood, Law & Policy Network (CLPN)

Interview with Rebecca Adami, Anna Kaldal, and Margareta Aspán about their edited collection, The Rights of the Child: Legal, Political and Ethical Challenges

Our member, Rebecca Adami, along with her co-editors Anna Kaldal and Margareta Aspán (all at Stockholm University, Sweden), talk about their edited collection, The Rights of the Child: Legal, Political and Ethical Challenges (Brill, 2023).


Q: What is this edited collection about?

This book provides students and scholars with interdisciplinary lenses to explore crucial issues concerning core challenges of realizing children’s rights. Critical perspectives regarding national and international legislation on children’s rights help distinguish cases when it may be morally justified to question the law for not having stressed children’s human rights. Also, through a critical perspective, ethical assessments missing in legal implementation can be traced. Critical analysis illuminates not only the law but also how it is applied – or not – from a child rights perspective.

The chapters offer insights into both legal and ethical frameworks actualized when the core principles of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) are applied, such as ‘the best interests of the child’ and ‘the child’s right to be heard’. As the contributors in this volume note in different ways, children’s human rights are – in their implementation at the national level – read through an adult biased lens. Such often pervasive adult interpretive framework can be understood as hindering valid implementation of the rights of the child. Significantly, children were excluded from the process of drafting the Convention that today sets the international legal framework for the rights of the child.

Q: What made you initiate this volume?

In 2020, the CRC was incorporated into Swedish law. A great deal of work is underway within authorities and administrations etc. to elaborate further strategies for effective and sustainable work from a child rights perspective. However, there is still a long way to go; the work of identifying good policies and methods for implementation is still in its infancy.

The increased demand for knowledge and awareness about adults’ attitudes and treatment of children, might be understood as important as the law itself, as legal decisions and verdicts always are based on the adults' view of children and youth. Adults may think they act lawfully, however, there can still be ethical problems in how children are treated.  Also, in every case, the decision is to be set in relation to the outcome for other groups affected by the decision. The important work for involving children’s own perspectives in every decision effecting them, may seem surprisingly neglected in many cases.

As presented in the book, some philosophical and critical perspectives on legal cases raise troubling questions. One example concerns fair and ethical ways in which children can be heard, their ‘best interest’ be considered and their participation ensured, especially on issues related to their rights. In debates over matters on the best interests of the child, we need also consider if professionals have prejudices about the child, as supposedly being too young or immature to be taken seriously. Other important questions follow: What happens when there is a conflict between the rights of children and those of adults, such as children versus guardians, or teachers versus students? And how can the different possible interpretations of children’s rights be resolved, as well as conflicts with other human rights? The answers are different depending on from which angel you start. Hopefully collaboration between diverse disciplines represented in the book can reach even further.

An excerpt from the introductory chapter:

The tensions dealt with in this volume between legal, political, and ethical perspectives on children’s rights foreground limited notions of justice, equality, and non-discrimination of children. The purpose is to set several perspectives in conversation with each other, both in terms of how national law relates to the Convention on the Rights of the Child, CRC, and how children’s rights can be developed and understood from a philosophical standpoint. This book is dedicated to students, researchers, and professionals working with children’s rights. The chapters, each of which concludes with a cross-disciplinary response, can be read separately or as a whole, starting with either the contributions from legal scholarship (Part 1) or the more philosophical discussions on children’s rights and justice (Part 2), depending on one’s field of interest. This volume addresses legal gaps in the codified ethics of children’s rights, and discusses several of the principles of the CRC that require political policy developments on a societal level.

The first part of the volume addresses the complexity, critique, and ambiguity of how to interpret and understand children’s rights and the four core principles of the CRC (the right to participation, the best interests of the child, the right to life and development, and the principle of non-discrimination and equality) from various angles. Chapter 1 explores ways in which we can understand the right to have rights for Swedish children abroad, prevented from returning to Sweden, and how children’s right to agency and residence, recognized in Swedish law as well as in international human rights, is implemented. Chapter 2 furthers the notion of welfare rights for children in Sweden; legal challenges are analyzed in how underlying assumptions and conditions limit the fulfilment of the right to an adequate standard of living for the most economically vulnerable children. According to the CRC, children have participation rights and Chapter 3 discusses limitations of such rights in proceedings in custody cases and child abuse cases in Sweden due to the questioning of children’s competence and credibility. The assumption that children in conflict with the law are treated unbiased in Sweden is problematized through two legal case studies in Chapter 4. Lastly, in terms of children’s right to quality healthcare, Chapter 5 discusses the vulnerable conditions of children as developing to be taken seriously in treatment advancements in paediatric care.

The second part of the volume addresses how we can understand the notions of justice, equality, and non-discrimination when it comes to children, and the role that ethical judgements play in theoretical and methodological studies on children’s human rights. Chapter 6 develops theoretical tools to analyze intersecting prejudice against children including age-based forms of discrimination; Chapter 7 concerns new ways of conceptualizing participation; Chapter 8 seeks to develop a more justice-oriented understanding of children’s human rights during childhood; Chapter 9 adds the problematization of what epistemic justice could mean in terms of children’s right to culture and the arts; and finally, Chapter 10 raises critical reflections on the methodological and ethical considerations in ethnographic research dealing with children in vulnerable situations.



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