Children and Citizenship


Edited by: Antonella Invernizzi & Jane Williams

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    Notes on Contributors

    Priscilla Alderson is Professor of Childhood Studies, Social Science Research Unit, Institute of Education, University of London. Her research interests include children's competence and wisdom, and their share in making decisions that affect them, on which she has published numerous reports. She teaches on the Institute's MA Course in Childhood Studies and Children's Rights. See

    Joanna Birch is currently Research Associate working on an ESRC project based in the University of Sheffield's Centre for the Study of Childhood and Youth. The project, Space to Care, seeks to understand how different spatial environments impact upon children's experiences of hospitalization. Jo's previous research and her teaching background have been focused around children and young people, their conceptualizations and perceptions of the spaces and places that they experience.

    Dr Samantha Clutton worked at University of Wales, Swansea for 10 years before joining Barnardo's Cymru Policy and Research Unit. She has completed two secondments to the Welsh Assembly Government where she was involved in the production of Welsh strategies on youth offending and child poverty. She is currently involved in developing a research and practice model around child sexual exploitation and development work around support for prisoners and their families.

    Rhian Croke has been the UNCRC Monitoring Officer for Save the Children (UK) since April 2004. She coordinates the work of the Wales UNCRC Monitoring Group, a national alliance of agencies tasked with monitoring and promoting the implementation of the UNCRC in Wales. She is co-editor of ‘Righting the Wrongs: The Reality of Children's Rights in Wales’, an analysis of how far law, policy and practice have progressed in achieving compliance with the UNCRC in Wales. She previously worked for the University of Cape Town Children's Institute as a Senior Researcher in the HIV/AIDs Programme.

    Penny Curtis works in the School of Nursing and Midwifery at the University of Sheffield and is a member of the University's Centre for the Study of Childhood and Youth. Ongoing empirical research includes an ESRC funded study ‘Space to Care: Children's perceptions of spatial aspects of hospitals’ (with Allison James and Jo Birch).

    Judith Ennew Honorary Research Fellow in the Department of Applied Social Sciences, University of Wales Swansea, has been an activist and researcher in children's rights since 1979, specializing in child workers, ‘street children’ and child sexual exploitation. She has worked in Latin America, Africa, South and Southeast Asia and Eastern Europe on children's rights and child labour issues and is currently based in Bangkok as Head of Programme Development for the Thai NGO Knowing Children.

    Jane Fortin is Professor of Law at King's College London. She writes widely on issues relating to child and family law and is co-editor of the Child and Family Law Quarterly. Her special interest in Child Law and children's rights led to her book Children's Rights and the Developing Law and to a variety of other publications considering the impact of legal principles on children and their families. For the last 12 years she has run a post-graduate programme in Child Studies for a wide range of senior practitioners.

    Antonella Invernizzi is Senior Lecturer at the Department of Applied Social Sciences, Swansea University. Her work has focused on ‘street children’ in southern countries, children's work (Peru, Portugal), children's participation and children's citizenship.

    Allison James is Professor of Sociology at the University of Sheffield. She has worked in the field of sociology/anthropology of childhood since the late 1970s and has helped pioneer the theoretical and methodological approaches to research with children. Her research has included work on children's language and culture, children's attitudes towards sickness and bodily difference, children's experiences of everyday life at home and at school and concepts of childhood. She has written numerous articles and books on childhood.

    Gill Jones is Emeritus Professor of Sociology, Keele University, and is now semi-retired and living in Edinburgh. After an early career in social work, she became a sociologist in the early 1980s, and has been engaged in research on young people, their families and youth policies ever since. Books include Youth, Family and Citizenship (with Claire Wallace, 1992), Leaving Home (1995), Balancing Acts: Youth, Parenting and Public Policy (with Robert Bell, 2000), and The Youth Divide: Diverging paths to adulthood (2002).

    Prof Dr Manfred Liebel is Sociologist, International Academy (INA) at Free University of Berlin; Scientific Coordinator of the European Network of Masters in Children's Rights (ENMCR); a collaborator of the movements of working children and adolescents in Latin America, Africa and Asia.

    Ruth Lister is Professor of Social Policy at Loughborough University. She is a former director of the Child Poverty Action Group. She has published widely in the areas of poverty, gender, citizenship and welfare reform. Her most recent publications are Citizenship: Feminist Perspectives (2nd edn 2003) and Poverty (2004).

    Andrew Lockyer is Professor of Citizenship and Social Theory in the Politics Department of Glasgow University where he has taught since 1970. He is the holder of the St Kentigern Chair and has written widely on political and social theory, children's issues, juvenile justice and citizenship education.

    Brian Milne is a social anthropologist who has worked in the field of children's rights as a researcher, teacher and trainer since the mid-1980s. His work ranges from academic teacher and researcher to international consultancy as an evaluator, trainer and researcher in areas that include street children, child labour, children abuse and neglect and their participation in civil society. For at least the last decade and half he has been particularly concerned with theoretical and practical issues around child participation that have progressed on to deeper examination of children's citizenship and their relationship with the state.

    Virginia Morrow is Reader in Childhood Studies at the Institute of Education, University of London. Children and young people have been the focus of her research activities since 1988. Her work has focused on methods and ethics of social research with children; social capital; children's work; children's understandings of family and other social environments. She is an editor of Childhood: a global journal of child research.

    Christine Piper is a Professor in the School of Law at Brunel University. Her research and teaching interests are in child and family law and policy as well as youth justice and sentencing. She is on the Editorial Board of the Child and Family Law Quarterly and her recent publications include

    Sentencing and Punishment: The Quest for Justice (with S. Easton, OUP, 2005).

    Helen Stalford is Senior Lecturer at the Liverpool Law School, University of Liverpool. She has been researching and publishing in the area of family law and children's rights under EU law for the past 10 years and is co-author of the book A Community for Children?: Children, Citizenship and Migration in the European Union (2004, Ashgate).

    Jane Williams is a former UK and Welsh Assembly government lawyer now based in the School of Law, Swansea University where she teaches Public Law, aspects of Child Law and children's rights. She is a member of the Wales UNCRC monitoring group, the work of which is discussed in Chapter 15 in this volume.


    The notion of children's citizenship has seen increased popularity in the last decade as a way of rethinking the position of children, mainly as members of the community or the nation and as rights holders. Discourses on children's citizenship often include claims for the recognition of selected rights for all children, or certain categories of children, and sometimes claims by children themselves. They thus relate to what Isin and Tuner portray as a ‘major trend in western nation-states towards the formation of new claims for inclusion and belonging’ where social issues (such as immigration, disability, gender, indigenous people) have been reframed in terms of rights and obligations, that is, within the language of citizenship (2002: 1). Within discourses on the citizen child, the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) is often seen as a foundation for a new position of children in contemporary societies, in which rights to participation are often seen as pivotal, guaranteeing that the child is approached as a rights holder and subject (for instance Invernizzi and Milne, 2005). The child is thus to be considered as a ‘citizen now’, as opposed to a ‘citizen becoming’.

    Close examination of notions of children's citizenship, however, reveals further complex theoretical and practical issues. How does children's citizenship fit with established understandings of citizenship in general? How do notions of children's citizenship relate to children's own experiences, to theories of childhood and to the very different and contrasting images and discourses about children? And to what extent is the rhetoric of children's citizenship reflected in policy and legislation?

    It was in order to explore some of these questions that an interdisciplinary research seminar was organized at Swansea University between 2005 and 2006, by the Department of Applied Social Sciences and the School of Law. It brought together leading experts from law, social sciences and politics in pursuit of better understanding of the different perspectives on the issue. Rather than producing a discourse or promoting a theoretical stance on children's citizenship, the seminar was intended to explore complementary as well as contrasting perspectives and to gain an overview of some of the many issues to be addressed. This book is the result of that collaboration. Some contributions contradict as well as complement others, raising further questions as well as proposing particular theoretical or practical approaches.

    In view of the impetus brought to the debate on children's citizenship by the UNCRC, we were delighted that Jaap Doek, Chair of the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, agreed to provide a Foreword to this volume. In it key elements of the emergent concept of ‘child as citizen now’ inherent in the UNCRC are outlined. The following chapters are organized in three parts dealing with notions of citizenship, constructions of childhood and experiences of children and finally, with policy and legislation. It is a rather arbitrary classification as authors often include reflections on more than one area. Nonetheless, such organization allows for some key questions to be mapped out and some contrasts in views to be highlighted. We hope that this rich collection will inform and stimulate further interdisciplinary consideration of what citizenship does and can mean for children and of their position in contemporary societies.

    Invernizzi, A. and Milne, B. (2005) ‘Conclusion: Some elements of an emergent discourse on children's right to citizenship’, in A.Invernizzi and B.Milne (eds) Children's citizenship: an emergent discourse on the rights of the child?‘, Journal of Social Sciences, Special Issue N. 9, pp. 83-99.
    Isin, E.F. and Turner, B.S. (2002) ‘Citizenship studies: An introduction’, in Isin, E.F. and Turner, B.S. (eds) Handbook of Citizenship Studies, London: Sage, pp. 1-10.


    Jaap E.Doek

    Chairperson UN Committee on the Rights of the Child

    Citizen Child: A Struggle for Recognition

    ‘The fundamental right to citizenship is still denied to some nine million persons’ (Sokoloff, 2005: 5). These figures refer to the nine million stateless persons (UNHCR, 2006: 9). Contrary to what this statement suggests there is no provision in any international human rights treaty conferring on an individual the right to citizenship. Indeed, many may associate citizenship with being a national of a State, that is: you are the citizen of a State of which you are a national. But again: there is no right to the nationality of the State in which you are born. Human rights treaties do not contain a ‘right to a nationality’ (let alone to a nationality of choice). However, in the context of this volume it is important to note that ‘every child has the right to acquire a nationality’ (Article 24 (3) ICCPR; Article 7 (1) UNCRC (emphasis added)). To quote from the proposal of this book and as various contributions in this volume reflect, ‘citizenship eludes definition (except in the […] sense used in the field of nationality and immigration) and is variable, contextual and often contested. It is closely linked to but not synonymous with rights and implicitly confers on children the status of subjects. This links the issue of children's citizenship to that of “children's participation.”’

    It is tempting to engage in a discussion on the concept of citizenship and its constituting elements: Nationality? Right to reside permanently on the territory of a State? The right to be protected by the State? The right to vote, to hold office and to participate in decision making? The right to social action and to economic rights?

    But I will limit myself to some observations about the citizenship of children in the context of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC). Just as a starter: the citizenship of the child should not be dealt with only as a nationality issue. Nationality is undoubtedly an important element of citizenship. But I like to take a broader approach from the perspective of the child as a rights holder. Citizen Child may not vote or run for a public office, but is entitled to the enjoyment of all the rights enshrined in the UNCRC without discrimination of any kind. I don't pretend that the following observations cover all aspects of the child's citizenship but they are fundamental.

    Key Elements for the Recognition of Citizen Child
    Birth Registration (Article 7 UNCRC)

    Article 7 UNCRC contains an important rule in very strong language: ‘The child shall be registered at birth’. It affirms that registration of a child is a key condition for the recognition of her or his existence. Without a registration (at birth or as soon as possible thereafter) the child is most likely not acknowledged as a person before the law and in many countries it means no or very limited access to health care, education or social services. The Committee on the Rights of the Child (the UN Committee) has noted that lack of registration ‘can impact negatively on a child's sense of personal identity and children may be denied entitlements to basic health, education and social welfare’ (2005: para. 25). The UN Committee systematically recommends State Parties to the UNCRC to promote and facilitate proper registration of all children born on their territories, including children born to illegal immigrants, refugees and asylum-seeking people. In addition, it is important that all children arriving in a country as refugees or migrants are registered.

    There are often different barriers to full implementation of the right to be registered at birth: political barriers (e.g. non-registration of some ethnic minority children), financial (charging of fees) or geographical barriers. It goes beyond the scope of this introduction to elaborate more in detail on the various aspects of birth registration: these are documented elsewhere (see UNICEF, 2002). But it is clear that Citizen Child will face serious problems in being recognized as such if he/she is not properly registered. That is even more so because in many countries there is a link between registration and nationality, as any person without a registration has no nationality.

    The Right to Acquire a Nationality (Article 7 UNCRC)

    The matter of nationality is a complex one and often politically sensitive. In principle the rules on nationality fall within the scope of domestic jurisdiction and therefore within the domain of national law. The different rules for granting or losing nationality have given rise to problems such as statelessness.

    But Article 7 UNCRC is very clear: the child shall have the right to acquire a nationality and States Parties shall ensure the implementation of this right […] in particular where the child would otherwise be stateless.

    With regard to this article the UN Committee has expressed its concerns, in particular regarding children who are considered as non-citizens or who are stateless according to the national law of the country in which they live. From information submitted to the UN Committee it is clear that these children often suffer from serious discrimination and that they, by virtue of their lack of legal status, are unable to fully participate in their community/society and face many problems in integrating themselves in the society. To take just one example, Syrian-born Kurdish children are considered as foreigners or as ‘maktoumeen’ (unregistered) by the Syrian authorities. They have no nationality at birth and face serious problems in acquiring Syrian nationality. Many remain stateless (UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, 2003: para. 32, 33).

    The UN Committee has issued various country-specific recommendations. The core message was and is:

    Prevent children from becoming stateless – for example as a result of their lack of a legal status at birth which is regularly a problem for children belonging to ethnic minorities, refugee and (im)migrant children. Measures recommended in this regard should aim at providing the child with a nationality either of the country of origin or of the country they are born in. This is not without legal complications if State A wants to provide a child with the nationality of State B because State B is considered to be the country of origin. It requires bilateral negotiations and agreements but the CRC Committee expects States Parties to undertake efforts in this regard and to include the possibility of providing the child, if no other options are available, with the nationality of the State in which the child is living.

    It is also important that States, where necessary, take measures to ensure that children born out of wedlock do ex lege acquire the nationality of the mother. The Committee has also recommended States to introduce legal provisions allowing the child to acquire the nationality of both her/his father and mother. In the event of the parents’ divorce or de facto separation, this may prevent the child from becoming stateless in the country where she/he continues to live with the mother. This also addresses a matter of non-discrimination between the mother and the father: accordingly the Committee on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women regularly makes similar recommendations.

    Equally important are measures to reduce statelessness of children, which may require amending existing nationality laws/regulations allowing children to acquire the nationality of the country they are living in. The UN Committee has recommended States to ratify the Convention on the Status of Stateless Persons (1954) and the Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness (1961).

    Finally the child has not only the right to acquire a nationality but also the right to preserve her/his nationality. Article 8 UNCRC contains the unique provision in the field of human rights that the child has the right to preserve his or her identity which includes nationality, name and family relationship. Paragraph 2 of this Article requires that States Parties, in case the child is illegally deprived of, for example, her/his nationality, shall provide appropriate assistance and protection with a view to speedily re-establishing her/his nationality. This may be particularly important for children in conflict areas who are victims of cross-border displacements or of (forced) disappearances (see Doek, 2006; for more details on the recommendations made by the UN Committee in respect of the implementation of Article 7 see UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, 2006).

    Citizen Child as a Rights Holder

    Registration at birth (or later) and a nationality are indeed key elements for the recognition of the child as a citizen. But this recognition must not only depend on these formalities, but also and perhaps even more important, on the opportunities the child is given to become a full and active member of her/his community and society.

    It should be noted that these opportunities should be provided to every child on the territory of the State Party to the UNCRC regardless of whether he/she is registered at birth or has a nationality. This is in line with what I would call one of the characteristic features (or: goals if you want) of the UNCRC: the full and harmonious development of the child's personality, not only with a view to becoming an individual with her/his own personality, but also with a view to becoming a full member of her/his community and/or society (see the Preamble to the UNCRC and also Article 29).

    The Preamble to the UNCRC states the conviction that a child should be afforded the necessary protection and assistance so that he/she can fully assume his/her responsibilities within the community.

    This role as an active member of the community is not only something exclusively meant for mainstream children with a birth certificate and a nationality. It is meant for all children and, to underscore this, Article 23 UNCRC states that a child with disabilities should enjoy a full and decent life in conditions which […] facilitate the child's active participation in the community. A similar provision in Article 40 UNCRC dealing with the not so popular group of children in conflict with the penal law, also known as juvenile delinquents. These children have the right ‘to be treated in a manner consistent with the child's sense of dignity and worth which […] takes into account […] the desirability of promoting the child's re-integration and the child's assuming a constructive role in society’ (Article 40 (1) UNCRC).

    This characteristic feature or goal of the UNCRC requires that the child is fully recognized as a rights holder who shall be allowed to exercise her/his rights. But in doing so, the parents have the responsibilities, rights and duties to provide the child in a manner consistent with her/his evolving capacities with appropriate direction and guidance (Articles 5 and 14 UNCRC).

    In the recognition of Citizen Child as a rights holder the concept of evolving capacities is crucial. It is impossible to discuss the many aspects of this concept in this introduction (see Lansdown, 2005 for an excellent elaboration of the various aspects of this concept). This concept represents a recognition of the growing autonomy of the child and the need to respect the gradual acquisition of independent exercise of the rights enshrined in the UNCRC such as the right to freedom of expression, the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion and freedom of association (see Articles 12–17 UNCRC).

    But as Lansdown (2005) observes, the concept of evolving capacities has implications for all rights in the UNCRC and demands significant changes at all levels of society. It represents a fundamental challenge to conventional attitudes towards children, questioning some of our deeply held assumptions about children's needs, children's development, protection of children and children's agency. As discussed in a number of the contributions to this volume, many lessons can be found in the real experience and practice of children. In societies throughout the world more could and should be done to create environments in which children achieve their optimum capacities and greater respect is given to children's potential for participation in and responsibility for decision making in their own lives – within the family, in school, in respect to their own health care, education, in courts, in local communities and in local and national political forums.

    Some Concluding Observations

    The recognition of the child as a citizen requires some concrete measures such as an immediate registration at birth and the provision of a nationality. But from the UNCRC perspective a broader approach is needed. Every child, and not only those with a birth certificate and a nationality, should be treated as a citizen. This means inter alia the full respect for and implementation of the rights of every child in order to allow her/him to live an individual and decent life in society and to facilitate her/his active and constructive participation in the community.

    It requires that we acknowledge the child's growing autonomy and that we respect the gradual acquisition of independent exercise of rights.

    Quite often children are presented as the citizens of tomorrow. It is undoubtedly important that we invest to the maximum extent of our available resources in the implementation of the rights of the child in order – to quote Article 29 UNCRC – to prepare the child for a responsible life in a free society in the spirit of understanding, peace, tolerance, equality of sexes and friendship among all peoples ethnic, national and religious groups and persons of indigenous people.

    But that citizenship starts today and from birth. The Citizen Child is a citizen of today and the full recognition of this fact is one of the fundamental requirements of the UNCRC.

    Doek, J.E. (2006) ‘The CRC and the right to acquire and to preserve a nationality’, Refugee Survey Quarterly, 25(3): 26-32.
    Lansdown, G. (2005) The Evolving Capacities of the Child. Innocenti Insight, Florence: UNICEF/Innocenti Research Centre.
    Sokoloff, C. (2005) ‘Denial of Citizenship: A Challenge to Human Security’, Report prepared for the Advisory Board on Human Security, February 2005.
    UN Committee on the Rights of the Child (2003) Concluding Observations on the Syrian Arab Republic, CRC/C/15/Add. 212, 10 July 2003.
    UN Committee on the Rights of the Child (2005) General comment No. 7 on Implementing Children's Rights in Early Childhood, CRC/CGC/7, 1 November 2005.
    UN Committee on the Rights of the Child (2006) Compilation of the practice of the Committee on the Rights of the Child as related to the Prevention and Reduction of Statelessness and the Treatment of Stateless Children, January 2003-January 2006, prepared by Protection Policy and Legal Advice Section, Department of
    International Protection of the UNHCR (February 2006, Geneva).
    UNHCR (2006) Refugees by Numbers. Geneva: UNHCR.
    UNICEF Innocenti Research Centre (2002) Innocenti Digest N. 9: Birth Registration: Right from the Start, March 2002, Florence: UNICEF.

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