All children are equal in their uniqueness

(that is to say, children’s rights beyond the law)



The child that is hungry must be fed;
the child that is sick must be nursed;
the child that is backward must be helped;
the delinquent child must be reclaimed;
and the orphan and the waif must be sheltered and succored.
(Declaration of the Rights of the Child, Geneva 1924)

All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.

What does it mean “equal”? We must understand the true meaning of the concept of equality.

The life of each one of us is an unique experience: as human beings, we are all equal; but at the same time we are all different from each other, because we have different personal histories, different cultures and different ways of thinking. The same treatment for different persons might result in serious injustice. Paradoxically, instead, handling different situations in different ways is the only way to achieve a substantial equality.


For sure, the above is true with regard to different persons. But, if we look with more attention, we realize that it is true even with regard to the life of each single person, if considered in its temporal evolution. Human life is a dynamic experience: it continuously evolves. During childhood, then adulthood, then agedness, the same person has different needs. We are not speaking about different lives, it is about different periods of the same life: the common element is the unique personal history of each human being.


Given that, it is easy to understand how a kid’s needs are different from an adult’s needs. Children are young human beings, and this combination of their humanity and their youth makes them special towards the law. The lack of a full physical and mental maturity, and a not yet shaped personality, are circumstances that put children in a condition of special need for care and protection. This is why law, in most of jurisdictions, does not allow children to do some actions, as, for instance, voting, marrying, buying alcohol, having sex, or engaging in paid employment.


The demand for a special legal protection for childhood had been already stated in the Geneva Declaration of the Rights of the Child of 1924 and in the Declaration of the Rights of the Child of 1959. It has also been recognized in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948 (document that for the first time universally recognized and declared the fundamental freedoms and rights of every human being): in that text we can read that childhood is entitled to special care and assistance (art. 25).


But these attempts were not enough to affirm a real culture of children’s rights: the 1948’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights has regard mainly to adult human beings, and 1959’s Declaration was a mere declaration of not legally binding principles, although it was a step ahead.


The reason of that state of things lays in the idea of childhood widely shared at that time. Because of his/her (real or just presumed) immaturity, a kid could not be considered as a “subject”, potential holder of his own rights, but just as an “object” of legal protection. In fact, legal norms about childhood were actually addressed to adults. In other words, children’s right were not other than adults’ duties towards children. In this sense, we can say that legal protection of childhood was somehow a “reflected” protection.


Nevertheless, 60s, 70s and 80’s were times of deep changes. A wider diffusion of education, the circulation of new sociologic, historical and psychoanalytical concepts, followed by the first legislative innovations, allowed new visions about childhood and youth. Many youth workers, psychologists, sociologists and judges, promoted the basic (and revolutionary) idea that children should be the main subject of any provisions affecting their lives, and that their interests should deserve priority compared to adult’s opposite interests.


This cultural, social and juridical evolution led, after several years of preparation and hard work of cooperation, to the adoption, in 1989, of the UN CONVENTION ON THE RIGHTS OF THE CHILD: the text is legally binding for signatory countries, and its aim is to recognize and protect the human dignity and the harmonious development of every child. The document entered in force in 1990, and it has been soon ratified by the governments of almost all countries of the world (193 nowadays), all except USA and Somalia.


In 54 articles and two Optional Protocols, this treaty sets forth the fundamental rights of every children, from 0 to 18 years old, giving  a comprehensive range of civil, political, cultural, economic and social rights. The Convention is based upon some core principles: non-discrimination, devotion to the best interest of the child,  right to life, survival and full development , respect for the views of the child. It recognizes, among others, the right to protection and to participation in family, social and cultural life, the right to equality, to identity and nationality, to healthcare and well-being, to be heard, to love and comprehension, to a proper education, to healthcare, to a house, to peace, to play. Moreover, the Convention and the Optional protocols deal with specific, very delicate, issues related to the protection of children’s freedom against any form of abuse: child exploitation, child labor, sale of children, child prostitution, child pornography, involvement of children in armed conflicts. It also establishes a Committee on the Rights of the Child, for the purpose of monitoring the progress made by States Parties in implementing the rights of childhood and youth.




With the 1989’s UN Convention on the rights of the child, the cultural movement which finally led to recognize specific children’s rights was accomplished, and the issue of international legally binding documents represents its official consecration.


But, beyond every Declaration and its legal meaning, children’s rights cannot be just words written in legal texts: they must be recognized in the everyday life. And beyond the institution’s work, it is up to us, to each one of us, to give those rights a concrete realization.


What  can we do? Firstly, we can help through the largest diffusion of the culture of children’s rights, because “speaking about children’s rights we can help other children. The more people know about children’s rights, the more they can do to help children to have all the tools to grow up healthy, safe and free”. Secondly, and above all, through the sincere love and respect of every kid’s uniqueness.

Published on behalf of Stefano Marino













0 #1 Tarrynt 2012-03-29 12:32
;-) Great article Stefano!

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