Intro to Children’s Rights

I’m going to prioritise the writing every day bit.  Since I last posted, I flew from England to California, started packing my stuff and getting ready to move, and prepared for and attended Burning Man.  However, one of the key aspects of a tea blog is that it only takes a quarter of an hour a day, and it should be refreshing rather than draining to write.  Taking time for a cup of tea every the morning is a discipline that will do my soul good.

Today the tea is chamomile and I plan to write something about children’s rights, as it is a topic I think a good deal about.

In order for child abuse to happen, you need three things: a child, someone who is happy to abuse a child, and power for that someone to abuse the child.  In order for child neglect to happen, you also need three things: a child,  a person who is happy to neglect to care for that child, and the opportunity for that person to neglect the child.

When child abuse or neglect happens, you need to change one of the variables in the equation.  For example, foster children are children who have been removed from the care and presence of their parents to end abuse or neglect.  You’re removing the child from the equation.

Another thing you can do is try to educate parents on the appropriate way to care for and treat children.  This is difficult because people are hard to change, especially when they aren’t particularly motivated to change themselves.

Ultimately, when it comes to abuse and neglect of children, you don’t want to catch the abuse after it has happened and try to stop it, you want to prevent it from happening in the first place.  And you don’t want to help just some children, you want to help all of them.  These are two big problems in our present world, because our system depends on identifying abuse or neglect that has already happened and stopping it, and we miss those cases where the abuse or neglect is well hidden.

If we work with the third variable I listed above, I think we can go a ways towards solving this problem.  Take the problem of abuse.  If you remove the power of a parent or guardian to abuse the child, you drastically reduce the likelihood that they will be abused.

Part of this is a legal question.  A child should be legally protected from false imprisonment, physical assault, etc, and should have access to and knowledge of how to access civil and legal support in the case of abuse.  A child should know what his or her legal rights are, the phone number of Child Protective Services (or the local equivalent), that they can call the police if they are harmed by their parents, and how to get free legal aid.  I find it surprising that preschools, kindergartens, paediatricians’ offices, and popular children’s websites don’t already provide this information to children in child-accessible ways.

Part of this is a question of what rights we, as a culture, decide to grant to children, and how, as a society, we enable children to exercise those rights.   I, as an adult, can choose who I live with, where I live, what sort of education I receive, and who I’m going to depend on.   As a consequence, I can leave a person who attempts to abuse me and I can make sure that my needs are met.  Children should have the same rights.  If a child can decide who they live with, they can leave an abusive parent, and a parent has a stronger motivation to avoid abusing their children.  A child could choose to live with or be cared for by someone who does not neglect to fulfil their needs.  He or she could choose a different form of education for themselves if they deem their current one inadequate.

This would not absolve parents of any responsibilities.  I envision a world where child support is paid directly to children – in a custodial account if necessary – if a child needs to find care away from their family of origin.  A child should also be able to own property, invest, and start a business if they so desire, enabling them to care for themselves and take charge of their own lives.

This is a particularly large cup of tea, so I’ll add for a bonus the principles that I think make my reflections on children’s rights unconventional in our culture:

1. It should be illegal to do anything to a child anything it would be illegal to do to a stranger.  Children are the most vulnerable members of our society – shouldn’t we protect them at least as much we protect adults?  Why is it a criminal act to beat and adult but a ‘right’ to beat a child?

2.  Discriminate based on capacity/ability rather than on age.  We currently have ways of determining whether adults are capable of making decisions on where they live, how they care for themselves, whether they can make a determination about their own property, etc.  Eliminate the category of ‘minor’ and apply the same measuring stick to everyone, regardless of age.  People of the same level of capacity should be free to make the same choices, regardless of how young they are.

3. Children don’t owe parents; parents owe children.  If you don’t want to owe anything to a child, get yourself sterilised.   If you ‘want to have children’ or ‘want to have children someday’ (and therefore avoid sterilisation), note that is a decision about fulfilling your own needs.  The child you give birth to did not choose to be born or conceived.  Without any consent on his part, he was brought into the world.  You might think that life is a great thing, but don’t decide that the child should be grateful to you because of it.  Life might not be a great thing for that child, especially if you go through life acting like the child owes you and expecting them to make it up for you for your benevolent act of copulation.  If you make a baby, you’re responsible to make sure that child had the resources and support it needs to survive and thrive in the world, and if you can’t provide those, you’re responsible for being honest about that and finding a way for that child’s needs to be met by someone else.

The tea is finally gone.  I’m happy with the number of ideas I’ve gotten out here.  I’m aware that it’s not particularly well organised, but I can get away with that because this is a tea blog.

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3 thoughts on “Intro to Children’s Rights

  1. primevector says:

    The custodial child account is a really interesting idea. At the beginning of a child’s life there is so much information asymmetry between parent and child. It would be interesting what institutional creations would balance that inequity.

    Another interesting thing is the historical conception of childhood over time. In ancient depictions of mother and child, the child is sometimes depicted as a tiny, but fully grown man. People forget the concept of childhood, as we know it, is a recent occurrence.

    In nature, there is concept called Neoteny, which is when a grown organism will retain the characteristics of the juvenile state. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Neoteny It is interesting that humans have brought neoteny into our culture. We prevent children from working. We have them stay in school longer and longer. To some, it is now a noble thing to stay in school all of one’s life, instead of something that is strange.

    I always like social critiques that come up with suggestions. When critique exists in a vacuum it seems very tragic. Thanks for your essay.

  2. Shal says:

    I am very concerned that suggestion #2 – Discriminating on capacity/ability rather than age, and eliminating the category of ‘minor’ would make children even more susceptible to abuse. Our court system would become mired with cases of adults and their child victims (willingly or under duress) attempting to argue that the child’s capacity/ability makes him/her a consensual participant. And that is only in cases where there are individuals who are concerned enough to report it, because after all, it is not technically illegal anymore for an adult and a child to have sex because there is no such thing as a “child.” It’s only abuse if the court determines that the child was not of the appropriate capacity/ability to enter into that decision. What child could possibly feel secure in their own rights under such a system?

    There is also much that I have to say regarding the utter elimination of parental rights that your blog proposes, but that would be a very long conversation so I think we shall just have to reserve that for a leisurely cup of tea together at Harrod’s. 😉

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