In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Children’s Rights

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Textbooks
  • Anthologies
  • Journals
  • Reference Works
  • History
  • Psychology and Children’s Rights
  • Children’s Views on Rights
  • Early Childhood
  • Rights to Participation
  • Education
  • Health
  • The Justice System
  • Children’s Rights in the Digital World
  • Asia
  • Africa
  • Australia and New Zealand
  • European Union
  • Latin America and the Caribbean
  • Canada
  • United States

Childhood Studies Children’s Rights
Heather Montgomery
  • LAST REVIEWED: 18 January 2022
  • LAST MODIFIED: 11 January 2018
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199791231-0001


Children’s rights are an integral part of human rights; children have rights because they are human. This has been acknowledged and codified in national and international legislation, most notably in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC; 1989). Children are also accorded additional rights because it is recognized that they are more vulnerable than adults and have less power and access to resources. In law, children’s rights apply to persons between the ages of newborn and eighteen, following Article 1 of the CRC. Although this article has come under criticism for imposing an arbitrary time frame on childhood and for ignoring other phases in the life cycle, such as adolescence, discussions of children’s rights are framed by these chronological boundaries. The study of children’s rights is a comparatively new topic of interest, but it has generated a great deal of controversy across several fields, including social policy, law, philosophy, anthropology, and sociology. It also has significant impact in fields such as health care, education, and welfare provision. Certain rights have been enshrined in law, yet there is still much debate over the moral rights of children—whether these rights do, or should, exist and who should safeguard them.

General Overviews

The topic of children’s rights has been approached from a number of different perspectives—most notably, legal and philosophical. The majority of the key texts in the field came out in the 1990s, when legislation, such as the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), was coming into force. The debates and philosophical background to the issue are most fully discussed in Archard 2004 and updated in Archard 2015. The essays collected in Freeman 2004 analyze the tensions between autonomy and dependence and examine why children should have particular rights and how they should best be implemented. These issues are picked up and summarized in a single article, Campbell 1992. John 2003 argues for a change of emphasis such that children’s rights be seen in terms of power relationships and structural inequalities rather than protection. Liebel, et al. 2012 and Denov, et al. 2011 look at the impacts of international children’s rights legislation on children’s lives and at the difficulties of implementation and supporting the philosophies behind the CRC in practice, particularly in the developing world. Hanson and Nieuwenhuys 2012 acknowledges these problems and proposes a new conceptual framework, examining the difficulties and challenges of implementing children’s rights cross-culturally.

  • Archard, David. Children: Rights and Childhood. 2d ed. London and New York: Routledge, 2004.

    The key academic text for understanding the philosophical and moral basis of children’s rights. Clearly written, and suitable for undergraduates and above, the text relates children’s rights to ideas about childhood, examining why children need particular rights and relationships among child, adult, and state. Also looks at issues of age-related competencies.

  • Archard, David. Children: Rights and Childhood. 3d ed. London and New York: Routledge, 2015.

    While retaining much of the overview of the second edition, this edition has a new chapter on the impacts of the CRC and a great emphasis on children’s rights in practice.

  • Campbell, Tom D. “The Rights of the Minor: As Person, as Child, as Juvenile, as Future Adult.” International Journal of Law, Policy and the Family 6.1 (1992): 1–23.

    DOI: 10.1093/lawfam/6.1.1

    A concise but comprehensive look at the philosophical basis of children’s rights, asking what differentiates children and children’s rights from adults and their rights. The article discusses positive and moral rights and whether there is a contradiction between them. Also raises important questions of dependence and autonomy. Available online through purchase.

  • Denov, Myriam, Richard Maclure, and Kathryn Campbell, eds. Children’s Rights and International Development: Lessons and Challenges from the Field. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2011.

    DOI: 10.1057/9780230119253

    An edited volume that looks at the difficulties of implementing children’s rights in the developing world. It uses case studies from South Africa, Asia, and Africa to illustrate the problems of ensuring children’s welfare holistically. Useful for practitioners and undergraduates.

  • Freeman, Michael D. A., ed. Children’s Rights. 2 vols. Aldershot, UK, and Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2004.

    A collection of previously published scholarly articles that cover the key theorists from the early 1970s to 2003 in a variety of different disciplines, thereby showing the evolution in thinking on the subject. The text looks at arguments both for and against children’s rights and covers Europe, the United States, and the rest of the world.

  • Freeman, Michael, ed. The Future of Children’s Rights. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 2015.

    Containing updated essays by many of the same scholars as in Freeman 2004, the essays in this edited book look at the progress made and the ways forward. Contains works by some of the most important scholars in the field.

  • Hanson, Karl, and Olga Nieuwenhuys, eds. Reconceptualizing Children’s Rights in International Development: Living Rights, Social Justice, Translations. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2012.

    DOI: 10.1017/CBO9781139381796

    A collection of essays edited by two key academics in childhood studies, with an excellent introduction that proposes a new conceptual framework for implementing children’s rights cross-culturally. Provides an overview of emerging issues and new ideas in the field.

  • John, Mary. Children’s Rights and Power: Charging Up for a New Century. Children in Charge. London and New York: Jessica Kingsley, 2003.

    Concentrates on the issue of power in children’s relationships with adults and raises questions about how greatly children have been, or can be, empowered through rights. Using international case studies and examples, this book frames discussions of rights in terms of power and agency rather than autonomy or dependency.

  • Liebel, Manfred, Karl Hanson, Iven Saadi, and Wouter Vandenhole. Children’s Rights from Below: Cross-Cultural Perspectives. Studies in Childhood and Youth. London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2012.

    DOI: 10.1057/9780230361843

    Emphasizes the importance of cross-cultural understandings of children’s rights and of examining the differing contexts in which children live. Each chapter is written by an expert in the field, and this book is a vital starting point for understanding children’s rights in different parts of the world.

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