Youth rights

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"Youth for human rights" redirects here. For YHRI, see Youth for Human Rights International.

Youth rights are rights that young people have due to having reached a specific age or sufficient maturity.

Youth rights have increased over the last century in many countries.[1] The youth rights movement seeks to further increase youth rights, with some advocating intergenerational equity.

Youth rights are one aspect of how youth are treated in society. Other aspects include how adults see and treat youth, and how open society is to youth participation.


Of primary importance to youth rights advocates are historical perceptions of young people, which they say are oppressive and informed by paternalism, adultism and ageism in general, as well as fears of children and youth. Several of these perceptions made by society include the assumption that young people are incapable of making crucial decisions and need protecting from their tendency to act impulsively.[2] Youth rights advocates believe those perceptions inform laws throughout society, including voting age, child labor laws, right-to-work laws, curfews, drinking/smoking age, gambling age, age of consent, driving age, youth suffrage, emancipation of minors, minors and abortion, closed adoption, corporal punishment, the age of majority, and military conscription. There are specific sets of issues addressing the rights of youth in schools, including zero tolerance, "gulag schools", In loco parentis, and student rights in general. Homeschooling, unschooling, and alternative schools are popular youth rights issues. A long-standing effort within the youth rights movements has focused on civic engagement. There have been a number of historical campaigns to increase youth voting rights by lowering the voting age and the age of candidacy. There are also efforts to get young people elected to prominent positions in local communities, including as members of city councils and as mayors. For example, in the 2011 Raleigh mayoral election 17-year-old Seth Keel launched a campaign for Mayor despite the age requirement of 21.[3] Strategies for gaining youth rights that are frequently utilized by their advocates include developing youth programs and organizations that promote youth activism, youth participation, youth empowerment, youth voice, youth/adult partnerships, intergenerational equity and civil disobedience between young people and adults.


First emerging as a distinct movement in the 1930s, youth rights have long been concerned with civil rights and intergenerational equity. Tracing its roots to youth activists during the Great Depression, youth rights has influenced the civil rights movement, opposition to the Vietnam War, and many other movements. Since the advent of the Internet youth rights is gaining predominance again.[citation needed]

Fallibility and individual differences[edit]

Certain youth rights advocates use the argument of fallibility against the belief that others can know what is best or worst for an individual, and criticize the children's rights movement for assuming that exterior legislators, parents, authorities and so on can know what is for a "minor"'s own good. These thinkers argue that the ability to correct what others think about one's own welfare in a falsificationist (as opposed to postmodernist) manner constitutes a non-arbitrary mental threshold at which an individual can speak for him or herself independently of exterior assumptions, as opposed to arbitrary chronological minimum ages in legislation. They also criticize the carte blanche for arbitrary definitions of "maturity" implicit in children's rights laws such as "with rising age and maturity" for being part of the problem, and suggest the absolute threshold of conceptual after-correcture to remedy it.[4]

These views are often supported by people with experience of the belief in absolutely gradual mental development being abused as an argument for "necessity" of arbitrary distinctions such as age of majority which they perceive as oppressive (either currently oppressing or having formerly oppressed them, depending on age and jurisdiction), and instead cite types of connectionism that allows for critical phenomena that encompasses the entire brain. These thinkers tend to stress that different individuals reach the critical threshold at somewhat different ages with no more than one in 365 (one in 366 in the case of leap years) chance of coinciding with a birthday, and that the relevant difference that it is acceptable to base different treatment on is only between individuals and not between jurisdictions. Generally, the importance of judging each individual by observable relevant behaviors and not by birth date is stressed by advocates of these views.[5]

Youth rights[edit]

Children's rights cover all the rights that belong to children, when they grow up they are granted new rights (like voting, consent, driving, etc) and duties (criminal responsibility, etc). There are different minimum limits of age at which youth are not free, independent or legally competent enough to make some decisions or take certain actions, some of these rights that come with age are:

After youth reach these limits they are free to vote, have sexual intercourse, buy or consume alcohol beverages or to drive cars, etc.


The "youth rights movement", also described as "youth liberation", is a nascent grass-roots movement whose aim is to fight against ageism and for the civil rights of young people – those "under the age of majority", which is 18 in most countries. It is ostensibly an effort to combat pedophobia and ephebiphobia throughout society by promoting youth voice, youth empowerment and ultimately, intergenerational equity through youth/adult partnerships.[6] Advocates of youth rights distinguish their movement from the children's rights movement, which they argue advocates changes that are often restrictive towards children and youth, and which they accuse of paternalism, pedophobia, and adultism.[citation needed] They point out distinctions between 1970s youth liberation literature and child rights literature from groups such as the Children's Defense Fund.[7]

Other youth rights advocates criticize groups such as "Americans for a society free of age restrictions" for being full of internet trolls. They argue that since there are individual differences in all forms of maturity, including physical and mental, the existence of individuals with very childlike characteristics legally considered adults mean that nobody have desires that can only be satisfied by relations with individuals below a certain age. Because of this, along with psychiatry's low population percentage figures regarding the frequency of pedophilia (not higher than the percentage of legal adults with significantly childlike characteristics), they argue that nobody have sexual motifs for pushing an agenda of lowering or abolishing ages of consent. They therefore argue that those who claim to advocate lowered or abolished age of consent for their personal sexual pleasure are most likely internet trolls happening to disturb the youth rights movement, citing that there are trolls disturbing most if not all movements. Claims of anti-paternalist youth rights advocates being pedophiles are sometimes compared by these sceptics to Sigmund Freud's claims of sons being sexually attracted to their mothers with references to Karl Popper's criticism that both positive and negative answers can be claimed as confirmation, making the claim non-falsifiable and unscientific. These sceptics also argue that the individual differences in mental development mean that some people below the age of majority, feeling oppressed by their legal guardians deciding over them, are capable of having their own agendas against legal guardianship. They also argue that since majors were once minors, many of them can remember and feel traumatized by what legal guardianship did to them legally, citing philosophical problems of well-intentioned decisions and laws being able to hurt those whom they are supposed to protect.[8][9][10][11]

Another criticism of the assumption that people who oppose ages of consent act on sexual attraction to minors is that since there are large differences in age of consent between countries, paraphilic people would therefore have emigrated to countries with lower ages of consent instead of the more difficult method of changing laws in their own countries. Therefore, these critics argue, there is no reason to assume people who oppose ages of consent to be paedophiles at all.[12][13]

Organizations in China[edit]

International Youth Rights (IYR) is a student-run youth rights organization in China, with regional chapters across the country and abroad. Its aim is to make voices of youth be heard across the world and give opportunities for youths to carry out their own creative solutions to world issues in real life.

Organizations in Europe[edit]

The European Youth Forum (YFJ, from Youth Forum Jeunesse) is the platform of the National Youth Council and International Non-Governamental Youth Organisations in Europe. It strives for youth rights in International Institutions such as the European Union, the Council of Europe and the United Nations. The European Youth Forum works in the fields of youth policy and youth work development. It focuses its work on European youth policy matters, whilst through engagement on the global level it is enhancing the capacities of its members and promoting global interdependence. In its daily work the European Youth Forum represents the views and opinions of youth organisations in all relevant policy areas and promotes the cross-sectoral nature of youth policy towards a variety of institutional actors. The principles of equality and sustainable development are mainstreamed in the work of the European Youth Forum. Other International youth rights organizations include Article 12 in Scotland and K.R.A.T.Z.A. in Germany.

In Poland, Palikot's Movement campaigns for lowering the voting age to 16.

Organizations in the United States[edit]

The National Youth Rights Association is the primary youth rights organization for the youths in the United States, with local chapters across the country. The organization known as Americans for a Society Free from Age Restrictions is also an important organization. The Freechild Project has gained a reputation for interjecting youth rights issues into organizations historically focused on youth development and youth service through their consulting and training activities. The Global Youth Action Network engages young people around the world in advocating for youth rights, and Peacefire provides technology-specific support for youth rights activists. Choose Responsibility and their successor organization, the Amethyst Initiative, founded by Dr. John McCardell, Jr., exist to promote the discussion of the drinking age, specifically. Choose Responsibility focuses on promoting a legal drinking age of 18, but includes provisions such as education and licensing. The Amethyst Initiative, a collaboration of college presidents and other educators, focuses on discussion and examination of the drinking age, with specific attention paid to the culture of alcohol as it exists on college campuses and the negative impact of the drinking age on alcohol education and responsible drinking.

Prominent individuals[edit]

Youth rights, as a philosophy and as a movement, has been informed and is led by a variety of individuals and institutions across the United States and around the world. In the 1960s and 70s John Holt, Richard Farson, Paul Goodman and Neil Postman were regarded authors who spoke out about youth rights throughout society, including education, government, social services and popular citizenship. Shulamith Firestone also wrote about youth rights issues in the second-wave feminist classic "The Dialectic of Sex." Alex Koroknay-Palicz has become a vocal youth rights proponent, making regular appearances on television and in newspapers. Mike A. Males is a prominent sociologist and researcher who has published several books regarding the rights of young people across the United States. Robert Epstein is another prominent author who has called for greater rights and responsibilities for youth. Several organizational leaders, including Sarah Fitz-Claridge of Taking Children Seriously, Bennett Haselton of Peacefire and Adam Fletcher (activist) of The Freechild Project conduct local, national, and international outreach for youth and adults regarding youth rights.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ For example, see the history of the voting age in various countries
  2. ^ Furlong, Andy (2013). Youth Studies. USA: Routledge. p. 25. 
  3. ^ Hui, T. Keung (Jun 13, 2011). "Wake School Board Opponent Seth Keel Launches Raleigh Mayor Bid". The News & Observer Publishing Company. Retrieved 7 November 2011. 
  4. ^ Ethics Without Indoctrination, Richard Paul 1988
  5. ^ The thinker's guide to ethical reasoning, Linda Elder and Richard Paul 2013
  6. ^ Fletcher, A. (2006) Washington Youth Voice Handbook Olympia, WA: CommonAction.
  7. ^ Axon, K. (n.d.) The Anti-Child Bias of Children's Advocacy Groups Chicago, IL: Americans for a Society Free of Age Restrictions.
  8. ^ Asking the Right Questions: A Guide to Critical Thinking; M. Neil Browne
  9. ^ The Art of Thinking Clearly; Rolf Dobelli
  10. ^ How To Stop The Cyberbullies And Internet Trolls Once And For All; Janason
  11. ^ How to Think about Weird Things: Critical Thinking for a New Age Theodore Schick Jr.
  12. ^ Thinking, Fast and Slow; Daniel Kahneman
  13. ^ Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything; Steven Levitt, Stephen J. Dubner