Jessica Kingsley Publishers
It is hoped that this year will see a commissioner for children in England. The post-holder’s first task should be to read Mary John’s book, for few authors have so poignantly and thoroughly charted the parallel between how children see and understand themselves and how others regard them.
What makes the book so special is its international dimensions. The author explores children’s rights and powers in the UK; in Europe, with references to Sweden’s ban on smacking in 1979 and the German kindergarten system; and also across the globe. So, we learn about child soldiers in Sierra Leone, a rural parliament in India and child labour in Vietnam.
We see children as consumers, as workers, as warriors and as endless victims of war, poverty or economic policies.
But everywhere, as John argues, they are at the mercy of values and beliefs that, in some way, pays less respect to them than modern accounts of medieval child care reveal.
But this is by no means a pessimistic book. Its message that children can change their own lives and those of their contemporaries when properly listened to shines like a beacon in today’s world.
Chris Hanvey is UK director of operations, Barnardo’s.