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Join us for an online event to celebrate International Women’s Day and discuss the origins of women’s rights and its relation to children’s rights, with Professor Dame Carolyn Hamilton and social historian Carol Harris.

Human rights today draw on centuries of law-making and precedent, developed from principles discussed since ancient times. But the rights of children, and of women are only recently part of that history.

As laws guaranteeing essential freedoms were passed, children were often specifically excluded. Within the family, parents had rights to do much as they wished to their child. Until the late nineteenth century, the laws that did exist to protect children were largely to do with apprenticeships and inheritance – the latter protecting property rather than the person, with limited state obligation to the child.

Against this background, a mother enquiring at the Foundling Hospital would be told little more than whether her child was dead or alive; the child would know the name of its mother only if she reclaimed it. But that was far more than those in the workhouses of the time could expect. There, children were deliberately separated as part of a policy to present the workhouse as a place of horror and a last resort for destitute parents.

In this talk, Carol Harris will look at some of the milestones which gave basic freedoms to women and to children, exploring how campaigners like our founder, Thomas Coram, argued against prevailing views that children were invisible and expendable.