Concluding reflections: how might we really protect children?

The articles contained in this issue present a panorama of good protective intentions gone awry. International or national policies presumed to benefit children appeared in field research to be ineffective or counterproductive for the children. Depending on the situation, the problem could primarily be one of poor interpretation or implementation of a child protection policy. This is a management issue, which can be resolved by competent governance. National governments and international development programmes know how to handle such issues; the question is one of will and priority. However, in some cases, perhaps even in most cases, it appears that at least part of the underlying dysfunction was with the policies themselves, some of which might be misguided. This is a far more serious problem, since it suggests that those making the policies may know rather less about child protection – what is needed and how to provide it – than has been assumed.

As we pointed out in the Introduction, much has been learnt and put to good use about how to protect the lives, well-being, and development of very young children. But that is not equally true for children from young middle childhood onwards. These children, especially in poor countries, have been the primary subjects of concern in the papers in this journal issue. We end by briefly reflecting on them as a group, taking into consideration pertinent thought from elsewhere, to see what lessons we might draw and consider to helpfully inform development theory and practice.

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