This page explains how children are institutionally discriminated against and gives ideas on how to systematically explore and identify these issues.
Children and young people regularly experience discrimination because of their age: this is clearly visible in laws, policies and attitudes. This is sometimes called childism but it is a discrimination that is often forgotten or seen as legitimate. Yet, childism includes some of the same kinds of discrimination that women and black people have experienced. For example, children are systematically excluded or under curfew from being in certain public spaces. A further example is the belief that hitting children (within reason) is acceptable.
Despite our understanding of other forms of discrimination, specific laws continue to support the same kinds of discrimination against children and young people.
Some children and young people also face further discrimination because they too experience racism, sexism or homophobia or because of their experience of being disabled or living in care.
Understanding how discrimination against children operates can help us identify how policies, practices and attitudes need to change in order to end prejudice against children and to more effectively implement their rights.
Discrimination based on age - some examples
- Children and young people are criminalised for being in certain public spaces at the wrong time (e.g. outside a shop after 8pm).
- Children can be physically punished.
- Young people are discriminated against in terms of minimum pay and social security benefits.
- Children are excluded from certain spaces, such as hotels, campsites, shops.
- Children and young people are ignored in some health service provision.
- Media portrayal of children and young people consistently stereotypes young people as delinquent youths.
- Children are assumed to be incompetent, are not listened to or not believed.
Further discrimination based on other experiences
Children who have other marginalizing experiences can experience multiple layers of discrimination on top of childism. These are things like racism and sexism, which affect children directly and through their membership of marginalised groups. For example African-Caribbean boys are discriminated against through attitudes such as the expectation that they will not do well at school, and at the same time their parents’ experience of discrimination in the workplace may mean that they have lower household incomes and less access to education resources.
- Seeking asylum
- Being a young carer
- Being homeless
- Being disabled
- Being mentally ill
- Being a Gypsy or a Traveller
- Being lesbian, gay or bisexual
- Living in local authority care
Some of these multiple layers of discrimination that impact on children have been summarised on pages 15, 16 & 17 of Stop, look, listen: the road to realising children’s rights in Wales
Understanding how discrimination against children operates
Discrimination against children and young people occurs through laws, policies and attitudes and operate through a number of mechanisms. In order to remedy the discrimination that children experience we have to examine all laws, policies and attitudes for traces of these mechanisms. This will enable us to identify what we need to change and how.
The key to achieving these changes in thinking and consequent changes in law, policy and practice, is to create space for dialogue between adults and children and to allow professionals the space to reflect on their practice.
Reflecting on these issues as an individual or within your organization will help you make the distinctions that may help you change policy and practice. Ask yourselves if your organization operates any of the following mechanisms:
- Overt Discrimination and Age Blindness: unjust age distinctions in laws, policies and attitudes, or the absence of these when age specific provision would be appropriate.
- Marginalisation: children are not seen as the core business of a service which they actually use.
- Stereotyping, Internalised Childism, Victim Blaming and the Deficit Model: children are held responsible for their own ill-treatment or falsely demonised for ill-behaviour but not seen as responsible enough to be listened to, believed or trusted.
- Exploitation: children are expected to fulfil unreasonable obligations, often without any control over their nature.
Useful links and resources:
- To access the Children’s Rights Information Network’s tool kit on the non-discrimination of children go to http://www.crin.org/discrimination/
- Webb E. Discrimination in Stop, Look, Listen: the road to realizing children’s rights in Wales Save the Children, 2007.
- Webb, E., Maddocks, A. & Bongilli, J. (2002) Effectively protecting Black and minority ethnic children from harm: overcoming barriers to the child protection process. Child Abuse Review 2002: 11: 394-410.
- Webb Elspeth. (2006) The Impact of Discrimination on Children. Ethics, Law and Society Volume II. 2006. Eds Gunning, J. and Holm, S. Ashgate publishing UK.