It is assumed that children, especially in Western societies, need a lengthy and protected period of time of nurturing in order to prepare them for adulthood. However, the length of time adults deem appropriate for this period differs across the world (James and James, 2004). As time has gone on, understandings and perceptions of childhood as adults has undertaken a series of changes and been heavily influenced by factors such as science, psychology and sociology throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. In order to understand the change in concept of childhood, it is vital to look at childhood from a sociological point of view as this has had a powerful influence on how society and childhood has been socially constructed, that is, it is has been produced during social interaction rather than being a natural phenomenon. (Clark, 2013). That does not mean that there is no physical or biological base, which form the important characteristics that distinguish children from adults.
The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) defines a child as a person under the age of eighteen. Also it highlights the role of both parents and family in the care and protection of children. Furthermore, it acknowledges the obligation the state holds to help carry out these duties (Children’s Rights Alliance, 2015). Conversely, childhood is universally a natural stage of development but the concept of childhood itself differs universally depending on gender, social class and culture, sociologists argue there is no one childhood (Newman, 2004). Childhood differs from times and place depending on where in the world a child is and what period of history is being examined. Furthermore, it changes according to the social group being considered. For example, the age in which anyone can marry across Europe is a fairly standard age of sixteen but in the Indian sub-continent it is not unheard of for girls to marry at the age of twelve (Maynard and Powell, 2013). In the Western Culture, this could be viewed as abusive. Campaigners suggest that early marriage can lead to early pregnancy, which in turn has a huge impact on the health females. On the other hand, the culture practice of early marriage in different countries would argue that arranged marriages brings the families closer together and ensures the continuity of their tribes, clans or groups (Wyness, 2006)
Our understandings of the nature of childhood, over the course of history have become a subject of debate. In 1962, Philllipe Ariès, a French medievalist and historian of the family and childhood, argued that childhood is a social construction, he claimed that children were seen as small adults who worked alongside their parents and their value was not sentimental. (Chambers, 2012). Martin Shipman disputed Ariès claims stating that there was not enough evidence in place. He claimed that Ariès based most of his work on art and memorials and that these were clearly only made for the very wealthy. Nevertheless, Ariès highlighted an important point and that is, childhood is not a universal concept and that there is a social and cultural concept of what it really is (Mitchell, 2009). During the middle ages, the Catholic Church heavily dominated emphasis on childhood. Babies were believed to be born without harm or corruption and so were received into the church (James and James, 2012). The reformation of the sixteenth century has the Catholic Church replaced with a sterner faith, thus parents lost the security of knowing their child had been spared the pain of hell should they die – an often reoccurrence. Instead, parents were urged by preachers to make children aware of their sins and need for salvation (James and James 2012). However, following this reformation, Locke felt that good habits should be instilled into a child from birth and in order to do this, corporal punishment should be withdrawn