The un Convention on the Rights of the Child provides an unprecedented and comprehensive protection for the right to development of children, and more broadly, for child development. Thus far, little attention has been given in theory or in practice to the ways in which this protection should be realised. This paper suggests that the main reason for not fulfilling this promise to children is the challenges in defining “child development” as a legal concept, especially the utilisation of child development science in law. The paper suggests a number of ways to overcome these challenges.
The article proposes adopting the Capability Approach as a theoretical framework to analyse the child’s right to development. Currently, the child’s right to development is realised as the child’s right to become an adult. This interpretation is problematic on several grounds, primarily its usage of developmental psychology as an underlying narrative to conceptualise childhood and interpret children’s rights, and its lack of respect for children’s agency. Using the Capability Approach’s conception of ‘human development’ as an alternative framework can change the way in which childhood and children’s development are conceptualised and, consequently, change the interpretation of the child’s right to development. It can accommodate simultaneously care for the child’s future and the child’s life at the present; promote respect for a child’s agency and active participation in her own growth; and lay the foundations for developing concrete measures of implementation.
In this article we argue that what is missing in children’s rights studies is not so much the presence of theories, but rather reflections and discussions about the normative relevance, analytical qualities and explanatory powers of the mobilised theories. We consider theorisations in children’s rights, first, on the normative level, where there is a need to continue reflecting about the moral and legal rights children have and/or should have, and about how these rights can be further exercised, or need to be balanced against one another. Next, we look at the analytical merits of the concept intersectionality to consider simultaneously differences and similarities between children’s rights and other categories of fundamental rights, as well as to reflect on the very categories that are employed. We then discuss empirical implications of globalisation processes, that have significantly impacted on how children’s rights are taking shape in the world, and how interconnections between local and global spheres shape imaginations, discourses, normative frameworks, policies and programmes in the field of children’s rights.