Balancing the interests of a child with wider society

It is sometimes proposed that the interests of the community or the society must take precedence over those of an individual child. For example, where the maintenance of traditional cultures is sometimes seen to be more important than the rights of an individual child who may be harmed within that culture. However, these arguments cannot be used to override the rights of a child. Nor can it be argued that children’s best interests are served by cultural practices, which deny rights that are now guaranteed in law. For example, it is not acceptable to claim that because a particular culture has always beaten children to instil discipline, their best interests are served by its continuation. Similarly, female genital mutilation cannot be defended as a traditional practice serving girls’ best interests by enhancing their marriage prospects, or maintaining the values of the wider community. It clearly represents a rights violation, and is contrary to the child’s interests in terms of health, survival, emotional well-being, dignity, and protection from violence and harm.

A commitment to the best interests of the child demands that health services adopt explicit policies to protect and promote the rights of children above those of their communities when those rights are in conflict. Of course, the way in which this is done needs to be sensitive to the concerns of that community and, wherever possible, explore approaches, which can be accepted by the majority of its members.

Can you recall a situation where you have had to deal with competing needs, interests or claims? How did you deal with the situation?

Now that you have learned more about the best interests of the child and managing competing rights and interests, would you deal with it any differently if something similar happened again?

No easy answers can be provided when there are legitimate competing claims. When assessing the best interests of the child and children generally, it is a case of sensitively assessing and comparing different views and different degrees of actual or potential benefit and harm.

Balancing the interests of a child with parents and family

2.6 Assessing best interests and competing interests in practice