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When thinking about children’s entitlements, priority tends to be given to protecting their well-being achievements, while limiting their entitlement to exercise freedoms and agency. An assumption of “inability” is used as the grounding justification for limiting children’s freedom and agency. Using the capability approach (CA) as a method to conceptualise what is owed to individuals, this article shows that the justifiability of restricting freedom to “unable” individuals is not as straightforward as assumed. Understanding the role that abilities play in justifiably limiting freedom requires an assessment of what being “(un)able” means, and how this “inability” may translate into particular privileges or restrictions. The article, thus, intends to give an answer to the following questions: first, how should the concept of “ability” be understood within the CA? And, second, how does ability bind our understanding of the legitimate restriction of freedom and agency? The article offers a response to the first question through an evolving and dynamic understanding of “ability.” It claims, moreover, that the process through which abilities develop (the process of capability-formation) ought to be taken into account when assessing what is owed to an individual as a matter of justice.

Nico Brando is a Newton International Fellow funded by the British Academy working at the Centre for Children’s Rights at Queen’s University Belfast. He specializes in moral and political philosophy, and is particularly interested in issues related to the political treatment of marginalised groups, children’s rights and the capability approach.