Unprotected childhood

Unprotected childhood
2017. Mohammed Yasin is one of the Rohingya children refugees in Cox’s Bazaar, in Bangladesh. Like him, millions of children suffer violence and lack of protection © UNICEF/UN0119119/Brown

Unprotected childhood

Recognising childhood and adolescence as stages of life with «specific needs» would not have been possible without considering the progress made in terms of an appropriate meeting of biological, emotional, social and emotive needs for an optimum development of boys and girls. Until the 16th century infanticide was a common practice and some writers talk about unconscious infanticide, or putting newborns in dangerous situations, during the 17th century.

Whenever selection factors came into play, it was to the detriment of the most vulnerable groups: illegitimate children or those with some kind of deficiency. Thanks to the French Catholic reform movement, focussed on saving souls, including those of women and children, and to legislative changes aimed at fomenting the safety of newborns, intentional infanticide stopped being commonplace in the 18th century. It is then that an increase in abandoning children arises, particularly in the case of children born to illicit or transitory relationships, to single mothers and prostitutes. The situation of abandoned children gets better during the 19th century when public authorities take on the responsibility of caring for and protecting children with no family, and as a result laws are passed to guarantee compulsory schooling and healthcare and to regulate child labour. But we must wait until 1898 for the British Parliament, at the insistence of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty of Animals, to pass a law to protect children from ill-treatment.