Why I Don’t Believe in Parental Rights

This may be news to some of you, but people in and connected with the homeschool circuit in the USA are working to add an amendment to the US constitution and have a surprising amount of traction.  The professed aim is to protect ‘the family’ from the likes of the U.N.Convention on the Rights of the Child.  (I’m actually not kidding.  See parentalrights.org)

The “Parental Rights Amendment” reads:

Section 1.  The liberty of parents to direct the upbringing and education of their children is a fundamental right. 

Section 2.  Neither the United States nor any state shall infringe upon this right without demonstrating that its governmental interest as applied to the person is of the highest order and not otherwise served.

Section 3. No treaty may be adopted nor shall any source of international law be employed to supersede, modify, interpret, or apply to the rights guaranteed by this article.

The U.N Convention on the Rights of The Child, pioneered by the founder of Save the Children, and ratified by all members of the U.N. except the U.S.A. and Somalia, is longer, but here is some of UNICEF’s summary of the relevant content:

Article 3.  The best interests of children must be the primary concern in making decisions that may affect them. All adults should do what is best for children. When adults make decisions, they should think about how their decisions will affect children.

Etc…. perhaps most upsetting to the ‘Parental Rights’ advocates –

Article 9. Children have the right to live with their parent(s), unless it is bad for them. Children whose parents do not live together have the right to stay in contact with both parents, unless this might hurt the child.

‘Parental Rights’ supporters claim to be trying to protect the family, but they’re really just trying to protect one class in the family – the parent.  The other class in the family – the child – would actually have less protection under the amendment.

The ‘Parental Rights’ amendment says the right of the parent to direct the upbringing of the child is a fundamental right.  My main issue with this is that it protects the strong, powerful, and resource-rich (the parent) from the weak, powerless, and resource-poor (the child).  It lessen’s the child’s recourse to civil and legal protection and advocacy, when it is against their parents.  It would make corporal punishment and parental genital mutilation more difficult to eradicate.  And it most certainly does not empower children to make their own decisions about their lives and education.

My understanding of the purpose of defining rights is that it is meant to protect the weak from the strong, not the strong from the weak.

That’s why I definitely support the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child.  It’s statement that the child her or himself has rights – to life, care, family, education, identity, opinions, information, expression, and freedom from violence.  It’s also a statement that the government will protect the rights of a child the same way that it protects the rights of an adult.  And it’s a statement that as adults, we are responsible for the well-being of children.

I can see how these things would be offensive to adults who are satisfied in their adult privilege and feel that children owe their parents something for giving them life and sustenance.  I’m not one of those adults.  I feel that people who adopt that mindset are at best unthinkingly accepting the cultural assumptions handed down to them and are no different from those who unthinkingly accept cultural prejudices towards racism or patriarchy.  Children are human beings, just as adults are, and if we truly believe that all humans are created equal and are endowed with equal inalienable rights, we had better include children in that statement.

p.s. It was chai at Blackwell’s again.


2 thoughts on “Why I Don’t Believe in Parental Rights

  1. Nicely articulated, Becca; I know that I would have liked to have more people advocating for me when I was younger– just a wider support system alone would have made some difficult situations much easier to face, and not just between me and my parents. ~Molly

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