The Disappearing Notion of “Childhood”

The word “childhood” means something different to each and every one of us. Here at SMQ, the majority of our cases involve children and we deem it important to keep up with how the understanding of “childhood” changes as our society develops.
Over the years, childhood has been understood as the period of time in a human’s life where they are in a process of becoming an “adult”. Children are often seen to live in a sphere of innocence and are at a stage of life where they are dependent on adults. There is a form of separation that is seen between adults and children, whereby adults are responsible for children and in most situations make decisions on their behalf. In our cases concerning care proceedings, parents are often given shared parental responsibilities with the Local Authority over their child. This indicates that during the “childhood” stage in a person’s life, one may not be deemed to have the ability to have responsibility over themselves.
There are two key ways childhood is viewed, either as a product of biological immaturity or as a social construction. The latter stems from the idea that no one has the same definition of childhood. The meaning of childhood differs across societies and even within the same society the definition of childhood may differ. Factors which affect the difference between the reality of one’s childhood include religion, class, ethnicity and gender.
In our jurisdiction we have a Western view of childhood. This view centres around the idea that a child is an innocent agent who has no involvement in the adult life or world. Children are to be protected at all costs. This can be seen through our various laws and polices regarding the safeguarding and protection of children. For example, one key legal principle which is significant in care proceedings is the Paramountcy Principle found in Section (1) 1 of the Children Act 1969 . This has been interpreted to mean the “first and only consideration” in the case of J v C [1970] . This means that in care proceedings, the child’s rights and interest is to be made the “first and only consideration” throughout the proceedings. Indeed, this principle illustrates how important we place the rights and interest of children and the extent we go to protect them.
However, is the idea that children are innocent agents unable to make their own choices an unrealistic life view in our current modern day?
One factor that has contributed massively to the change in the notion of “childhood” is social media. The media has exposed children to the “adult world” faster than previous years. It is harder for adults and parents to protect children from the dangers of the “dark web”. Often times this exposure causes children to grow up faster and diminishes their innocent view of the world. Subsequently leading to less of a separation between the adult life and the “childhood” stage. Indeed, another area of the “adult world” that the media has exposed children to is the world of politics. Children have been seen to engage and play an active role within politics. For example, Greta Thunberg is a 16-year-old girl who is a climate activist who has been involved in various Summits in relation to environmental challenges. At her young age she is already a public figure in the world of politics.
Therefore, can we really say that children are merely innocent agents completely dependent on adults? Or in actual fact, as the notion of “childhood” disappeared in our modern-day society.
As a firm where family values are paramount to our team members, we think not only the vulnerabilities but also the strengths of children should always be considered in legal proceedings.

By Oyin Arikawe
Student Intern – University of Reading

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