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Print this pageJargon of the Week: **Children rights**




Child Rights International Network

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CRIN Guides and Toolkits


A trend is emerging among advocates whereby children’s rights are no longer children’s - and all because of an apostrophe.

A trend is emerging among advocates whereby children’s rights are no longer children’s - and all because of an apostrophe. For some reason, the term “children rights” - without the apostrophe and corresponding “s” - has crept into advocacy papers and speeches. While it may seem at first sight like a simple typo, it is unfortunately instead a term advocates consciously use, but which, however, is fundamentally deficient for one basic reason: it is grammatically incorrect.

For instance, while “human rights” and “animal rights” are terms that do not use apostrophes, it is because “human” and “animal” are used as adjectives (hence also “animal instinct” or “human nature” as opposed to “animals’ instinct” or “humans’ nature”). “Children”, on the other hand is a plural noun. And so are “women” and “indigenous people”. So in the same way that we wouldn't talk about “women rights” or “indigenous people rights” because they sound distinctly odd - not to mention being grammatically incorrect - we should also steer clear of “children rights”.

But then the question arises of why then is “child rights”, which follows the same order of noun + noun, on the other hand correct? 

It basically comes down to a question of singular vs plural. In the English language we use what are known as modifiers on a daily basis. A modifier is an adjective or noun that attributes a subsequent noun to something. For example, “child prostitution” attributes prostitution to children, “government policies” attributes policies to government, “human trafficking” attributes trafficking to humans, and “child labour” attributes labour to children.

But if you notice, the attributive nouns above are all singular. This is because plural nouns, such as “children”, are usually not used as modifiers; only single nouns tend to serve this purpose. Hence why we say “human rights” (singular) rather than “humans rights” (plural), and “child rights” (singular) instead of “children rights” (plural) - because in the plural they sound distinctly odd as a result of being grammatically incorrect.

This is not to say, however, that there are exceptions to the singular vs plural rule when it comes to modifiers. But as regards “child rights” vs “children rights”, the latter is, without exception, redundant. 

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Last updated 26/11/2013 16:06:27

Please note that these reports are hosted by CRIN as a resource for Child Rights campaigners, researchers and other interested parties. Unless otherwise stated, they are not the work of CRIN and their inclusion in our database does not necessarily signify endorsement or agreement with their content by CRIN.

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