Children’s rights and cultural relativism

Montgomery, Heather (2018). Children’s rights and cultural relativism. In: Montgomery, Heather and Robb, Martin eds. Children and young people’s worlds. Bristol: Policy Press, pp. 57–72.


As discussed in Chapter One, one of the central tenets of Childhood and Youth Studies (CYS) has been the idea that childhood is a social construction, meaning that the concept of the child is one that must be defined in its own context. Importantly, a social constructionist approach rejects value judgements and remains wary about ranking some childhoods as better or worse than others or of valuing one type of childhood over another. An example of this was given in that chapter and concerned children’s work and economic contribution to their family or household. While in the West working children are most usually associated with historical injustices (sweeps in chimneys, Victorian child labourers in Manchester mills and so on), in many contemporary societies a working child is a respected member of the community whose economic contribution is both expected and valued. This does not make their childhoods ‘wrong’ or lacking in some ways – or their parents cruel and unfeeling. It means that the duties, rights and responsibilities of parents and children are locally seen very differently. Such reasoning leads into a discussion of cultural relativism and, as this chapter will go on to explore, the often intractable problems of how to implement rights for all children without imposing alien ideologies or trampling on local norms and how to respect indigenous cultural values but still protect children from harm.

Viewing alternatives

No digital document available to download for this item

Item Actions