A labour-free childhood? African perspectives on international child rights policies.
Sammanfattning: This paper notes that one prominent trait of Western thinking about children is that childhood should be protected and care-free. For example, if children are engaged in work, their childhood is seen as 'lost'. Therefore, children's activities have been restricted to the spaces of family and formal schooling, which is believed to be the most appropriate route for a harmonious development towards adulthood. The introduction and background of the paper establishes that this Western trajectory for childhood is regarded as a neutral, global norm for a 'good childhood' in the international child welfare discourse, one that non-Western societies are expected to embrace and realise for their children as well; for instance, by ratifying and implementing policies on child labour that promote a labour-free childhood. The paper focuses on sub-Saharan Africa, the region that has the highest prevalence of child labour in the world. A systematic search for academic research on policy implementation in this region is conducted. Twelve selected articles are reviewed using the analytical instrument of Ideal Types, answering the three research questions: RQ1: How do the authors depict the child labour phenomenon in sub-Saharan Africa? RQ2: According to the authors, are international policy instruments relevant for understanding and addressing the child labour issue in sub-Saharan Africa? RQ3: Is a labour-free childhood a universally valid ideal and the appropriate way to ensure 'good childhoods' for children in sub-Saharan Africa? The findings show that the central essence of the child labour policies - that children should be redirected from work to school, under the auspices of the nation state - is not a straight-forward undertaking in Africa. The analysis suggests that the current policies have some considerable flaws: since African livelihood strategies, Africa's position in the global economy, and its political history, and sociocultural context overall, differs greatly from the West, Western-based policies are unable to address some problematic forms of child labour and even risk to create new hardships for children struggling for a decent living in the sub-Saharan region. The paper puts particular emphasis on the cultural validity of the child labour 'abolition agenda', because it is shown that, in traditional African conceptualisations, work during childhood has positive connotations. Therefore, the paper considers the possibility of a childhood that includes work, but still qualifies as 'good'. The paper's concluding argument is that in order for international policies to be truly universal and valid in all sociocultural contexts of the world, they need some revisions, and that the global childhood discourse may benefit from a wider understanding of childhoods, for example by including African wisdoms and knowledge about children into the discourse.
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