Historically, children have been seen as serving diverse strategic and emotional interests, both those held by individual families and by states. Views about children and their welfare have changed over time and across cultures. Children’s changing roles and questions about their agency are significant sites of historical study today. But at this political moment, the role of the state and other institutions in overseeing children’s issues is increasingly under debate across varying national contexts. At the turn of the twentieth century in the west, the protection of children deemed unsafe or in crisis was framed in terms of saving children from various social, economic, moral, or religious dangers. Interventions in the “best interests” of children were both private and public, with religious organizations and state institutions playing key roles. In many colonial contexts, child welfare practices intersected closely with race, Indigeneity, and imperial socio-economic agendas. While some children were positioned as symbols of the health or vitality of the nation, other children of different races, classes, or nationalities were targeted as sites of danger. Protecting specific children safeguarded a specific version of the nation and its future. By the mid-twentieth century, child protection discourses (often imagined through intervention from the state and/or religious organizations) existed alongside an emergent international human rights discourse that increasingly centred the child as a capable actor. There is also an important critique of the human rights framework as too individualistic and too western in focus. Nevertheless, the adoption of the Geneva Declaration on the Rights of the Child by the League of Nations in 1924 started to shift international discussions about child protection toward a framework of rights, entitlements, and transnational obligations. Although far from perfect, this rights framework has since been affirmed in several international instruments including the 1959 UN Declaration on the Rights of the Child, the 1989 Convention on the Rights of the Child, and the 1993 Hague Convention on Protection of Children and Co-operation in Respect of Intercountry Adoption, as well as several child labour regulations of the International Labour Organization. The main objective of this conference is to map global patterns in discourses, politics, policies, and practices in child saving, child protection, and the rights of children. We are interested in exploring the ways that changes and (dis)continuities in the relationship and transition from child saving to rights entitlements have been framed and whether these changes indicate linear progress or something far less straightforward or far more limited in scope or applicability. We are also interested in the intersections between local approaches and transnational trends in child welfare, protection, and children’s rights. How have shifts in social attitudes, politics, and discourse shaped child welfare policies? What are the impacts of these changes on the wellbeing of children and, indeed, conceptions of childhood and youth? We invite historians and scholars from related disciplines at all career stages who are interested in addressing these questions in diverse geographic spaces to submit proposals for this conference. We recognize that the language of saving children is rooted in particular countries and in the period from the late nineteenth century onwards. Nevertheless, we are also interested in submissions that consider efforts to support or protect children in different time periods and places as well as within different conceptions of childhood. We are seeking proposals that explore the following subtopics from local, national, regional, and transnational perspectives:
- Colonial and Imperial Child Welfare Policies and Practices
- Settler Colonialism and Indigenous Children
- Children, the State, and Religion
- Transnational Organizations and Declarations of Child Rights
- Alternatives to the children’s rights framework
- Child Ability and Disability
- Child Labour
- Maturity and Age of Consent
- Children and the Law
- Race, Ethnicity, and Poverty in Child Protection and Child Removal
- Childism as a Lens to Interrogate Child Protection and Children’s Rights
The conference will be hybrid, with the option of switching to a fully virtual format if needed. We are in the process of applying for funding. They cannot guarantee that travel funding will be available. They anticipate funding for graduate students’ registration.
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