The notion of human rights means very little in abstract and decontextualized form. How this notion is translated into practice – and the particular consequences of this process – depends on power relations forged in specific historical contexts and expressed in precise semantic categories. After considering how certain categories are elected as privileged targets of rights campaigns, we concentrate efforts on the analysis of programs for the institutionalization of children and adolescents in the state network of reform schools (Rio Grande do Sul), calling attention to the way in which measures promoted by the new progressive legislation do not always produce the desired results. Finally, we situate “childhood” as one discourse among many used to mobilize human rights campaigns. Looking at the way one category is privileged in detriment to others, we detect how particular criteria are used to determine – in the fight for rights – who is “more” and who is “lesshuman”.
childhood; human rights; juvenile offenders; working-class groups