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CHILDREN'S RIGHTS AND POWER -
Charging up for a New Century
Jessica Kingsley Publishers
London and New York, 2003
 
 
Children's Rights and Power
Charging Up for a New Century
by Mary John
 
From the Jessice Kingsley Publishers website:
 
Why have children been excluded from discussions of the changing nature of power, and why are they invisible in national and international statistics? Taking a global perspective, Mary John considers how children learn about power, being powerful and the transformation of power relationships. Arguing that children are rarely included in debates on social accountability, freedom and autonomy and are excluded from statistics, she compares the situation of children to that of other powerless minority groups, 'silenced' because of their lack of economic force.
 
While many books on children's rights focus on aspects of the 'three Ps' - provision, protection and participation - around which the convention is organised, Children's Rights and Power is innovative in the way it addresses the fourth P - power - which underlies all the themes and which characterises adults' relationships with children. Mary John examines children in relation to current thinking about the nature of power, the role of competence within this, and how perception of power is determined by culture. As part of her field research she has studied and visited the night schools of Rajastan (where the members of the Indian Children's Parliament are elected); the rise in violence among Japanese schoolchildren; child labour in Mexico; and democratic schooling in Albany, USA. She argues that democracies are not only sought in the public sphere, they are created within the emotional intimacies of private social worlds. These worlds present the child with new challenges for the recognition and realization of their rightful autonomy and agency.

This new book in the Children in Charge Series by Mary John, the Series Editor, takes stock of the developments in children's rights in the ten years that have followed the World Conference in Children's Rights held in Exeter (UK) which gave birth to the whole Series. That conference was a groundbreaking event at the time in that it involved young people in planning and evaluation, a role which at the time was very innovative. Since then children's participation has become a more familiar activity and concern. In the United Nations' stocktaking of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child at the first UN Special Session devoted entirely to children in over a decade - which took place in New York in May 2002 ( postponed from September 2001) - children themselves were involved in some of the presentations. Children's voices featured prominently in the literature on 'Taking Children Seriously' prepared to accompany that session.

 
As with other minority rights groups children's participation has become a fashion and something of a growth industry amongst professionals, and the place of children within relevant disciplines hotly debated. What has been missing, Mary John suggests, is a full appreciation of the transformation of power relationships between adults and children on which real democratic participation must be predicated. Children's aspirations rather than their needs shifted the emphasis to their account of their experiences and the meaning they attached to these experiences rather than having them interpreted by adults as their needs.
 
Following the 1992 Conference Mary John was concerned to collect information on this theme . As part of this research she witnessed powerful children in the Children's Parliament in Rajastan, India, in educational facilities in Kyoto, Japan, in Albany Free School in the United States of America and in foster care in Sydney, Australia. Oppressed children working in the brick fields of Mexico and the work of the University of Veracruz with child workers in Latin America also came under her scrutiny. This research is used to illustrate her arguments.
 
This book not only reflects what has been happening in the burgeoning field of children's rights but work in minority rights on the issue of power and indeed the place of children's rights within the discipline of psychology. Sociologists have positioned children as social actors within the social framework. Psychologists with a concern about the individual have been concentrating on the nature of children's experiences if they are to be seen as agents in their own lives. Mary John, weaving in an autobiographical thread, takes as a unifying theme response to stress and the nature of endurance as the under-recognised heroism of children negotiating a world in which an adult view of reality predominates. She examines why in this world children's power should be seen as such a threat to the domination of the powerful and whether it is possible to generalise about children world-wide.
 
Mary John is a Professor Emerita at the University of Exeter. Prior to her retirement she had held the positions of Deputy Vice Chancellor and Dean of the Faculty of Education. The Open University recently gave her an Honorary Doctorate for services to the educationally underprivileged.

From the back cover of the book:

Mary John is a developmental psychologist, widely recognized for her research on the transformation of power relationships. She has held a number of advisory positions with international agencies such as OECD and the EU. Prior to retirement she was Deputy Vice Chancellor at the University of Exeter, where she is now Professor Emeritus. She was recently made a Doctor of the Open University in recognition of "services to the educationally underprivileged."

The series, Children in Charge, of which Mary John is the editor, concentrates on the theme of children's rights, reflecting the increasing knowledge in the area. The perspectives of empowerment and of "voice" runs through the series and the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child is used as a benchmark.

Examining children's rights from a global perspecticve, Mary John considers how children experience power, being powerful and the transformation of power relationships. She explores this issue objectively yet compassionately, comparing the situation of children to that of powerless minority groups and asking why children are rarely included in debates on social responsibility, freedom and autonomy.

Examining children's rights in relation to current thinking about the nature of power, the role of competence within this, and how perception of power is determined by culture and economics, she presents discussion of issues and movements affecting children around the world uncovered in her research, including:

She argues that democracies are not only sought in the public sphere, they are created within the emotional intimacies of private social worlds, presenting the child with new challenges for the recognition and realisation of their rightful autonomy and agency. With in-depth research and thought-provoking discussion, this book supplies a wealth of information for policy makers, social workers and academics, articulated in a compelling and lively style.
 
Contents
Acknowledgements 9
Preface 11
 
Part I Powerful People
Chapter 1 'As if': Multiple Representations of the Person 17
Chapter 2 The Fourth 'P': The Issue of Power 45

 

Part 11 Children and the Economy
Chapter 3 Counting 75
Chapter 4 Spending: 'Cool' Consumers: Purchasers
or Purchased? 104
 
Part III Enduring and Surviving
Chapter 5 Whatever Makes You Stronger... 133
Chapter 6 Warriors and Workers 164

 

Part IV Children in Charge
Chapter 7 Children at Large: Agency, Participation,
Politics and Democracy 195
Chapter 8 Young Citizens in Action 224
 
Part V Eternal Children?
Chapter 9 Moving On 255
 
References 271
Further Sources of Information 292
Subject Index 293
Author Index 301