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The Development of Conceptions of the Right to Literacy in Traditional Rural Africa


This study examined conceptions of the right to literacy in children, adolescents, and young adults living in rural Zulu villages in the mountains of KwaZulu Natal, South Africa, as one instantiation of the development of conceptions of human rights in a developing world setting. Of human rights, literacy was chosen because of its familiarity to children and adolescents and because of its recognized importance to the promotion of well-being and equality in the developing world; the setting was chosen as representative of a traditional non-Western group living in relative geographical isolation. The participants (N = 72), in three groups, 10-11, 15-16, and 18-21 years old, equally divided by sex, were posed questions about the right to literacy, its properties in the abstract, and about hypothetical scenarios presenting conflicts between the right to literacy and cultural preservation, parental authority, and gender roles. Participants were asked to justify their responses to each question. Findings showed that participants endorsed the right to literacy in the abstract assessments (93% - 100%) and conflict assessments (61% - 100%), using, in the majority of instances, rationales of agency - capacities and resources promoting self-determination and well-being - and morality. This understanding of human rights, as it was isomorphic with `Western' conceptions of human rights as determined by previous North American studies and by philosophical treatments of human rights, provided evidence for commonalities in moral development processes between Western and traditional `non-Western' settings. The conflict assessments provided evidence for how children coordinate this right in the context of their families and communities and their evaluations of the relative importance of rights in comparison to other social values.

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