Childism: The Unacknowledged Prejudice Against Kids

When we read in the newspaper that a child in New Jersey has died from neglect from an untreated broken leg, or that a child in Florida’s protective services could just disappear without a trace, or that molestation of children has been covered up in yet another diocese of the Catholic Church, we do not say there is prejudice against children at work. Abuse, neglect, sanctioned pedophilia — we don’t put these together in our minds with stories about child abduction and enslavement, child trafficking, inadequate schooling, malnutrition and junk-food-induced obesity, cigarette advertising to minors, child pornography or the rising numbers of child soldiers worldwide. But we should. April is Child Abuse Prevention Month. Unfortunately, the messages about child abuse will not be grounded in an understanding that it arises out of prejudice against children — the way Black History Month in February reminds us of prejudice against people of color. Similarly, sexism is understood as an ideology and a prejudice, and all kinds of discrimination and violence against women are united in our minds by the concept. (MORE: Why Is the U.S. Against Children’s Rights?) Why don’t we have a similar understanding of the root of child abuse? In 1989, the United Nations issued a Convention on the Rights of the Child, which brings together in one document descriptions of many forms of maltreatment but does not make us think of children — all the world’s children — as a group. It is about “the Child,” an abstraction. Childism is the hardest form of prejudice to recognize because children are the one group that, many of us think without thinking, is naturally subordinate. Until they reach a stipulated age, they are the responsibility of their parents or guardians — those who have custody. But what does custody permit? What distinguishes it from ownership? One of the essential ingredients of childism is a claim by adults to the effect that children are ours to do with exactly as we see fit, or children exist to serve, honor and obey adults. … Continue reading Childism: The Unacknowledged Prejudice Against Kids