Article 12 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child states:
“1. States Parties shall assure to the child who is capable of forming his or her own views the right to express those views freely in all matters affecting the child, the views of the child being given due weight in accordance with the age and maturity of the child.
2. For this purpose, the child shall in particular be provided the opportunity to be heard in any judicial and administrative proceedings affecting the child, either directly, or through a representative or an appropriate body, in a manner consistent with the procedural rules of national law.”
In UK. the spirit of the above requirement has been incorporated in various legislations such as the Children Act (1989) and the Family Act (1996) as well as the Green paper “Every Child Matters” (2003), the Children Act (2004), and other relevant legislation with the intention of ensuring the “best interest” of the children. In specific, the Children Act (1989) and the Family Act (1996) require that children’s views in relation to arrangements for their own care are sought and that children have the ability to institute court proceedings in their own right.
In spite of the above mentioned, mechanisms there are several factors that limit children’s participation and voices. The most fundamental factor is the social construction of childhood as a journey toward adulthood, hence, children are conceived as ‘incomplete-adults’ and growing to be ‘full adults’. This conception of childhood results in a future focus based on how children will turn-out as adults and what their future experiences will be rather than what their lived experience is as a child. Consequently, children’s long-term interests are prioritised over, and at times at the expense of, their short-term interests.
For instance, in custody and divorce disputes children are seen and their views are sought within the context of their family system rather than as individuals whose interests may not coincide with that of their family. In such disputes, usually the emphasis is on resolving parental differences in relation to custody arrangements rather than seeking the child’s own views. Indeed, in most private proceedings, there is the presumption that the child’s welfare is met once the parents have agreed about the child’s custody, and only when parental agreement in relation to custody cannot be reached are the child’s views sought. Even in this latter case in many countries court welfare officers are encouraged to see the child when possible but are not under any specific obligation to do so, hence there is no guarantee that the views of the child are accurately and directly ascertained.
Such adult based conception of children makes children’s expression dependent on adult consent and/or mediation. In other words, conceiving of children as ‘incomplete adults’ leads to a presumption of ‘incompetence’ on the part of children and as such makes their voices and expressions conditional on their being ‘adults enough’.
The debate about conception of childhood and children’s rights ranges from their involvement in cases of custody, divorce, and separation to citizenship and the very notion of “belonging”, with both sides of the argument emphasising the “best interest” of children, but, from different conceptual perspectives. Hence, there are those who argue that children suffer enormously from parental conflict and therefore, should be shielded/protected from further pain and should not be involved in divorce or separation proceedings. They state that such conflict resolution and decision making is “adults” responsibility that should not be relegated to children. While others argue that precisely due to the profound impact of parental conflict, children should be consulted and listened to and should be part of the decision making processes.
Therefore, in Tuesday’s debate we we wish to explore the following questions:
What are the prevailing notions and conceptions of childhood?
What are some of the mechanisms/procedures to ensure that voices of children are heard? Are these mechanisms/procedures effective in practice?
To what extent should children’s views be sought and considered when decisions are being made about their lives and future?
To what extent should the children be consulted about their views and preferences during parental conflict, divorce, and/or separation?
Are the children’s interest always in-line with their parents? If yes, why? If no, why not?
How should practitioners deal with situations where children’s interests are in conflict with that of the parents?
How can we listen to the voices of children with a child-centred rather than an adult-centred manner?
How can there be a greater appreciation and a deeper understanding of children and their experiences?
What is an appropriate conception of childhood and children’s rights?
Join & share your view about: ”Voices of Children & Children’s Rights” on Tuesday (16 October) 8:00 PM UK / 3:00 PM ET / 12:00 noon PT @SWSCmedia.