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Children's Rights and Children's Quality of Life

What is children's quality of life? Is there any relation between children's rights and children's quality of life?

At present the concept quality of life has many different meanings in Europe. For some people it is a synonymous concept of welfare. For some other it is equivalent to material well-off, comfort, or even luxury. Others think it is related to well-being, happiness, good life, and so on.

In social sciences, as well as in social life, one of the meanings of quality has been used as opposed to quantity. Big quantities of material resources does not necessarily imply well-being, happiness or satisfaction with life.

In social psychology we usually define quality of life as related to both, material conditions of living (welfare) and psychosocial conditions of living (subjective well-being). It refers to the quality of the context -both material and psychosocial- our lives develop in.

To know until which extent we agree there is quality in our life as a whole -or in any domain of our life- we need some consensus about what is "good quality", that is to say, we need some normative standard to compare with "reality" in order to establish levels of quality, and acceptable (minimum) quality.

Pediatricians, developmental psychologists, as well as pedagogist and other professionals have invested a big deal of energies this century along to understand what is good for child development (Casas, 1998). Parents usually want the best for their children. But experts often disagree between themselves, or change their mind -maybe because of new scientific research-, and parents may also disagree with them. The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child also stands for children's best interest (Veerman, 1992; Verhellen, 1994; Alston, 1994; Casas, 1998). All of these aspirations are related to adults' wishes referred to quality in children's lives.

On the other hand, we have become aware that besides this different personal, professional or institutional diverse perspectives, there are also important cultural differences (or diversities) about what is good, and what is best for children (Childwatch International, 1995; Ennew, 1996; Casas, 1998).

Each society, each culture, each ethnic group, in different historical periods, have constructed childhood in diverse ways. In social psychology we refer to such different images and ways of understanding what is best for children as social representations of childhood. Such different social representations are associated to diverse images of which are children's social problems, and how society (and social policies) must deal with social problems of childhood (Chombart de Lauwe, 1984; D'Alessio, 1990; Casas, 1998).

In many countries we have traditionally assumed that children's rights are related to two "Ps", provision and protection - both of them refer to negative situations (social needs and social problems affecting children) that we must overcome: provision is a right when children do not have enough to survive or appropriately develop; protection is a right when the child is exploited, abused or neglected. After the adoption of the Convention on the Rights of the Child (on 20 November 1989) we are speaking of a third "P" principle, which is more positive: participation - children have the right to be taken into account, as human beings, as present citizens in our societies (Verhellen, 1994).

The lack of respect towards some rights is reflected in deprived material conditions of living, but also in social exclusion.

Quality of life is also related with taking people into account. Quality of life studies are focusing on people's owns perceptions, evaluations and aspirations, in order to know how much subjective well-being is in their lives. We are interested in people's satisfaction with their life as a whole, in people's satisfaction with specific domains (family, job, leisure, friends, neighborhood, and so on), in people's satisfaction with services they get, in people's happiness, etc. (Parmenter, 1994; Casas, 1998).

However, quality of life needs two more "Ps" to be considered: prevention and promotion. Quality of life is a positive challenge, a value, and a goal for action, just to promote improvement of living conditions - no social problem, need or deficit is necessary in the scene in order to be proactive, in favor of quality of life.

To know about children's quality of life it is not enough to have a lot of expert information about children - we also need to ask children themselves about their evaluations, satisfactions and aspirations. We already have a good number of researches asking children about their opinion on the family (CRN, 1994; Van Gils, 1995), about their own rights (Cherney and Perry, 1994; Ochaita, Espinosa and Grediaga, 1994), about their neighborhood or city (Casas, 1998), and so on.

We actually need to exchange and disseminate much more research results on children's owns perspectives and opinions about different aspects of their lives, and about instruments and methods used to get such data.

At present, Internet is offering new ways of data collecting from children. Forums open for children to discuss different topics of their interest are already active in many places (for example, at the municipality of Barcelona: http://www.bcn.es/infancia). Appropriated content analysis of their discussions and proposals on their conditions of living (both material and psychosocial) offers new interesting perspectives to better understand children's cultures.

We will be happy to contact with other research teams and networks with similar interests, that are developing or willing to develop research on this perspective.

Bibliography

-Alston, Ph. (Ed.)(1994). The best interests of the child. Reconciling culture and human rights. Oxford. UNICEF-ICDC. Clarendon Press.

-Casas, F. (1998). Infancia: Perspectivas psicosociales. Barcelona. PPU.

-Cherney, I. & Perry, N.W. (1994). Children's attitudes toward their rights: An international perspective. In F. Casas: Psychosocial perspectives on childhood. Symposium in the 23rd International Congress of Applied Psychology. Madrid. Spain.

-Childwatch International (1995)(updated). Indicators for children's rights. A project to identify and develop indicators for use in monitoring the implementation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child. Oslo. Childwatch International (first version, 1993).

-Chombart de Lauwe, M.J. (1984). Changes in the representation of the child in the course of social transmission. In R. Farr & S. Moscovici (Eds.): Social representations. Cambridge. Cambridge Univ. Press.

-CRN (1996). International Comparative Survey: A child's view of what a family should be. Tokyo. CRN Web page.

-D'Alessio, M. (1990). Social representations of childhood: an implicit theory of development. In G. Duveen & B. Lloyd: Social representations and the development of knowledge. Cambridge. Cambridge University Press.

-Ennew, J. (1996). Indicators for children's rights - A resource file. Oslo. Childwatch International.

-Ochaita, E.; Espinosa, M.A.; & Grediaga, M.C. (1994). ?Como entienden los ninos el derecho a la igualdad? Infancia y Sociedad, 27-28, 61-76.

-Parmenter, T. (1994). Quality of life as a concept and measurable entity. Social Indicators Research, 33, 1-3, 1-8.

-Van Gils, J. (1995). Les enfants et leur famille: Qu'en pensent-ils? Meise (Belgium). Onderzoekscentrum Kind en Samenleving.

-Veerman, P.E. (1992). The rights of the child in the changing image of childhood. Dordrecht. Martinus Nijhoff.

-Verhellen, E. (1994). Convention on the Rights of the Child. Leuven. Garant.

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