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Children's Rights

Protection Of Children, Childcare, Child Labor, Kidnapping And Abduction, Forms Of Child Abuse

From the late nineteenth century into the early twenty-first century, U.S. society increasingly became concerned about the welfare of the nation's children. Congress and the states passed special laws recognizing that children held a right to a healthful upbringing and are particularly vulnerable to being victimized by criminals. Children have a right to basic needs such as food, clothing, shelter, medical care, education, and safety from society's ills. All states have laws requiring biological parents to provide these basic needs. However parents are given much discretion on how they satisfy these responsibilities of providing nurturing and safety. Criminal penalties were provided for those who denied these rights through abuse, assault, abduction, or some other action. The laws addressed acts against children at home, in places of worship, at childcare facilities, and in the workplace. The laws also placed an emphasis on prevention as well as prosecution.

The basis for these criminal laws was the recognition that children have special needs separate from adults. By the twentieth century the public determined that to protect the long-term interests of society children must be provided the basic Two young boys working in a textile mill. (The Library of Congress) needs to develop into healthy and productive adults. At the same time the laws protect the parents' interests in raising their children as they see fit. Overall the United States gives parents greater flexibility than many other countries.

When a child faces hunger, abuse, or neglect, the state intervenes in family matters. Those who deny these basic rights to children can be charged with criminal offenses. In addition criminal penalties are particularly harsh toward those who abuse, sexually assault, murder, or kidnap children.

For More Information


Besharov, Douglas J. Recognizing Child Abuse: A Guide for the Concerned. New York: Free Press, 1990.

Bianchi, Anne. Understanding the Law: A Teen Guide to Family Court and Minors' Rights. New York: Rosen, 2000.

Fabricant, Michael. Juveniles in the Family Courts. Lexington, MA: Lexington Books, 1983.

Helfer, Mary E., Ruth S. Kempe, and Richard D. Krugman, eds. The Battered Child. 5th ed. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 1997.

Mnookan, Robert H., and D. Kelly Weisberg. Child, Family, and State: Problems and Materials on Children and the Law. Gaithersburg, MD: Aspen Law and Business, 2000.

Ramsey, Sarah H., and Douglas E. Adams. Children and the Law in a Nutshell. 2nd ed. St. Paul, MN: Thomson/West, 2003.

Sagaturn, Inger, and Leonard Edwards. Child Abuse and the Legal System. Chicago, IL: Nelson-Hall Publishers, 1995.

Web Sites

"National Clearinghouse on Child Abuse and Neglect Information." U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Administration for Children and Families. http://nccanch.acf.hhs.gov/ (accessed on August 20, 2004).

"What is Abuse?" ChildhelpUSA®. http://www.childhelpusa.org/abuseinfo_definitions.htm (accessed on September 2, 2004).

Additional topics

Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationCrime and Criminal Law