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Discuss the relationship between a commitment to universal children's rights and a recognition of cultural differences in child-rearing practices.

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SCLG 2003, Amanda Hallett, SID: 9816982 Q13: 'Discuss the relationship between a commitment to universal children's rights and a recognition of cultural differences in child-rearing practices.' The relationship between a commitment to universal children's rights and a recognition of cultural differences in child-rearing practices has been an issue of debate for over sixty years. International documents attempt to perform the dual roles of both upholding the legitimacy of cultural differences whilst simultaneously attempting to institute a universalised norm or standard. In order to do this they must battle divergences not just of definition, but also between various ideologies in such a manner that reconciles concepts of 'otherness'. Cultural differences present a number of problems for those seeking to understand the 'other', thus it is especially important that alternative value systems be viewed in their cultural and historical context. Most issues pertaining to international human rights also applies to that of universal children's rights, for example it is important to delineate between authentic cultural differences and those used to further political agendas. Further hindering international acceptance of any universal standard are those perceptions that link human rights activism to an attempt to enforce Western standards and thus global domination. Thus there are many factors which contribute to the difficulties of resolving the conflicting ends of instituting an international value system that is both culturally pluralist and universalist. The near universal ratification of the 1989 United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCROC) demonstrates a global acceptance of the existence of children's rights (Maley, 1999: 17). However international debate regarding the content of such rights has remained at a constant and great level since the conception of its founding document, the 1959 United Nations Declaration of the Rights of the Child (UNDROC). Such debate suggests that a recognition of cultural differences could only come into relation with 'universal' principles in a tenuous and difficult manner at best, if at all. ...read more.


Such a critique was made of the following statement by the Australian Foreign Minister, Senator Evans: "Australia's level of activity on human rights issues is, on most reckonings, greater than that of any other country in the world...the level of our activity, its non-discriminatory and universal approach and our willingness to accept international scrutiny of our behaviour have all given us real credibility as a country with genuine, non-political objectives in the human rights field" (Evans, 1991). There were many in the Asian region who put forth the accusation that Australia was not as vigilant as it claimed to be and denied the notion of Australian policy as non-political. Further discomfort was made apparent with the apparently easy assumption that it was possible to talk of 'non-discriminatory' and 'universal' approaches (Milner, ed., 1993: 3). As the AAPP makes clear, Australian human rights motives have been questioned and branded as hypocrisy for many reasons, including our historic links to Western imperialism and because of the way Australia's Aborigines have been treated (Milner, ed., 1993: 28). There is even suspicion as to whether Australia uses human rights diplomacy as a modern substitute for imperialism, for as Western powers withdraw politically from the region, human rights issues provide the opportunity to recruit Western assistance. Further, this allows Australia to use the pressure of international opinion to encourage Asian neighbours to accept the same human values as operating in Australia, thus making these neighbours less threatening (Milner, ed., 1993: 28). The moralistic and universalistic claims of Western countries in regard to human rights issues have long been a basis for cynicism. The accusation of imperialist domination has resulted in a sustained perception of Western didacticism in the human rights arena. Thus Lee Kuan Yew states: "Let's get the history right. The Universal Declaration was written up by the victorious powers at the end of World War II...The Russians did not believe a single word...The Chinese...were espousing the inalienable rights and liberties of man to get American aid to fight the communists" (Yew, 1993: 21). ...read more.


In order to ensure the parent's right to decide their child's upbringing and to allow a proliferation of cultural pluralities, state intervention is limited to those cases where the child may encounter serious harm or risk to future self-fulfilment. Thus the resulting arrangement, like so many children's rights, hinges upon a concept of subjective quality providing further fuel for the debate regarding the very content of 'universal' children's law (Feinberg, 1980: 142). So many factors enter the relationship between a commitment to universal children's rights and cultural differences that the resulting paradoxes may seem insurmountable. However, the global commitment to, and ratification of, UNCROC does display a willingness to overcome diverging value systems, at least to a point wherein broad principles may be universally agreed upon. These broad principles are often of a subjective nature, and whilst this may present its own set of difficulties, is necessary to avoid accusations of cultural domination. The most perplexing and ultimate problem in the arena of international children's rights remains that of how to reconcile the conflicting value evaluation methods of cultural pluralism and monism. Indeed in Herodotus was correct in assuming that where people have a choice they will always prefer their own customs (Douglas and Sebba, 1998: 16), it will always prove extremely difficult to derive universal principles that will none-the-less converge with various cultural customs. The problem lies in that there is no one 'tried and true' method for creating an international community regarding any issue, however global commitment to children's rights is such that with due caution regarding respecting cultural differences, universal principles may yet be (indeed increasingly are) viewed less with suspicion. It must be recognised that children live in a world of pre-conceived ideology, they must endure the effects of concepts that they had no part in forming. Thus it remains important to ensure that whilst they benefit from a diverse range of ideologies, they must be protected by universal and common concepts that ensure they are not exploited in the ideological battles of adults, even where such concepts are fraught with paradox. ...read more.

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