When I ask you about the definition of child protection in Europe, what comes in mind at first? You probably would think of protecting weak children against ‘the bad’, but that is a very wrong way of putting it. Child protection must be based in respecting children’s rights and their capability. An often-made misconception from adults about children is that children do not really want to participate in society. ‘Let them just be children as long as possible’, I often hear. The people who say this want to keep children out of the serious, adult part of life – being money issues, fights, crises, war etc. – as long as possible. Of course, it is logical that adults think like this because when you think about it you will only be a child for a very short period of your life so children should enjoy every bit of their freedom until they become an adult. But this does not mean that children should be kept out of the adult world and be treated as such.
For instance, I, a child, am interested in ‘adult things’, like politics and history. Of course, I am enjoying some parts of being a child, like not having to pay for a house and not having to work. But I do not like other parts of it, like not being able to vote and not having access to some places that are 18+. This makes that it really annoys me when we children are treated as less than adults. Less smart, less responsible, less independent… I know a lot of people who are also younger than eighteen but who are very interested in adult things and want to be involved in it.
During the May holidays, I went to the House of European History in Brussels. This is a very interesting museum about Europe’s history, going from the formation of Europe up until the present. Rebecca O’Donnell, expert from Child Circle, gave me a task for this visit, which was to have a look in the museum and see what I found that had a connection between children and the European Union. And so there I was, walking around in the permanent exhibition just let everything wash over me. As I was looking for pictures or stories about children, there was one thing that I noticed. In all those ancient pamphlets, pictures and stories it became quite clear to me that children were kind of portrayed as weak. A very interesting pamphlet I found was the one above. It comes from Russia during the cold war. As you can see it is a man, flexing his biceps, and a boy looking aspiring at it and touching it. The man says ‘Do you want to be like me? Training, training and more training!’ In this picture, I personally saw that weakness of children I just mentioned. The man is portrayed as this exemplary adult who is everything the young and incapable child should want to be. I find that it is a shame that children are seen as less than adults and that there is always talked about adults being an example for the children, when there should me more focus on the capability of children themselves, and their rights. Therefore, it is so important that there are organisations like Child Circle and Missing Children whose work is about ensuring respect for children’s rights when protecting children. So they do not protect them as weak children, but as capable children that matter. – Merel Bakhuizen, the Netherlands