The legal status of children has evolved over the course of American history, with frequentchanges in the balance of rights among the state, parents, and children in response to social andeconomic transitions. Over time, the state has taken an increasingly active role in protecting andeducating children, there by diminishing the rights of parents. It is fair to say, however, thatchildren's rights as a full-blown independent concept has not developed. Even today there areonly pockets of law in which children's rights are considered separate from those of their parents,and these are largely in the areas of reproductive rights and criminal justice.For the whole of the colonial period and early Republic, Americans viewed children as economicassets whose labor was valuable to their parents and other adults. In this early era, the father asthe head of the household had the complete right to the custody and control of his children bothduring the marriage and in the rare event of divorce. A father could hire out a child for wages orapprentice a child to another family without the mother's consent. Education, vocational training,and moral development were also the father's responsibility. The state took responsibility forchildren in one of several circumstances: the death of a father or both parents, the incompetenceor financial inability of parents to care for or train their children, and the birth of illegitimatechildren
A boy working as a "clock boy" on the streets of Merida, Mexico.
As minors by law children do not have autonomy or the right to make decisions on their own for
themselves in any known jurisdiction of the world. Instead their adult caregivers, includingparents, social workers, teachers, youth workers and others, are vested with that authority,