Story of children's rights

Coram has been involved with children's rights since it began as the Foundling Hospital in 1739.

Respected and Protected Children's Rights Exhibition logo

At a time when society tolerated child poverty and destitution as a necessary evil, our founder, Thomas Coram, established the Foundling Hospital so that children born out of wedlock or in to poverty could have a better life.

Coram’s role in the history of the development of children’s rights is currently chronicled in the Respected & Protected exhibition taking place at the Central Family Court in High Holborn until 31 August, 2017

children's clogs and shawl

More than 275 years since Thomas Coram set up the Foundling Hospital to help London's destitute children, the rights and freedoms of young children in the UK remain a serious concern, particularly in relation to the impact of poverty. At Coram we continue to work to uphold and protect the rights of these most vulnerable children - Coram CEO, Carol Homden

Respected & Protected

Respected & Protected highlights the importance of children’s rights and their slow but steady historical evolution. In particular, it examines four key strands of children's rights and how they have evolved.

These are:


Foundling Hospital birth certificate

The exhibition recognises that without an identity it is impossible for a child to claim other rights and discusses the Foundling Hospital's role in giving the children it cared for a new identity as part of their new start.

Education and the right not to work

The exhibition also looks at the twin rights to an education and to not to have to work. This ties in with the forward-looking attitude of Thomas Coram towards children’s education.

Mock up of a 19th-century classroom

Coram saw each child as a future citizen who needed to be equipped with the skills to be a useful member of society. His belief that this applied to both girls and boys meant that both were educated at the Foundling Hospital.

The exhibition includes an interactive 19th-century classroom, complete with a speaking schoolmistress, as well as mock trials for school groups.

Military service

The use of child soldiers is also examined in the exhibition and how, even though this is widely condemned in the developed world, there are still between 250,000 and 300,000 child soldiers fighting today.

This is an important area of work for Coram. Our Coram Internationaresearch institution and consultancy, specialising in issues relating to children’s rights around the world, is working towards the adaptation of international and national legislation to combat the growing risk of extremism and radicalisation.

Historically, many boys who were brought up in the Foundling Hospital went into the military. Many of the children were enrolled into military bands because of the muscial heritage of the Hospital, and travelled with their respective regiments all over the world. 

I remember the first night there, a lot of sobbing going on in the dormitory, or in the... army hut, where boys were missing their mums and they were homesick. But our boys weren't homesick... we had nothing to cry about so we listened to the other boys sobbing as they went to sleep, missing their home. Well, we had nothing to cry about. - John, who was born in 1929, went into the army when he left the Foundling Hospital. Quoted in Respected & Protected, The Rights of Children exhibition

Useful links

Discover how Coram upholds children's rights

Find out more about Coram's role in the education of children 

More on Coram unlocking children's rights around the world

Back to top of page