“Children are one third of our population and all of our future.” — Select Panel for the Promotion of Child Health – 1981
A frequent variation on the theme is, “Children are our most important resource.” This is usually simply asserted as a given, with no further justification or explanation. You have likely heard it so many times that it has become little more than a cliché. It sounds right so everyone just takes it for granted that it’s right; but are children actually “our most important resource?” More to the point, are they a resource at all?
There are certainly a lot of resources, both natural and manufactured. Many of them are necessary and a few are even highly valued. That definitely leads to asking which resource is most important. The sticking point is that children aren’t at the top of the list of important resources. Perhaps clean air and fresh water are worthy of consideration for places in the top five or so but not children.
Wonder what reasoning process lead to children being classified as a resource? A resource is something used or consumed by someone else. Even if the focus is the community or society, a resource is something available to be used or consumed by individuals or groups within the community or society. From that perspective, can people be resources? At a minimum, it’s an odd concept that was rejected in Civil War times and shouldn’t be resurrected for children.
A person may have skills or knowledge that are available to others. A person may provide services that others may use. A person may produce products that others value and consume. People are individually and collectively associated with resources as providers and consumers, either directly or indirectly but are not, themselves, resources. It follows that, along with not being the most important resource, children are no more a resource than you. Children aren’t resources. They are people to the same extent and in exactly the same way you are. To argue otherwise is to diminish, depersonalize, and devalue children.
Start from an alternative assertion. Children are people too. They are resource producers and consumers, not resources. As is true for you, children have minimum resource requirements and a range of discretionary resource interests. Call that the core resource set, understanding that the elements of the core resource set vary from person to person.
Everyone, including children, also has rights and privileges associated with their memberships in specific groups and communities. Those rights and privileges are based on criteria established by those groups and communities. Age is certainly one of the criteria. An adult likely cannot attend the local elementary school, even though the educational services might be within that adult’s discretionary resource interests. A sixteen-year-old likely cannot vote in the local election, even though he or she may be better prepared to vote than those who are permitted to vote. Even so, age is only one of many criteria used to assign rights and privileges to individuals.
A core resource set and membership rights and privileges are associated with each individual in the group or community. This is no less true for children than for adults. Just as the core resource set is not the same for all members of the community, rights and privileges are not distributed uniformly. Some groups have rights and privileges that are configured differently than those associated with other groups. For example, there is a group that is permitted to vote, a group that is permitted to drive, a group that is permitted to attend public schools, and so on. At the same time, all community members have a right to be free from abuse and assault, sexual exploitation, unsafe food, and a long list of other rights of community membership.
This prompts another question. Are there core resource requirements, rights, and privileges that are specific to children as a distinguishable segment of the community’s members? The answer to that question is “Yes.” Children have core resource requirements that are, for the most part, the same as those for all members of the community. As is true for the elderly, the disabled, and other identifiable groups within the community, children also have core resource requirements specific to children. The fact that they do does not itself distinguish them from other groups with special, core resource requirements.
In addition to special, core resource requirements, children have rights and privileges that are not identical to everyone else in the community. For the most part, their rights and privileges are the same as those recognized for others. In some respects, though, they have some rights and privileges that adults do not have and are not afforded other rights and privileges that adults do have. One could, then, define childhood by the child-specific core resource requirements and the pattern of rights and privileges that differentiates children and adults. Call this definition the “special member benefits” assigned to children as members of the community.
If children are a resource, everyone should focus on protecting and nurturing that resource for the sake of the community. If instead, children are people too, full members of the community, everyone should focus on assuring that each child’s core resource requirements are satisfied and each child’s special and regular rights and privileges are respected. For example, abuse and neglect are not merely factors that increase risk and potential jeopardy to an important resource; and everyone’s responsibility is not simply to minimize that jeopardy. Rather, abuse and neglect are violations of the child’s rights and privileges and the clear responsibility is to stop the violation and to assure that the child has full and continuous access to all community membership benefits, special and regular, to which he or she is entitled. Among other things, this perspective means that the violation is to stop now, not gradually but immediately.
The challenge for the community is to stop the violation immediately, without interfering with or jeopardizing other core resource requirements, rights, and privileges of the child. Everyone’s responsibility is to be sure they do the right things, with the right people, in the right way, without inadvertently harming the child or disregarding his or her core resource requirements, rights, and privileges in the process. The challenge is indeed potentially daunting but no less mandatory for children than for you.