In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Latin America

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Psychological Health
  • Socialization and Education
  • Indigenous Childhood
  • Street Children
  • Diverse Historical Topics

Childhood Studies Latin America
Tobias Hecht
  • LAST REVIEWED: 23 March 2012
  • LAST MODIFIED: 23 March 2012
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199791231-0016


Children in Latin America have gradually come to attract the attention of researchers from a number of fields. Historians, for example, have examined the importance of the labor performed by children on the vessels that sailed to and from the Americas in the 16th century. Scholars of religion and history, for their part, have studied how children were used in the effort to implant the Catholic faith in the New World: The young were deemed apt for conversion, whereas adults often were not. Today, about 37 percent of Latin America’s population is age nineteen or under, and children work, study, worship, and have even been known to fight wars. Children are increasingly portrayed by scholars as integral parts of the larger sweep of history, economics, religion, and beyond. Emerging from diverse fields of the social sciences and humanities, the works in this bibliography attest to the growing importance of children in the study of Latin America. They also suggest how little explored childhood remains.

General Overviews

The general overviews come in various forms, and overlap between the texts discussed here is rare. Some of the sources concern contemporary Latin America and others the past; some address the private spaces of the home and family and still others institutions and public policy. For contemporary views, see Allsebrook and Swift 1989, the UNICEF website, and Green 1998. For readers of Spanish, Gonzalbo Aizpuru and Rabel 1994 on the family in the new world is unsurpassed for the care of its scholarship and the well-chosen subjects included; it also introduces readers to many of the best scholars in the field. Gónzalez and Premo 2007 is an excellent English-language introduction to the history of childhood in colonial Latin America. Lipsett-Rivera 1998, a special issue of the Journal of Family History, brings the reader into more recent history. Hecht 2002 can be read together with either of these with little risk of overlap. The lusophone reader will find that the review of the literature on childhood in Brazil by Alvim and Valladares 1988 directs one to many of the most interesting readings in the field. Sá 2007 depicts in broad strokes some of the characteristics of childhood in Portugal and the colonies between 1500 and 1800.

  • Allsebrook, Annie, and Anthony Swift. Broken Promise: The World of Endangered Children. London: Headway, 1989.

    A spirited introduction to contemporary childhood in various regions of the world, including Latin America. Discusses street children, working children, child thieves, and child soldiers, among other topics. The book is imaginatively written and appropriate for students at the high school level but has the complexity to hold the interest of more advanced readers.

  • Alvim, Maria Rosilene Barbosa, and Lícia do Prado Valladares. “Infância e sociedade no Brasil: Uma análise da literatura.” Boletim Informativo e Bibliográfico de Ciências Sociais: BIB 26.2 (1988): 3–37.

    An intelligent and readable discussion of the literature on childhood in Brazil. The wide-ranging sources will set the student of childhood in Brazil on the right track, even though the article is dated.

  • Gonzalbo Aizpuru, Pilar, and Cecilia Rabell, eds. La familia en el mundo iberoamericano. Mexico City: Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, 1994.

    An indispensible introduction to the history of the family in Latin America, edited by two luminaries, replete with the writings of other leading scholars in the field. While the book is not specifically about children, they are discussed throughout. Also see the editors’ excellent Familia y vida privada en la historia de Iberoamérica (Mexico City: Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, 1996).

  • González, Ondina A., and Bianca Premo, eds. Raising an Empire: Children in Early Modern Iberia and Colonial Latin America. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 2007.

    The “raising” and the “empire” in the book’s title receive almost equal attention: We see how children grew up and how they were participants in or victims of far larger enterprises. An impressive contribution toward our understanding of children as part of Latin American history. Appropriate for undergraduates and more advanced scholars.

  • Green, Duncan. Hidden Lives: Voices of Children in Latin America and the Caribbean. London: Cassell, 1998.

    Hidden Lives addresses child labor, street children, children’s rights, health, violence, and other topics—to the extent possible through the voices of children. The book is a useful point of entry.

  • Hecht, Tobias, ed. Minor Omissions: Children in Latin American History and Society. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 2002.

    An introduction to Latin American history and society through the lives of children. Contributors include historians, an anthropologist, an author of fiction, and a homeless Brazilian youth. Appropriate for undergraduates and more advanced scholars.

  • Lipsett-Rivera, Sonya, ed. Special Issue: Children in the History of Latin America. Journal of Family History 23.3 (1998).

    A collected work on the history of children in Latin America. The authors write on child circulation in Mexico City, child labor, and children and the welfare state, among other topics. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

  • Sá, Isabel dos Guimarães. “Up and Out: Children in Portugal and the Empire (1500–1800).” In Raising an Empire: Children in Early Modern Iberia and Colonial Latin America. Edited by Ondina E. González and Bianca Premo, 17–40. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 2007.

    A study of children in Portugal between 1500 and 1800 by the author of the well-received A circulação de crianças na Europa do Sul (Lisboa, Portugal: Fundação Calouste Gulbenkian, 1995) The essay focuses on work, play, education, religion, and abandonment—a handful for a short piece but here skillfully juggled.

  • UNICEF. “Unite for Children: Latin America and the Caribbean.”

    A site abounding with statistics relating to children, links for UNICEF television and radio on demand, publications, podcasts, partner organizations, photo essays, and more. Statistics are usefully organized by country and relate to nutrition, mortality, education, HIV/AIDS, and beyond.

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