UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Who are you calling a child? : the limits on street-involved youth using legal rights Mayer, Elizabeth


At any one time there are estimated to be between 300 and 500 young people involved in street life in Vancouver. Although between 40 and 50 per cent, leave the street life each year, the overall figure remains much the same. Living on the street increases the chances of the young person being involved in crime, such as prostitution or theft, and of suffering from drug addiction, violent assault or HIV. However, for many young people the street is preferable to what they have left behind. And even when living on the street becomes too difficult, getting off the street often appears impossible. This thesis considers one way of addressing the problems faced by young people on the street: the use of legal rights. In particular, it considers the limits on such young people using rights. First, under the two main theories of rights for children, the content of the rights is decided by adults on behalf of the child. Second, the liberal form of rights further restricts their use by street-involved youth due to the anti-statist and atomistic nature of this version of rights. Third, the dominant discourse of childhood constrains the use of rights by imposing familial structures on young people on the street and ignoring their views. Rather than suggesting new rights for street-involved youth, this thesis concentrates on strategies that might be of use for street-involved youth in overcoming these constraints. These are giving an active voice to young people; insisting that the individual characteristics of street-involved youth are taken fully into account; considering a variety of actions, some of which might seem contradictory, but which allow for maximum flexibility; trusting the decisions of young people on the street; and ensuring that street-involved youth are not seen as an isolated problem, but in the context of a wider picture of other people with similar problems, such as adult street people, lesbian and gay youth, welfare recipients and so on.

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