In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section History of Children

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Primary Sources
  • Edited Collections
  • Journals and Databases
  • Central America
  • The Caribbean
  • Peru
  • Paraguay, Bolivia, and Chile
  • Novels

Latin American Studies History of Children
Elizabeth Kuznesof
  • LAST REVIEWED: 30 September 2013
  • LAST MODIFIED: 30 September 2013
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199766581-0079


Publications on the history of childhood globally or for Latin America only date since the 1980s. Most pertinent sources on childhood for Latin America are about something else: the development of institutions such as education, social welfare, or the history of women and the family. Since the colonial period (1492 to approximately 1826), children have constituted a large proportion of the population of Latin America and continue to be vital to the work force. Children who appear in historical documents were seldom members of “legitimate” families; most often they were children of the popular classes. Thus, scholars have discussed abandoned and orphaned children, children inducted by the military, and children thrust into institutionalized workshops as “apprentices” or caught up in the criminal justice system. In the 19th and early 20th centuries, scholars, legislators, and politicians focused on the levels of infant and child mortality, child labor, juvenile delinquency, and public education. This essay will take a historical perspective and will not consider questions of present-day childhood. From a historical and legal perspective, the family in Latin America has been represented consistently as the fundamental unit of society and as a nuclear unit that is essentially patriarchal, based on a system of monogamous marriage and focused on reproduction. This vision is retained from the 16th to the 20th century, in spite of the remarkable diversity in family and household forms that existed and exist in Latin America. The family as constructed through law can be seen as the codification of an elite world vision, concerned with the legality of family ties, with the legal definition of marital and paternal power, the legitimacy of offspring, and the regulation of family wealth. Important themes in the history of childhood in Latin America are legal questions of inheritance, criminal responsibility, child labor, education, and the history of institutions formed to house, protect, and/or control children. A theme of considerable importance in the interpretation of the history of childhood in Latin America is the focus on “child circulation” between households through the course of their lives. The scholarship on the history of childhood and its distribution among the countries of Latin America over the centuries has determined the organization of this essay. After the scholarship that takes a general vision of the history of childhood, the essay is organized by country, moving from the North (Mexico) to Central America and the Caribbean and to South America. Most has been written on Mexico and Brazil, which are also divided into chronological sections (Colonial Period, 19th Century, 20th Century).

General Overviews

General overviews include studies that contextualize Latin American childhood within the larger field of the history of childhood internationally and those that look at the evolution of the field over time. Pollitt, et al. 1980 evaluates programs of child intervention for poverty and malnutrition throughout Latin America in the 20th century. Fass 2004 and Hawes and Hiner 1991 are examples of studies that contextualize Latin America within the world and within the bibliography on the history of childhood worldwide. Kuznesof 2005, Guy 2002, Milanich 2007, and Premo 2008 discuss how international views of childhood have influenced views of the child in Latin America, how children in Latin America have been treated historically by the law, and the evolution of the field of the history of childhood within the area of Latin American history.

  • Fass, Paula S., ed. Encyclopedia of Children and Childhood in History and Society. 3 vols. New York: Macmillan, 2004.

    Three volume introduction that includes Latin American childhood, Brazilian childhood, child labor, and other general themes dealing with the history of children.

  • Guy, Donna J. “The State, the Family, and Marginal Children in Latin America.” In Minor Omissions: Children in Latin American History and Society. Edited by Tobias Hecht, 139–164. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 2002.

    Guy shows the parallels among countries in Latin America in the state’s relationship to families and to marginal children.

  • Hawes, Joseph M., and N. Ray Hiner, eds. Children in Historical and Comparative Perspective: An International Handbook and Research Guide. New York: Greenwood, 1991.

    This book includes a general introduction to the history of children and childhood, including common themes and interpretations. Discrete chapters focus on Mexico and Brazil.

  • Hecht, Tobias. “Introduction.” In Minor Omissions: Children in Latin American History and Society. Edited by Tobias Hecht, 3–20. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 2002.

    This is an insightful contextualization of Latin America and themes within Latin American history to the history of childhood in general.

  • Kuznesof, Elizabeth A. “The House, the Street, Global Society: Latin American Families and Childhood in the Twenty-First Century.” Journal of Social History 38.4 (Summer 2005): 859–872.

    DOI: 10.1353/jsh.2005.0065

    This article looks at the impact of the process of globalization on childhood and the family in Latin America.

  • Milanich, Nara. “Informalidad y extralegalidad de los niños en América Latina: Del período colonial hasta el presente.” In Historia de la infancia en América Latina. Edited by Pablo Rodríguez and María Emma Mannarelli, 591–613. Bogotá: Universidad Externado de Colombia, 2007.

    This article looks at commonalities in legislation related to children in Latin America during and since the colonial period. The author notes both tendencies and gaps in legislation compared to the rest of the world.

  • Pollitt, Ernesto, Robert Halpern, and Patricia Eskenasy. Poverty and Malnutrition in Latin America: Early Childhood Intervention Programs: A Report to the Ford Foundation. New York: Praeger, 1980.

    This book describes early childhood intervention programs to combat hunger and poverty in Latin America during the 20th century.

  • Premo, Bianca. “How Latin America’s History of Childhood Came of Age.” Journal of the History of Childhood and Youth 1.1 (2008): 63–76.

    DOI: 10.1353/hcy.2008.0008

    Premo provides perspective on the historiographical background to the history of childhood in Latin America, including the histories of the family and women.

back to top

Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content on this page. Please subscribe or login.

How to Subscribe

Oxford Bibliographies Online is available by subscription and perpetual access to institutions. For more information or to contact an Oxford Sales Representative click here.