Lourdes, Lifeboats, and Bounded Choice: Part III (Raised in a Totalist Institution)

This excellent post by Cindy K explains how Second Generation Adults (SGAs) in ‘total institutions’ (such as the Christian homeschooling movement) do not have a ‘Realistic Right of Exit’. SGAs do not have the opportunity to experience the psychological, educational, and social development necessary to thrive in the outside world.

I find this concept – SGAs not having a ‘realistic right of exit’ – fascinating because it is something both SGAs and their perpetrators can, and do, agree with.

SGAs know how challenging it is to survive outside the ‘total institution’ – for many it is in fact impossible and literally their only opportunity for survival is to stay within the abusive community.

The perpetrators, however – (Christian) homeschool leaders, homeschool convention speakers, homeschool support groups, homeschool pastors, and even homeschool parents, openly discuss how essential it is to condition SGAs one has power over (i.e. daughters, sons) to not leave the movement, and to not permit SGAs to develop skills that could lead to ‘independence’ (another word they openly despise).

When a ‘Quivering Daughter’ / SGA leaves the fundamentalist movement, she is a victim of severe, long term trauma. But our culture has failed to provide a social safety net for these survivors, who are not yet officially recognized as survivors of domestic abuse or human trafficking, and whose perpetrators are rarely even prosecuted, let alone convicted, of any crime. And yet, not only did their perpetrators remove the SGA’s realistic right of exit *in effect*, they also did so knowingly, purposely, and with intent.

As we continue to raise awareness of the SGA homeschooler problem, it is my hope that access to social and legal resources will be opened to survivors.

Do children’s rights end where the sidewalk ends?

In a recent online discussion, someone said that ‘children’s rights end where the sidewalk ends’.  This is a variation on a common argument: children’s rights must be limited for their own protection.  If we allow them to make their own decisions, they will hurt themselves.

That this argument seems prima facie true is a symptom of our cultural prejudices.  It can be revealed as a prejudice through a simple allegory.  Imagine an intelligent adult from a culture without cars is visiting your area and you have been asked to show them around.  You are walking down the sidewalk together, and this individual suddenly steps into the street with oncoming traffic.  What do you do?

Your response wouldn’t be any different than it would be if a child did the same thing.

This isn’t because an adult from a different culture should have their rights limited for their own protection.  It’s not because if we allow them to make their own decisions, they will hurt themselves.  It’s because an individual unused to our world hasn’t yet gained the experience and knowledge to protect themselves from our technology.

And you wouldn’t respond by limiting this individual’s rights.   You would respond by taking immediate steps to protect them (despite their being an adult) and, in the longer term, educating them on how to protect themselves from the dangers of traffic.

You wouldn’t project from the fact that the individual needed protective intervention in this instance to limiting their freedom to set their own values or make their own decisions.

To intervene to protect the life of another human being is normal, no matter what age that person is.

However – if that same adult individual makes different life choices than we think they should make, we let them do so.  We try to understand and respect their differences in values.  We listen to them when they express an opinion and engage them in respectful dialogue instead of silencing them.  If they tell us they feel we have done something unjust to them, we take the allegation seriously and consider whether we have and if we should make amends.  We don’t think we have the right to coerce them into behaving in a certain way or engaging in certain activities because we value them or think them important.

Any individual deserves that respect, regardless of their age, and regardless of the fact that we’d intervene if they stepped off the sidewalk.

A statement on the rights of a child

I’m about to share something very radical and very close to my heart.

It’s based on a simple belief I have: All humans are created equal, regardless of age – men, women, children, and babies – all with the same inalienable rights.

For the purpose of this statement, “child” is defined as a human between birth and reaching the age of legal majority.

A better world would be based on these principles:

A child is fully human.

A child should be afforded every protection afforded to adults. Children are more vulnerable than adults, so should not be afforded less protection.

This includes protection against bodily injury, mutilaton, and assault, regardless of the agent of these crimes.

The child may seek restitution for these crimes. The state may prosecute for them.

The child has the same right to health as does an adult. Therefore, her right to medical care should not be obstructed, any more than an adult’s should be.

Obstructing a child’s access to medical care is equally a crime as obstructing an adult’s access to medical care. If his mobility is reduced to such an extent that he does not have independent access to medical care, those reducing his mobility has a responsibility to ensure that he recieves medical care when in need.

The child has the same right to choose those with whom he associates as does an adult. If a child chooses to change his place of residence, he may not be obstructed.

In the primal state, a child comes into the world with immediate access to natural resources that enable his survival. Due to legal implementation of property law, he no longer has access to these resources. Societies have an obligation to ensure that restituation for this is made to children.

In addition, those who bring a child into the world are responsible to protect and provide for him in his his period of dependence. They do not have any right to make any choices for the child as a condition of this responsibility.

I’m not sure how we can make this world a reality, but I think that when we do we will transform the world – first for children, soon after for everyone.