Translating rights : childhoods and the Convention on the Rights of the Child in Oaxaca City, Mexico
The starting point for this thesis is the acknowledgement of the gap between the rhetoric
around children's rights and the reality of children's lives at grassroots level. The purpose of
my research is to bring this gap into focus, by exploring the disparities between the
multifaceted and fluid nature of children's roles and the ideals and vision encapsulated in the
child rights discourse. This thesis argues that normative perceptions of childhood and
children's roles, which are embedded in society, lie at the root of this disparity and maintain a
clear boundary between childhood and adulthood. These understandings of childhood are at
odds with the lived realities of children's lives in Oaxaca, which blur fixed boundaries and
challenge normative perceptions of who, what, where and how children should be.
This divergence, between perceptions of childhood and real experiences of childhood,
raises important considerations for the practical implementation of the CRC at the grassroots
level, and is apparent in terms of language and pedagogical methods within institutional
approaches to children's rights. Via a discussion of these embedded notions of childhood and
adultist approaches to child rights teaching and advocacy, this thesis uncovers a key obstacle to
the implementation of the CRC in terms of meaningful knowledge for children in Mexico.
Empirical research was carried out in Oaxaca City, Mexico, with two groups of
children who were participants in CANICA, a local NGO for street-working children in the
city, and with one group of displaced Zapotec children from the region of Loxicha.1 The
major focus of my research centres on this latter group; socially marginalised, displaced, and
politically active, these children pose a considerable challenge to normative concepts of
childhood and children's roles. Moreover, as participants in a political struggle these children do not fit the kind of participation envisaged by the CRC, local NGOs and the wider advocacy
around children's rights, thus raising important questions regarding the limits of 'child
participation' framed by articles 12 to 15 of the eRe.
The field known as the New Sociology of Childhood Games, Jenks and Prout 1998;
Qvortrup 1994), together with the international discourse and advocacy of children's rights,
provide useful conceptual tools for the research. However, this thesis argues that normative,
dichotomous, and largely Northern concepts of childhood are inadequate for the study of
children's lives in Southern contexts such as Mexico. A key aim of the thesis is to explore the
development of a Latin American sociology of childhood as a possible and more adequate
framework for the study of children's lives in this region.