The presumption is that a specialised legal regime for children is warranted because of their inherent vulnerabilities. The vulnerability of children is rather different from that of other vulnerable groups, such as women, indigenous peoples, disabled persons, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transsexual and intersex (LGBTI) persons, in that at different stages of their development they are mostly dependent on others for their survival and cannot (or are not allowed to) partake in social or political life in the same way as adults. Unlike all other vulnerable persons, the well-being of children is entrusted to their parents and guardians and hence many of the issues facing children have traditionally been perceived through the lens of family relationships and family law, as opposed to human rights law.
The Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) and its subsequent protocols has somewhat changed this state of affairs by introducing several principles which transform children from objects to real subjects of the law. Moreover, these instruments highlight the reality that children constitute a ‘commodity’ for organised crime groups and warlords, whether for sexual gratification, illegal adoptions or as child soldiers. Unless states take active and concerted measures to prevent and punish the perpetrators (and end-users) of such offences, the exploitation of children will remain a profitable enterprise. Without investment in the lives of children through the use of maximum available resources, states will remain weak and children disempowered.
This chapter examines the emergence of a specialised human rights regime for children, as well as the guiding principles found in the CRC. It then goes on to illustrate how poverty and other factors exacerbate the vulnerabilities of children.
CHILDHOOD: A NON-STATIC CONCEPT
It is perhaps inconceivable today that a child would be fully integrated in the life of adults, bearing in the process the same rights and obligations. Yet, until the renaissance, childhood was no different to adulthood. Children engaged in exactly the same activities as adults and from a very early age they learned their parents’ trade through apprenticeships. In this setting, children were not viewed as weaker or inferior compared to adults and it was considered natural that they would partake in equal measure in the sustenance and survival needs of the family, tribe or clan.