The rebel children of Latin America

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The rebel children of Latin America

The Kids Are in Charge by Jessica K. Taft, New York University Press, US $ 30.00, Pp 270, September 2019, ISBN 978-1479854509

In 1976, the working children in Peru started a rights movement to redefine their roles in society. Peruvian children’s rights movement is unique in modern history. They demanded that children should be respected as equal partners in economic, social and political life. The movement has also tried to redefine the roles of parents. There is no other country where working children have launched a social movement at this scale. In The Kids Are in Charge, Jessica K. Taft explores the movement of working children in order to question, destabilize, and disrupt many commonsense ideas about children and childhood. She provides rich details of the possibilities and challenges of intergenerational activism and such social movements. She also explains how the movement redefines the relationships between the children and parents.

Jessica K. Taft and the movement itself directly challenge five widespread assumptions: Jessica K. Taft says that they include,

(1) the binary difference assumption, or the assumption that children and adults are essentially different kinds of humans;

(2) the natural assumption, or the assumption that childhood is a natural and universal category, with fixed traits and characteristics;

(3) the passivity assumption, or the assumption that children are uncritical sponges who absorb the perspectives of adults;

(4) the exclusion assumption, or the assumption that children should be prevented from participation in both work and politics;

(5) the power assumption, or the assumption that adults’ power over children is just, inevitable, and/ or necessary, and should not be diminished.

Jessica K. Taft argues that these five assumptions are not universal and they can look and sound somewhat different in different social and cultural contexts, but they are powerful and increasingly pervasive narratives about childhood that circulate globally through popular media, international human rights institutions, children’s organizations, and other international programs and interventions that address education, families, communities, and children’s lives. Jessica K. Taft draws on the knowledge and experience developed in the critical space of Peru’s movement of working children to reconsider and question each of these assumptions and to offer an alternative approach to childhood and international relationships.

In challenging these five commonsense ideas about childhood, Jessica K. Taft does not claim that they are entirely false or prove them wrong. While most childhood studies focus on illuminating the dominant or hegemonic models of childhood. In contrast, Jessica K. Taft focuses on an alternative vision and emphasizes that childhood, as a social construction, is open to change. She says that the notion of the potential for intentional transformations of childhood is often implicit within childhood studies rather than directly addressed. She argues that the movement of working children reminds us of one of the key features of a socially constructed category which can be constructed and remade, and such remaking may emerge from large-scale structural changes (such as digital culture or new economic imperatives), but they may also be the result of social movement activity and political struggle. Childhood and its meetings can be actively contested, debated, and challenged by children themselves.

In addition to challenging these five commonsense ideas about childhood, Peru’s movement of working children also challenges the dominant approaches of many programs and organizations for children. Jessica K. Taft says that it offers a vibrant and viable alternative model for how to increase children’s democratic participation, inclusion, and collective power, whether that be in the context of educational institutions, after-school programming, children’s organizations, social movements, or the ever-expanding landscape of spaces designed to involve children in formal politics.

The Kids Are in Charge is an insightful scholarly but accessible work on one of the most amazing social and human rights movements of modern history. Jessica K. Taft must be commended for providing new and powerful perspectives to understand this unique phenomenon. She convincingly busts myths about children and builds the case of treating children as equal citizens of this world. The Kids Are in Charge is the story of the children who rebelled against an oppressive system and are struggling to change the status quo. This movement may be geographically restricted to a lesser-known country in Latin America, it is about all the children of the world. Written in beautiful and easy-to-understand language, The Kids Are in Charge is a very well-researched book. It is a must-read if you are interested in Latin America or child rights.

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