The Construction of Childhood

  • Victoria Flavia NamuggalaEmail author
Part of the Critical Cultural Studies of Childhood book series (CCSC)


This chapter traces historical construction informing standardized childhood notions. These include the United Nations declarations on children, the African regional frameworks on childhood, and the Uganda Government conceptualization of childhood. It also draws linkages among these international, regional, and national frameworks. Specifically, I examine the numeric age as a determinant of childhood (and adulthood) in Africa. The chapter argues that mainstream Western notions inform dominant notions of childhood. As such they do not necessarily reflect the experiences of other regions, especially in the Global South. The chapter concludes that universalistic frameworks are crucial for setting up standards under which childhood safety can be generally monitored. However, universal frameworks need to be domesticated and localized if the intended recipients’ specific needs and concerns are to be catered for efficiently.


  1. Abebe, T., & Ofusu-Kusi, Y. (2016). Beyond pluralizing African childhoods: Introduction. Childhood, 23, 303–316. Google Scholar
  2. Africa Renew. (2013, May). Youth unemployment: Lessons from Ethiopia.
  3. Andrews, A. B., & Kaufman, N. H. (1999). Implementing the UN convention on the rights of the child: A standard of living adequate for development. London: Praeger.Google Scholar
  4. Aries, P. (1962). Centuries of childhood: A social history of family life. New York: Vintage Books.Google Scholar
  5. Bass, L. E. (2004). Child labor in sub-Saharan Africa. Boulder: Lynne Rienner.Google Scholar
  6. Blattman, C., & Annan, J. (2009). Child combatants in northern Uganda: Reintegration myths and realities. In R. Muggah (Ed.), Security and post-conflict reconstruction: Dealing with fighters in the aftermath of war (pp. 103–126). New York, NY: Routledge.Google Scholar
  7. Boakye-Boaten, A. (2010). Changes in the concept of childhood: Implications on children in Ghana. Journal of International Social Research, 3(10), 104–115.Google Scholar
  8. Bourdillon, M. (2006). Children and work: A review of current literature and debates. Development and Change, 37(6), 1201–1226.Google Scholar
  9. Boyden, J. (1997). Childhood and the policy makers: A comparative perspective on the globalization of childhood. In A. James & A. Pout (Eds.), Constructing and reconstructing childhood: Contemporary issues in the sociological study of childhood (2nd ed., pp. 190–215). London: Falmer Press.Google Scholar
  10. Boyden, J., & de Berry, J. (2004). Children and youth on the front line: Ethnography, armed conflict and displacement. New York: Berghahn Books.Google Scholar
  11. Brown, C. (1997). Universal human rights: A critique. The International Journal of Human Rights, 1(2), 41–65.Google Scholar
  12. Cheney, K. (2007). Pillars of the nation: Child citizens and Ugandan national development. Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Chilisa, B. (2012). Indigenous research methodologies. London: Sage.Google Scholar
  14. Christiansen, C., Utas, M., & Vigh, H. E. (Eds.). (2006). Navigating youth generating adulthood: Social becoming in an African context. Uppsala: Nordiska Afrikaninstitute.Google Scholar
  15. Cunningham, H. (1995). Children and childhood in western society since 1500. Edinburgh: Pearson Education.Google Scholar
  16. Dolan, C. (2009). Social torture: The case of northern Uganda, 1986–2006. New York and Oxford: Berghahn Books.Google Scholar
  17. Fernando, C., & Ferrari, M. (2013). Handbook of resilience in children of war. New York: Springer.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Grier, B. (2006). Invisible hands: Child labor in colonial Zimbabwe. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.Google Scholar
  19. Hanson, K. (2012). Schools of thought in children’s rights. In M. Liebel (Ed.), Children’s rights from below: Cross-cultural perspectives (pp. 63–79). New York and Hampshire: Palgrave Macmillan. CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Harris-Short, S. (2003). International human rights law: Imperialist, inept and ineffective? Cultural relativism and the UN Convention on the rights of the child. Human Rights Quarterly, 25(1), 130–181. Google Scholar
  21. Hendrick, H. (1997). Constructions and reconstructions of British childhood: An interpretative survey, 1800 to the present. In A. James & A. Prout (Eds.), Constructing and reconstructing childhood (pp. 34–62). London: Falmer Press.Google Scholar
  22. Holt, J. C. (1994). Escape from childhood. New York: Dutton.Google Scholar
  23. Howard, S. (Ed.) (2013). Childhood in Africa. An Interdisciplinary Journal, 3(1). 2009 ISSN 1948-6502.Google Scholar
  24. Human Rights Watch. (2007). World report. New York.
  25. Ignatieff, M. (2001). The attack on human rights. Foreign Affairs, 80(6), 102–116. Council on foreign relations.Google Scholar
  26. Jenks, C. (1996). Childhood. London and New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  27. Jenks, C. (2009). Constructing childhood sociologically. In J. M. Kehily (Ed.), An introduction to childhood studies. Berkshire: Open University Press.Google Scholar
  28. Johnny, L. (2006). Reconceptualizing childhood: Children’s rights and youth participation in schools. International Education Journal, 7(1), 17–25.Google Scholar
  29. Kehily, M. J. (2009). Understanding childhood: An introduction to some key themes and issues. In An introduction to childhood studies (pp. 1–17). Maidenhead: Open University Press. Google Scholar
  30. Kendall, N. (2008). Vulnerability’ in AIDS-affected states: Rethinking child rights, educational institutions, and development paradigms. International Journal of Educational Development, 28, 365–383.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Kilbride, P., & Kilbride, J. (1990). Changing family life in East Africa: Women and children at risk. University Park: The Pennsylvania State University Press.Google Scholar
  32. Lawson, S. (1998). Democracy and the problem of cultural relativism, normative issues for international politics. Global Society, 12(2), 251–270.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Liebel, M. (2012). Children’s rights from below: Cross-cultural perspectives. Palgrave Macmillan.Google Scholar
  34. Machel, G. (2000, September). The impact of armed conflict on children: A critical review of progress made and obstacles encountered in increasing protection for war-affected children. The International Conference on War Affected Children, Winnipeg, Canada.Google Scholar
  35. Mead, M., & Wolfenstein, M. (1954). Childhood in contemporary cultures. Chicago: Chicago University Press.Google Scholar
  36. Mohanty, C. T. (2003). Feminism without borders: Decolonizing theory practicing solidarity. Durham and London: Duke University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Morrow, V. (2011). Understanding children and childhood (Background Briefing Series No. 1). Lismore: Centre for Children and Young People, Southern Cross University.Google Scholar
  38. Morrow, V. (2013). What’s in a number? Unsettling the boundaries of age. Childhood, 20, 151–155.
  39. Mutiibwa, P. (1992). Uganda since independence: A story of unfulfilled hopes. Trenton: Africa World Press.Google Scholar
  40. Namuggala, V. F. (2017). Gambling, dancing, sex work: Notions of youth employment in Uganda. IDS Bulletin, 47(3).Google Scholar
  41. Nikku, B. R. (2012). Children’s rights in disasters: Concerns for social work-insights from South Asia and possible lessons for Africa. International Social Work, 56, 51–66. Google Scholar
  42. Nyerere, J. K. (1968). Ujamaa-essays on socialism. Dar-es-salaam: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  43. Offit, T. (2008). Conquistadores de la calle: Child street labor in Guatemala City. Austin: University of Texas Press. Google Scholar
  44. Oyewumi, O. (1998). Making history: Creating gender: Some methodological and interpretive questions in the writing of Oyo oral Traditions. History in Africa, 25, 263–305.Google Scholar
  45. Panter-Brick, C., & Smith, T. M. (Eds.). (2000). Abandoned children (pp. 1–26). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  46. Panter-Brick, C., & Smith, T. M. (Eds.). (2004). Abandoned children (pp. 1–26). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  47. Pillay, J. (2014). Advancement of children’s rights in Africa: A social justice framework for school psychologists. School Psychology International, 35(3), 225–240.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Reichert, E. (2006). Human rights: An examination of universalism and cultural relativism. Journal of Comparative Social Welfare, 22(1), 23–36. Google Scholar
  49. Rousseau, S. (2011). Indigenous and feminist movements at the constituent Assembly in Bolivia: Locating the representation of indigenous women. Latin American Research Review, 46(2), 5–28. Google Scholar
  50. Save the Children. (2006). Children’s rights: A teacher’s guide. London: Save the Children Fund.Google Scholar
  51. Save the Children. (2017). Stolen childhood: End of childhood report.Google Scholar
  52. Scheper-Hughes, N., & Sargent, C. F. (1998). Small wars: The cultural politics of childhood. Berkeley: University of California press. Google Scholar
  53. Sewpaul, V., & Matthais, C. (2013). Editorial. International Social Work, 56(1), 3–6.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Sjoberg, L. (2013). Gendering global conflict: Toward a feminist theory of war. New York: Columbia University Press.Google Scholar
  55. Sjoberg, L. (2014). Gender, war and conflict. Cambridge: Polity Press.Google Scholar
  56. Smith, A. B. (2002). Interpreting and supporting participation rights: Contributions from sociocultural theory. The International Journal of Children’s Rights, 10(1), 73–88.Google Scholar
  57. Smith, K. (2012). Global humanitarian assistance: Uganda. Resources for crisis response, vulnerability and poverty eradication. Global Humanitarian Assistance, A Development Initiative.Google Scholar
  58. Spitzer, H., & Twikirize, J. (2013). War affected children in northern Uganda: No easy path to normality. International Social Work, 56, 67–79.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  59. Stasiulis, D. (2002). The active child citizen: Lessons from Canadian policy and the children’s movement. Citizenship Studies, 6, 507–537.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  60. Swadener, B. B., Kabiru, M., & Njenga, A. (2000). Does the village still raise the child? A collaborative study of changing child-rearing and early education in Kenya. Albany: State University of New York Press.Google Scholar
  61. UNICEF. (2005). Childhood under threat. The state of the world’s children 2005.
  62. United Nations. (1989). Convention on the rights of the child. Retrieved from
  63. Wall, J. (2008). Human rights in light of childhood. International Journal of Children’s Rights, 16, 523–543.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  64. Wane, J. (2011). African indigenous feminist thought. In The politics of cultural knowledge (pp. 7–21). New York: Springer. Google Scholar
  65. Wane, N. N. (2013). (Re)claiming indigenous knowledge: Challenges, resistance, and opportunities. Decolonization: Indigeneity, Education and Society, 2(1), 93–107. Google Scholar
  66. War Child. (2015, June 16). The reality of child-headed households: Northern Uganda study. A longitudinal study on the affect of income generating activity on education and protection outcomes for children and child headed households in northern Uganda.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Makerere UniversityKampalaUganda

Personalised recommendations