Social Policy and Children’s Rights

Project Director

Brian Gran

Associate Professor of Sociology


In “Social Policy and Children’s Rights” (SOCI 355), students examined laws and social policies surrounding children’s rights from an international, comparative perspective. The course attempted to answer four questions:

(1) What are different types of children’s rights?

(2) What institutions facilitate or inhibit children’s rights?

(3) Are rights effective tools for producing changes in children’s welfare?

(4) In turn, what can children’s rights show us about how laws, especially rights, work and do not work?

Students spoke with experts from all over the globe: a lawyer who filed a successful claim for refugee status based on female genital mutilation, an activist seeking an international ban on physical punishment of children, and a member of the U.N. Committee on the Rights of the Child, among others. Typically, students first re-argued a legal case, applying insights from sociological theory and research. Then, through videoconferencing, they posed questions to the “visiting” experts, often gaining perspectives they would never have considered otherwise.

The course gave students the opportunity to analyze and assess efforts by governments, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), and other actors to advocate for children’s rights. The U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child is one of the most widely ratified human rights instruments (with only two national governments withholding ratification). Efforts are under way to give young people the right to vote, to ensure that they have access to good public education, to protect them from economic exploitation, and to ban adults from physically punishing children. Rights are the tools these international actors use in calling for these changes. Yet little is known about whether rights are effective tools.


Students gained a wide range of skills by analyzing legal and academic documents. Their written comments indicated that they valued discussion with participants beyond the classroom. For example, they expressed appreciation of an international teleconference with a children’s ombudsperson. Students also reported that the course stimulated a high level of critical thinking.

The original plan for the grant was to teach the course with collaborators at Queen’s University, Belfast, and the University of Cape Town, South Africa. When these plans ran into difficulties, the project was reconfigured to arrange videoconferencing with global experts on children’s rights. Another challenge was managing some universities’ expectation for payment for providing communication technology services.

Future plans include co-teaching this course with a colleague at another university, helping CWRU students obtain internships with international NGOs working on children’s rights, and arranging for students to observe meetings of the U.N. Committee on the Rights of the Child.


Total funding: $5,935

The WLE grant supported two visits to the United Kingdom, where Professor Gran pursued relationships with other universities and met with experts on children’s rights to set up videoconferences. The personal relationships developed during the UK visits will be instrumental in pursuing the long-term goals for the course and opportunities for students.

This project recently received a grant from the National Science Foundation’s Law and Social Science Program, which supports research on children’s rights.

Brian Gran

Brian Gran

Associate Professor of Sociology
Director, Graduate Program
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