1.9 Summary

This session was designed to introduce you to ideas about children and childhood, and to enable you to examine some of your attitudes towards children and childhood. In the session, you have learned that:

  • International agreements and national law state that a child is a person up to the age of 18. In practice, the definition of a child varies significantly across different cultures. Economic, social and cultural factors all contribute to how different communities define who is a child.
  • Accepted cultural practices around childhood can be important and positive but this should not be taken for granted. Some practices may be harmful to children, and practitioners such as health workers should be prepared to see what is in the best interest of children.

  • The period of childhood is treated very differently in different cultures. In East Africa, traditionally it has been viewed as a period of training for adulthood, although that is beginning to change as more children are in formal education. It is now increasingly viewed as a period of extended dependency in which children are entitled to protection.
  • Childhood is characterised initially by dependency and vulnerability, but as children grow up they become less dependent and strive for greater autonomy. They gradually develop the capacity to contribute to decisions that affect them, and to contribute actively to their social environments.
  • Children are not passive victims of risk and harm. They can acquire resilience to deal with adversity. Factors that contribute to resilience include being healthy, growing up in loving families, and safe communities.

1.10 Self-assessment questions