|The Globalisation of Child Welfare in Europe and North America (19th-20th c.)|
|“The Christianity and the civilization of a people may both be measured by their treatment of childhood”, wrote Benjamin Waugh in 1886, chairman of the London Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children. Of the eight Millennium Development Goals that the United Nations has set for 2015, half are directly or indirectly related to children. Between the end of the 18th century and the beginning of the 19th, child welfare became not only an objective that featured prominently in the range of state (and supra-state) missions worldwide, but also a yardstick of civilisation – the criterion by which one could measure a country’s development. In that sense, child welfare is a fundamental element of our modernity.
However, this kind of general presentation is liable to conceal several important facts. Firstly, Europeans and Americans played a crucial role in theorising and implementing child welfare. The Frenchman Joseph Raulin in De la conservation des enfants (1768), the Britons Florence Davenport Hill in Children of the State (1868) and John Eldon Gorst in Children of the Nation (1907), the Swede Ellen Key in Le Siècle de l’enfant (1902); and the American Grace Abbott in The Child and the State (1938): in their own way, they all defined the community’s responsibilities with regard to children. This leads us to highlight the role of cultural, social and political factors in the encounter between children and social welfare: the “feeling of childhood”, to use Philippe Ariès’ term, but also the construction of the nation, the development of the state of law and the welfare state, as well as the rise of the middle classes moulded by individualism and Christian values.
There is a very rich historiography of the different aspects of child welfare (reducing infant mortality, banning child labour, protecting orphans, educating delinquent children, fighting child abuse, etc.). On the other hand, the way in which it was universalised has not been studied to the same extent, given that the history of childhood is often structured around a national framework. However, it is vital to understand the way in which states, philanthropic organisations, scholars and jurists helped to bring about a common conception of children and child welfare in Europe and the United States, while establishing themselves within a particular national context, with its own legislative framework, social set-up and political agenda.
My paper will try to analyse, based on the European and North American experience, both the globalisation of child protection, understood as the spread of practices and standards worldwide, and its internationalisation, which combines the exchange of knowledge with the sharing of experiences and cross-border trends of method and imitation – with both aspects closely linked.|