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Title: From combatant to casualty :challenging conceptions of children's political agency in Colombia
Authors: Graham, Alicia Claire
Issue Date: 2018
Publisher: Newcastle University
Abstract: This project aims to advance understandings of children as political agents. Children are emerging as complex political actors in global conflicts. Their ambiguous roles on the battlefield pose important questions about their positioning in post-conflict society, particularly through mechanisms of transitional justice. Despite this, there is a lack of scholarly engagement with the question of the political agency of children in post-conflict societies. Of particular concern is how social constructs of “children” and “childhood” prevent those who are under 18 from receiving the support they need to be viewed as legitimate political actors. Child actors are thus not acknowledged in their own terms. Rather their roles as actors are framed through the conceptualisation and context of an adult world that is not designed to, nor has made space for, understanding their political agency. Due to a lack of self-determination and self-definition, a disabling combination, children have been left vulnerable to exploitation and ultimately a denial of political agency. Instead, children exist within a narrow framework defined by cultural and social expectations that prohibit them from partaking in activities considered ʻadult.ʼ When war causes the child to act outside of familiar social frameworks, they become misunderstood, misrepresented, and ultimately marginalised. This thesis examines the overarching international approach towards the child actor through the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC). It investigates the way the UNCRC creates a prescriptive understanding of children and childhood, drawn from a European history of ideas. The thesis identifies three pairs of themes that position the child’s identity: citizenship and agency, innocence and immaturity, education and labour. The case of Colombia is then used to assess the impact of framing the child in this way. By examining the role of children in an environment of conflict and transition to post-conflict, the thesis investigates the international discourse on the child. The context of conflict and postconflict enables an analysis of the roles that children assume that appear contrary to the identity outlined within the UNCRC. This tension between the international discourse on the child and the framework of Colombian discourse affects the security of children in vulnerable positions. The thesis concludes by contesting dominating discourses on children within the international arena and explores the positive implications of positioning the child with greater political agency.
Description: PhD Thesis
Appears in Collections:School of Geography, Politics and Sociology

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