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Discrimination against children
  1. E Webb
  1. Correspondence to:
    Dr E Webb
    Senior Lecturer in Child Health, University of Wales College of Medicine, Cardiff, Wales, UK;

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Developing a conceptual framework

In the last few decades in Britain successive acts of parliament have attempted to tackle discrimination and promote equality of opportunities for women, members of ethnic minority communities, and disabled people. Currently there is discussion about eradicating “ageism”, including within health services, although this term is used only to describe discrimination against older people.1 One group—children—despite experiencing profound discrimination within society, are omitted from the general equality debate. Indeed many would think it ridiculous to include them. In fact, as will be illustrated in this paper, children experience significant discrimination, from both individuals and institutions. This discrimination affects both their health and the quality and delivery of child health services.


There was a growing and global commitment to the promotion of children’s rights in the last half of the twentieth century, culminating in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1989 and the establishment of Children’s Rights Commissioners in several, mainly Western, countries. Among industrialised countries, only the USA did not ratify the Convention. Although the UK government did so (with some reservations) it has, relative to many of its European neighbours, been slow to respond to these developments, not adequately addressing the undoubted disadvantages children experience as a result of what is, in effect, a society inherently discriminatory against them.

At local and regional levels there has been more encouraging activity, with many local authorities, NHS Trusts, public health authorities, and schools making use of the Convention to inform strategies and services. Even so children, and children’s services, remain marginalised. Even when there is a genuine commitment to children’s rights, poor understanding of how discrimination against children—that is, “childism”, is manifest, is compromising efforts to develop policies and services that are truly centred around the Convention.

This paper will …

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  • This paper is based on a presentation first given to the Annual Conference of the European Forum of Child Welfare, Limmassol, May 2001