The UN estimates that around 140 million children are born each year. Most of them grow up among prejudiced environments with a ‘label’ that eventually will make them develop such prejudices and labels towards others, too. We all grew up with some label, either rooted in our family or because of other people surrounding us at a young age. ”A child repeatedly called ‘bad’ or ‘a troublemaker’ will perceive itself as such and live down to these labels”. In fact, there are other labels bearing even more regrettable connotations, such as being called terrorists or young criminals, finally predisposing the children to adopt and worse still, to become the living reflection of these labels.
Due to these prejudices some questions remain. What are the real impacts of such labels during childhood and how do they influence the child’s development towards adulthood? How does our way of expressing ourselves affect children’s future interpersonal relationships and their self-esteem? At what point as adults do we decide to pigeonhole, label, and prejudice a child that is not yet aware of the world around it?
Some studies and expert opinions state that children are born without prejudices and that these begin to develop over time. But there are also studies that indicate that many of the prejudices that children acquire come from the mother. In my opinion, this is one more prejudice to add to the list, considering that somehow we are blaming women for teaching their kids something that was also taught to them. All the stereotypes that girls and women had to face ever since to be socially accepted at some point turn into a self-esteem issue that eventually will be passed on to their children, creating a vicious cycle.
The world is continuously changing and even today we continue to label, isolate and disparage children according to various factors such as skin color, religion, culture, condition, worldviews, etc. believing that it is correct to frame them within a concept that is often denigrating and severely affects their development. That way, they cannot behave properly in their environment and therefore limit their expectations instead of becoming the purest version of themselves. Social advances are an open door for children to accept and recognize themselves as unique individuals being part of a diverse community. The fight against stigmatizing factors continues. Recent events show that. The Black Lives Matter movement has given the global community the chance to change the primitive stigma that some had on people of color.
Nevertheless, room for improvement remains as the case of people with disabilities shows. Over 650 million people around the world live with disabilities, among them 20% of the world’s poorest people. 98% of children with disabilities in developing countries do not attend school and around a third of the world’s street children live with disabilities. Persons with disabilities often live on the margins of society, deprived of some of life’s fundamental experiences, and make up the world’s largest and most disadvantaged minority.
Another important point to discuss is what states are doing to prevent children becoming victims of these prejudices. The Convention on the Rights of the Child refers to discrimination and therefore to the prejudices of which children often are victims and demands states to respect and ensure the rights set forth in this convention within their jurisdiction. The convention’s purpose is to establish parameters of protection for children, allowing each of them to have a healthy and ideal development granting them the opportunity to grow up in a safe environment. Article 2 of the convention mentions non-discrimination, article 3 talks about the best interest of the child, article 6 about survival and development and article 12 touches upon the opinion of the child.
Furthermore, the Declaration on Race and Racial Prejudice adopted under the auspices of UNESCO is based on the principle that racism violates human dignity. Article 1 (2) states: “All individuals and groups have the right to be different, to consider themselves as different and to be regarded as such. However, the diversity of life styles and the right to be different may not, in any circumstances, serve as a pretext for racial prejudice; they may not justify either in law or in fact any discriminatory practice whatsoever, nor provide a ground for the policy of apartheid, which is the extreme form of racism.”
Perhaps all this sounds utopian considering the global reality in which we live right now where despite certain advances we have not yet been able to completely eradicate these stigmas that not only have been with us since “old times” but rather seem to be something inherent in the actions of the human being. In any case I sincerely believe that we have advanced, see the example of Ilhan Omar. So, let us create awareness and educate not only the young generations but ourselves as adults about the negative effect of stereotypes and prejudices. Then, we will be able to look at ourselves without visualizing major differences. It is our duty to provide children with a safe environment, free of prejudices and stigmas, where they can finally become the most authentic version of themselves.