This is part of the Youth Rights 101 series. Please check out Youth Rights 101: Introduction for the rest of the series and more information.

What IS Youth Rights anyway?

Youth rights is a very broad term referring to the civil rights and freedoms of young people.

This may include specific rights and liberties such as:
-voting rights
-freedom of speech
-reduction/elimination of age restrictions
-religious freedom
-educational choice
-access to information
-freedom to travel and assemble
-privacy rights
-medical rights
-freedom from coercive and violent parenting
-greater ability to leave an abusive home or school
-economic rights
-and countless others.

It also may include raising the standard of treatment toward young people in every day society, such as:
-treating youth with as much respect as an adult would be presumed entitled to
-avoiding stereotyping
-respecting their choices
-avoiding taking control over them in any way
-including youth in decision-making especially where they are directly affected
-acknowledging their concerns and opinions as legitimate
-and numerous other little ways to fix a culture that deems it acceptable to treat young people as lesser.

Youth rights is the idea that youth are to be seen as separate individuals on their own, and not merely the charges of their parents and schools. It is acknowledging young people are just as much a part of the real world as their elders and should be respected as such. It is about inclusion of youth in most or all aspects of society, not casting them aside as “too young”. It is that a person’s age tells you only their age and little or nothing else about this person’s abilities or maturity.

Some use the term youth rights to refer specifically to the rights of teenagers and young adults (roughly ages 13 to 30), while others include children in that definition as well, whether for all issues or just some.

What does “youth rights” mean to you? Tell us in the comments!


  1. Youth rights is the principle that an individual’s rights do not depend on the number of times he or she has orbited the sun.

    It is consistent with the idea that certain rights may depend on a certain level of functional maturity (e.g. the ability to speak in complete sentences), or with the idea that all rights apply from the moment of birth. It is consistent with any of numerous conceptions of rights, libertarian, socialist, or what have you, so long as they do not give some people greater rights than others on the basis of calendar age.

    Youth rights rejects laws that discriminate on the basis of age against people under a stated age. At least in spirit, youth rights also requires that *if* there are to be antidiscrimination laws, they prohibit discrimination on the basis of age.

    The YR spirit also extends beyond the domain of rights to treating people equally regardless of age even in contexts where rights principles aren’t the issue. For example, no one has a *right* to be your friend, but it is contrary to the spirit of YR to exclude young people from friendship if you are older, or to think yourself unworthy of your elders’ friendship if you are young — or to think that friendship must actually be more of a mentoring relationship or some such merely because of an age difference. Even when the relationship is one of mentoring or the like, the spirit of YR reminds us of the fundamental equality of all persons: Everyone is the center of his or her own world, and everyone is and ought to be the primary author of his or her own character.

    (This is not to say that there is anything against YR in giving or receiving advice, or in having more advice flow from the older to the younger friend than vice-versa. But it would be inconsistent with YR not to advise an older friend because he’s older, or not to take seriously the advice of a younger friend because he’s younger.)

    The spirit of YR basically comes down to this: Young people are people. It means not seeing yourself as inferior to your elders merely because they’re older, nor as superior to your juniors merely because they’re younger.

  2. You wrote of a “greater ability to leave an abusive home or school”

    I think this comment is problematic in two ways: 1. calling for a ‘greater ability to leave’ these situations as opposed to a ‘right to leave,’ or simply ‘the ability to leave’, implies that such an ability while greater should remain limited in some regard. 2. Calling for a greater ability to leave abusive homes or schools, looks to be a deliberate omission of the right to leave non-abusive homes or schools.

    I am currently in a café. It is not an abusive café. I am suffering nothing that could remotely constitute “abuse” in my current environment – in fact its really pleasant and enjoyable! Yet, despite this, I expect an absolute right to leave this café, absent probable cause to suspect me of committing a crime or some kind of disease quarantine. Despite being pleasant, if, when I wish to leave for any reason or no reason at all, I am prevented from doing so, then this café would become a prison and I would be a prisoner in it. Any place where one is prevented from leaving on demand is a place where they are imprisoned.

    Child abuse as defined by law is already grounds for removing a child from a parental home or for dismissing and possibly criminally charging a teaching. That’s not the problem of advancing youth rights: even abusing a pet dog is against the law. The problem is all of the insults and degradations a parent or teacher can inflict on a child that fall well short of abuse, but yet rob them of their personal dignity when they are unable to remove themselves from such situations.

    Moreover it is not only cruel and degrading treatment that could motivate a child to want to leave home or school, it might also be simply having a personal preference. If a child lives in Seattle, knows only Seattle, and has many friends and a supportive community in Seattle, but the child’s parents are moving to Tokyo and assume that, as custodians, they can take their child wherever they like – this would not constitute abuse by even the broadest definition, and yet it is not hard to imagine why at least some children would wish to stay in Seattle, to find another living arrangement if necessary. To deny such a child this opportunity, an opportunity that would be granted to an adult, to determine his or her own destiny, is arbitrary and does nothing but reduce children to fixtures of their parents lives rather than living life for themselves. It is in essence no different from the historical expectation in the first half of the 20th century and before that women should accept that their role in life is to support their husband and child rather than seeking out a path for themselves, except that it is far more absolute: at least pre-women’s lib movement women could usually choose their husbands, but children never choose their parents even when they are not biologically their parents.

    Moreover the right to leave must be coupled with the right to decide where one goes. The ability to leave an abusive home is little aid to children who know that leaving would simply put them in a chain of (very frequently also abusive) foster homes, over which they have no choice where they will be placed. Many adults want parent: children should have the option of selecting amongst prospective adoptive or foster parents the ones best suited to them personally, after interviewing prospective foster/adoptive parents and possibly having a trial placement with them to determine if they are compatible. The upshot of this is that the best prospective parents would get to parent children, and those who are controlling, domineering or otherwise sub-optimal would risk having their children move out. But then, I would predict that in such a social arrangement parents would generally be overwhelmingly kinder to children: institutions and people treat others better when they want them to stay, but those people have the option of leaving. Universities treat students vastly better than schools do, for example: university students will walk away if treated poorly and if they don’t find their time rewarding enough, but school students have no choice. This is also seen when comparing voluntary treatment programs to involuntary civil commitment conditions.

  3. What you responded to above is certainly not my “definition of youth rights”; I believe we are not in any disagreement except a semantic misunderstanding. I do not mean that failure to enforce the rights of young people is not an issue for youth rights activists. What I meant in the part you quoted (which was really just an example with little baring on the whole of my argument) was that youth rights need not be advanced in order to address what is legally defined as child abuse, as children already have the right to a legal remedy. What is needed there is merely *enforcement of rights* not the *advancement or expansion of new rights.* But the enforcement of existing laws is really a police and social services issue; unless the police and social services are deliberately refusing to enforce existing laws.

    Child abuse within the current legal definitions is not only illegal, it is also uncontroversially wrong within current political discourse, so there is no need to challenge the law and social attitudes on this issue – and that is really the primary task of political campaigners: our task is to challenge policies, laws, attitudes, expectations and beliefs that contribute to age based oppression and discrimination, not to enforce the law.

    As for animal rights groups and Michael Vick, they probably just figured (rightly) that it was an event they could appeal to in demanding tougher animal abuse laws…but their agenda is not (usually) to actually enfranchise animals and to give them the liberty and rights entitled to adult people, but only to stop them from being killed, injured or mistreated.

  4. To me, youth rights is about people being allowed to have autonomy over their bodies, minds and lives as soon as they feel ready, instead of waiting till a predetermined age.

  5. >>Child abuse within the current legal definitions is not only illegal, it is also uncontroversially wrong within current political discourse, so there is no need to challenge the law and social attitudes on this issue –<< Not sure I can agree with you on this. Sure, most people say they oppose child-abuse, but there's much evidence that people really don't. The Oscar audience that booed Michael Moore was the same one the applauded (and awarded) Roman Polanski, a man who drugged and forcibly raped a teenager and still lives unpunished. Even here on this youth rights forum, I've heard people support Larry Flynt, suggesting we should disbelieve his daughter's stories about being raped by him just because ... um,,, he seemed so cool in that movie that glorified him. As Andrew Vachss likes to say, a person caught with one vial of crack cocaine will do more time than someone caught with a truckload of child pornography. Parents can hit their children in a crowded supermarket and no one even clears their throat to speak to the abuser, let alone intervene. At best, our society trivializes child-abuse. At worst, our society supports child-abuse while giving lip-service to the politically correct position of opposing it. So I do see a need to challenge social attitudes and laws on this issue. If you don't think my animal rights analogy fits, I have others to offer. You won't hear feminist groups say, "Since rape and wife-beating are illegal and most people agree with those laws, we need do nothing more on those issues." You won't find gay rights peeps saying, "Beating up gays is already a crime, so no worries if it happens now and then. Our focus is elsewhere." When lynchings were common, I don't believe the NAACP ever felt satisfied with the act merely being illegal. So let's not limit ourselves to merely supporting unpopular changes in law. Let us also demand that the laws that already support us be vigorously enforced. And if such a position makes us popular with mainstream America, that's really not a bad thing.

  6. To me, youth rights means that I will not be discriminated against and have my rights violated simply because I am under some arbitrary age. There are “adults” who are highly more immature than “minors”, but only minors are assumed to be immature. I do not think that that is fair.
    To me, youth rights means that I, who do my best to stay highly informed of current events, foreign affairs, and the upcoming election, ought to be able to vote and not simply be denied because I was born just over a month too late to be eligible to vote.
    To me, youth rights means that I can make medical decisions without getting my parents’ permissions. With the age of consent at 16, it is unfair that I have to get parental permission to get birth control or otherwise try to keep myself safe and make sure that I am healthy.
    To me, youth rights means that I can decide what religion to follow or what my morals are. It means that I can join political movements, such as NYRA or Spectrum, that I want to see win the rights that ought to not be contested. Youth rights means that I should not be forced to go to church.
    To me, youth rights means that I have just as much right as my parents to say what I think or believe within the house.
    Youth rights….it’s just human rights. I was born with certain unalienable rights, and among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. I want to be able to exercise my rights like adults get to.

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