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The Construct of Childhood

The knowledge of a child is highly polemic throughout the world. It is nevertheless imperative to start this essay by clearly differentiating the existing differences between the terms childhood and child. According to the dictionary, a child is ‘a girl or a boy from the time she or he is born up to when she or he attains adulthood or as a daughter or son of any age’ (Cambridge dictionary, 2009). The word childhood presents similar problems in defining it, the dictionary gives us a simple definition that childhood is ‘the period during which someone is a child’ (Cambridge dictionary, 2009). It is more essential to come up with a befitting definition of a child. The way childhood is defined is affected by many factors, such as the culture from which it has transpired from and the duration in history in which the characterization was developed. The thesis of what childhood and a child is will differ around the world but there are similarities that the definition will be based on. Often the similarities will include the exploration of biological and psychological aspects to childhood, age as a distinction of childhood and the concept of independence. Gender, geographical, historical, and cultural aspects also come into play when defining childhood (Gorky & Hettlinger, 2010). A typical western country child will have different experiences to that child from a third world country. The general definition of a child in accordance to the policy of the UN on the ‘Rights of a child’ would be any person under the age of eighteen regardless of the gender (Batcho et al, 2011). This is usually a basic definition of a child biologically that has been accepted by majority of the UN member-countries.


The constructions of childhood span different range of phases historically as I have learnt from the interviews conducted and researches that have been done by previous authors. Childhood as a concept was not even in existence until the sixteenth century when England, the Christian church started to get involved in the education of children with very basic Sunday schools (Gerrard, 2013). However, these thoughts are highly debatable as they raise numerous unanswered questions. There are theorists who question the thoughts of Zarepour (2013) claiming that childhood has always been in existence throughout history. An effect on the recognition of childhood as a key phase has roots in the needs economically throughout history. Children needed to work from a young age as it was often required and still is the case today; this had an effect on stopping their time as a child. The beginning of childhood as is known in the present times came because of the increased popularity of Christianity (Dumas & Nelson, 2016). There was a set of materialization on the concepts of children as innocent as they had previously been mentioned during that time and with it the need to offer protection to the younger generation. The church stepped in and began to mold the youth. Later on education became compulsory for children. However, childhood was still viewed as just a prior phase to adulthood rather than a period of life defined in its own right. Marriage also came early to children throughout history as it was also in the case of work and education (Jenks, 2005).

Another construction of childhood of key importance is those that are in the labor sector rather than in education. Throughout history, there have been many developments in the process of trying to protect children from getting involved in activities past their age, which involves full time jobs (Children Rights Alliance, 2008). The protection of children from early labor has not so far been fully implemented across all the countries in the World since there are still places that child labor is in full practice (Beaulieu & Pakrashi, 2013). Child labor has been a norm with the children being subjected to endless hours of horrific work with pays that are laughable. A good example is the subjection of children to sex trade. Economic desperation has mainly been the cause of children being forced into labor as it has not been usually the choice of a child or the family for the child to get into work but it has mainly been due to the prevailing hard economic conditions and the poverty levels (Cohen & Rutter, 2007).

Childhood throughout the years has been taken to be a social construction in that it has different meanings, and the roles given to and activities undertaken by the children throughout history also differed with periods and cultures. Zarepour (2013) argues that children did exist alongside the adults and once they had surpassed the infancy stage they took part in the life of the communities that existed around them, playing and working with grownups around them, without any practices considered to be distinctive focused on them due to the nature of them being children. During certain historical periods, children were expected to firstly work with their families and then later on as wage labourourers in order for them and their families to survive, which is today still the case in many developing nations. (Charlesworth, 2016).

Over the years there has been a massive shift in childhood meaning in which, due to them no longer undertaking labour children became economically useless and turned to be emotionally priceless which gave meaning to the lives of their parents. In recent times, Western societies demand schoolwork from the children for preparing them to be future members of the labour force. The children’s daily lives have turned out to be structured around formal learning and school, which increasingly is the case globally (Warehime, 2014). The capacity of children and young people to do something is usually measured by their educational attainment nowadays. Western society in particular its social policies put their focus on what children will become in the future. In majority of the world’s developing countries, children’s roles will turn out to be very different. Children are involved in various production forms due to the crucial importance of children’s labour to many of the household economies. Girls play a central role in sibling care-taking and domestic labour (Gatrell, 2008).

In some countries, child labour is prevalent and has to fit within work commitments, which is in contrast to the West, where children’s work is fitted into their education commitments. In the 19th century, it was a norm for women to marry and have children when they were still young. In present times, the issue of teenage parents is viewed as a social problem. Boys were expected to be the threshold of the society, the protectors, the builders, and the heads of families and societies from a very tender age, which is also not the case nowadays. As such children are constrained by the structures, institutions and cultures where they find themselves- whether physical, geographies, families or schools that turn out to shape their childhood experiences (Cohen & Rutter, 2007).

Across the ages, boys and girls have received very different treatment. This could be because of the emphasis that had been laid throughout time on the standards and norms that have been created by the society. As children grew up they were subjected to learn how to behave from those around them, through the social interactions processes the children are introduced to certain roles that they are supposed to play which are usually linked to their biological sex (Dinopoulos & Zhao, 2007). According to some cultural beliefs, the treatment was generally based on the gender of the children. Masculine roles have throughout the years been associated with aggression, strength and dominance and usually were and still are up to today assigned to boys while feminine roles usually associated with nurturing, passivity and subordination given to girls (Crooks & Baur, 2011). Socialization at birth gives rise to the role learning and the way the two sets of children are treated. Girls are usually considered by society to be accustomed to the domestic world from years dating back to our biblical ages (Kumar, 2013).

For a long time education had been considered to be a privilege that a few people would live to learn and experience. Over the decades, this privilege has evolved from education being for boys only and not girls to it being for both the two genders of kinds and nowadays to it being for boys of the wealthiest in the society (Charlesworth, 2016). By referring to ‘to it being for boys of the wealthiest in the society’, this hints to the quality education that has been rendered inaccessible to the children of middle, low class and unemployed parents. The boys of the wealthy have full access to quality formal education due to the nature of placement of high prices on the receivership of quality education in the modern world. Most of the parents tend to shy away from this kind of education as they view it to be a money extortion scheme by scholars to milk them dry of their money, besides it is not right to charge a huge sum of money in order to equip people with knowledge. A reasonable amount would be more than appropriate. This accord the wealthy parents with all the freedom and resources to take their boy children to receive the best quality in terms of education as they also consider them critical to their successors (Zosa et al, 2015). There are a number of reasons as to why early marriage for the girl child is still being encouraged in various cultures across the World. This is more prevalent in developing and underdeveloped countries of which one of the imminent reasons is dowry. Dowry or bride price is the amount paid by the groom to the parents of a bride in order for them to consent to the groom marrying their daughter and this has been one of the major reasons why early marriages is still prevalent (Yount et al 2016). The process is being viewed as an economic incentive in some countries, the younger the bride, the higher the she may attract as a bride price. A sense of social security has also been a factor. The fear of stigma by parents if grown-up girls above the age of 18 years stay at home also promotes early marriages (Smith, 2008). Other fear of trauma which would lead to less acceptance of the girl if she becomes the victim of the crime, fear of unmarried girls engaging in illegal relationships or the girls eloping leading to permanent social blemish from her siblings. In, there is the inability for impoverished families to find suitable bachelors for girls that are grown up in their economic group, which motivates parents to marry off their young daughters to older men who are financially stable (Uddin, 2015). Extreme poverty makes daughters an economic burden that parents may unload through early marriages which is viewed to be to the benefit of the girl herself as well as the family at large. The belief by parents that early marriages offer protection is also a cause, the feeling that the girl will be protected from sexually transmitted infections and sexual promiscuity (UNICEF, 2005). Lastly, politics and financial relationships also come into play in early marriages cases. In some cultures, child marriage is encouraged as a way of securing political ties. Parents are able to secure financial or political ties by wedding off their daughters where the betrothal is taken to be a binding contract upon the families as well as the children (Muthengi, 2010).

Women have had fewer legal rights in history; they have been denied the access to property, inheritance of property, the right to participation in a voting process and many other legal rights (Smith, 2008). This has been so because women had been considered as ‘gender of no voice’ and a subjective gender that were required to abide by the rules and laws generally made by the men even if it was against their rights and freedoms (Guerrina & Zalewski, 2007). The seemingly soft nature of women had been taken to be a weakness that is exploitable by men and the inaccessibility to education by the women over the years had also denied women insight into what their rights and freedoms entailed (Murdie & Peksen, 2015). This is no longer the case as women over the years have been able to rise up and challenge the decisions infringing on their legal rights. Laws have been changed to accommodate the women and through women movements there has been an unrelenting to fight for what they deem legally the rights and freedom of the girl child.

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References List

Batcho, K. I., Nave, A. M., & Darin, M. L. (2011). A retrospective survey of childhood experiences. Journal of Happiness Studies, 12(4), 531-545.

Beaulieu, E., & Pakrashi, D. (2013). Do WTO members employ less child labour? Indian Growth and Development Review, 6(1), 148-159.

Cambridge Dictionary (2009) Online Dictionary: Child [online] retrieved from [accessed on 17 February 2017]

Charlesworth, R. (2016). Understanding child development. New York, Cengage.

Children's Rights Alliance (2008) [online] Available:, Dublin [Accessed 21st December]

Cohen, A., & Rutter, J. B. (2007). Constructions of childhood in ancient Greece and Italy. Princeton, N.J., American School of Classical Studies at Athens

Crooks, R., & Baur, K. (2011). Our sexuality. Belmont, CA, Wadsworth/Cengage Learning.

Dinopoulos, E., & Zhao, L. (2007). Child labor and globalization. Journal of Labor Economics, 25(3), 553-579.

Dumas, M. J., & Nelson, J. D. (2016). (Re) imagining black boyhood: Toward a critical framework for educational research. Harvard Educational Review, 86(1), 27-47,155-156

Gatrell, C. (2008). Embodying women's work. Maidenhead, England, Open University Press.

Gerrard, J. (2013). "Little soldiers" for socialism: Childhood and socialist politics in the british socialist sunday school movement. International Review of Social History, 58(1), 71-96

Guerrina, R., & Zalewski, M. (2007). Negotiating difference/negotiating rights: The challenges and opportunities of women's human rights. Review of International Studies, 33(1), 5

Gorky, M., & Hettlinger, G. (2010). Childhood. Chicago: Ivan R. Dee.

Jenks, C. (2005) Childhood. London: Psychology Press

Kumar, R., Mitra, A., & Murayama, M. (2013). Toiling children in india: The gender dimension. International Journal of Social Economics, 40(10), 885-897.

Murdie, A., & Peksen, D. (2015). Women's rights INGO shaming and the government respect for women's rights. The Review of International Organizations, 10(1), 1-22.

Muthengi, E. N. (2010). Early marriage and early childbearing in Ethiopia: Determinants and consequences.

Smith, B. G. (2008). The Oxford encyclopedia of women in world history. Oxford [England], Oxford University Press.

Uddin, M. E. (2015). Family socio-cultural values affecting early marriage between muslim and santal communities in rural bangladesh. The International Journal of Sociology and Social Policy, 35(3), 141-164.

UNICEF. (2005). Early marriage: A harmful traditional practice : statistical exploration 2005. New York: UNICEF. Warehime, M. N. (2014). Soul of society: a focus on the lives of children & youth. Bingley, U.K., Emerald.

Yount, K. M., Crandall, A., Cheong, Y. F., Osypuk, T. L., Bates, L. M., Naved, R. T., & Schuler, S. R. (2016). Child marriage and intimate partner violence in rural bangladesh: A longitudinal multilevel analysis. Demography, 53(6), 1821-1852.

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