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Children, without necessarily being conscious of it, interact with the law in many ways in their everyday lives: by going to school; through their interactions with other people; as well as when they go into a shop to buy a drink or a toy. They are surrounded by many international instruments, European and domestic laws that empower and protect them in their day-to-day lives, most obviously the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. But, to what extent do children really understand these laws and the rights and responsibilities enshrined in them?
Do children know where they stand?
Previous research into children and the law has tended to focus on children’s understanding of legal terminology and knowledge of legal institutions. It has concluded that children have a lack of understanding, or a misunderstanding, of the law and legal processes. When asked during the study, children clearly misunderstood legal terminology – a prime example of this was children mistaking the word ‘jury’ for “the stuff ladies wear on their fingers and ears and around their neck” From these types of study, it would seem that the law is an alien concept to most children. However, is it reasonable to expect very young children to have this kind of legal knowledge? Is it possible to frame the external establishments of law in a different way: highlighting their relevance to, and influence on, children’s everyday lives? Would this affect how children view, and understand, the law?
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