Is there a place for work in child development? Implications of child development theory and research for interpretation of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, with particular reference to Article 32, on children, work and exploitation.
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This paper is about the role of child-development knowledge and research in international efforts to improve the lives and prospects for millions of working children. Article 32 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child is framed in psychological terms. It declares that children must be protected from work that is harmful to their ’physical, mental, spiritual, moral or social development’. The Convention presumes a universal concept of ’development’ and ’harm’ (in terms of what is healthy, natural or adjusted and in terms of adverse effects of work). Most textbooks of child development appear to confirm beliefs about universal, natural features of child development. But our knowledge about the abilities, needs and interests of children during successive stages of their lives is based on highly specific (mainly Euro-American) cultural contexts for childhood and goals for development. There is little space for work within this view of child development. This paper presents the case for a sociocultural approach to child development, as a more globally appropriate basis for evaluating the place of work in children’s lives. The concept of ’developmental niche’ is offered as a starting-point for understanding the place of work and evaluating its positive and negative effects in specific contexts. Relinquishing universal child-development knowledge sets new challenges for policy and for research. In the long term it has the potential to inform the implementation of UN Convention principles in context-appropriate and child-sensitive ways.
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