Zero Discrimination Day

Discriminating people because of certain characteristics such as their age, their race including colour, nationality, ethnic or national origin, their religion or belief as well as their sex or sexual orientation is against the law. This right not to be discriminated by others is not only protected by national law such as the Equality Act 2010[1] in Great Britain but is also included in article 21 of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights[2].

While there is a high awareness for example the discrimination of women, people of color or elderlies within society, the group of children despite experiencing profound discrimination within society, is often omitted from the general equality debate[3]. The discrimination of children can take place on an individual as well as institutional level. This may sound like an exaggerated statement at first given the high level of awareness that exists regarding the particular vulnerability of minors. Nevertheless, (in)equality of treatment reveals itself in many aspects of everyday life, such as in the exclusion of children from adult spaces – not for their safety but for the convenience of adults. As a result, hotels and restaurants in many European countries increasingly deny access to children. At the same time, a similar ban based on characteristics such as skin colour or gender would cause a huge outcry.

While this clearly is an unequal treatment of children and adults both are treated equally in other contexts such as pediatric practice, which can have significant consequences. Children are under-represented in funding for research and development, thus, only an inadequate evidence base for much pediatric practice exists. Childhood cancer research only receives about 4% of US government funds for cancer research although it is the most common cause of death in children[4]. Consequently, less than 10 drugs have been developed for children with cancer since 1980, while in the same time period hundreds of drugs have been developed exclusively for adults[5]. Ironically, the reason for this disparity is based on the image of children being small adults, which ignores childrens’ different needs. Since they are not simply small adults, adult cancer treatments cannot simply be dosed down to effectively cure children[6]. Thus, an entirely equal treatment of children and adults can have as severe negative consequences as an unequal treatment.

The ignorance of childrens’ different needs does not only take place in medical treatment and research but also in relation to the child´s role in the criminal investigation processes. On the one hand it is often assumed that children think and act like adults. Minors who may have been the victim of child sexual abuse of physical abuse are often interviewed by several different professionals in rooms that have not been designed for children. This may induce an intimidating atmosphere and prohibits the children to speak freely. Additionally, underaged victims are expected to repeat their statements multiple times in front of police and/or in the courtroom – despite the knowledge that especially younger children are more suggestible than adults[7].

Another example of children being seen as small adults is the so-called ‘‘Lolita’’ syndrome, where children are attributed at least partial responsibility for their own sexual abuse. In 1993 a man was found guilty of the sexual abuse of a nine-year-old girl and was given a two-year probation. The presiding judge explained that he had reason to believe “that the girl was not entirely an angel herself[8].” This so-called victim blaming is similar to what adult victims of sexual violence experience. This reasoning is even more absurd in the case of underage victims, as it is more than questionable to assume that a child could be able to consent to any kind of sexual act.

Therefore, while children are ascribed similar abilities and motives as adults in some aspects, they are denied them elsewhere. For example, children can be viewed as poor witnesses, more likely to lie or to forget important details than adults. This has significant consequences for the credibility of statements in the criminal investigation process. Moreover, it also affects the probability of underage victims reporting what happened to them, since they do not think that others will believe them[9]. Additionally, there is a lack of active participation of minors in the criminal investigation process. Minors are rarely asked about their opinion or preferences regarding decisions relating to them.

The above considerations show that equal treatment of children and adults does not solve discrimination. There is a whole chapter of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights on equality. Six articles protect the equality before the law, non-discrimination, cultural, religious and linguistic diversity, equality between women and men, the rights of the child, the rights of the elderly and the integration of persons with disabilities. While this is a very important starting point, one has to consider that equality only works when it is based on the same starting point, which unfortunately is not often the case. Equity on the other hand offers everybody the same opportunities. Before equality can be obtained, we therefore have to establish equity.



[3] Webb, E. (2004). Discrimination against children. Archives of disease in childhood, 89(9), 804-808.




[7] Friedman, Richard D. “The Suggestibility of Children: Scientific Research and Legal Implications.” S. J. Ceci, co-author. Cornell L. Rev. 86, no. 1 (2000): 33-108

[8] Webb, E. (2004). Discrimination against children. Archives of disease in childhood, 89(9), 804-808.

[9] Waterhouse. Lost in care—Report of the Tribunal of Inquiry into the Abuse of Children in Care in the Former County Council Areas of Gwynedd and Clwyd since 1974. Part VI: 29.30. London. The Stationary Office, 2000 (also at http://; accessed 27 March 2003)

Written by Katholische Hochschule NRW

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