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Fearless Philosophy For Free Minds: What Rights Do Children Have? Part I of IV

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

What Rights Do Children Have? Part I of IV

In most of my writing you may notice that when I write about liberty, I use a qualifier: adult. For example, I believe that adults ought to have the right to do whatever they please as long as they do not violate the rights of a non-consenting other or damage the property thereof (note: to be able to consent, the other must be at the age of consent). Adults ought to be able to live their lives with minimal intrusion from the State, as the State’s role is to protect the rights of the individual from other individuals who wish to do harm to the non-consenting other individual’s person or property.

Determining the rights of children is much more difficult because children cannot reason the way adults can (generally speaking). There are reasons why minors cannot legally buy alcohol and tobacco. I do not need to explain why minors cannot buy a handgun and carry it around in public. Certainly, there are rights adults ought to have that minors ought not to have but where do we draw that line?

Parental Ownership of Children vs. Child’s Individual Rights
My starting point for determining where a child’s right begins and his or her parents’ rights end is recognizing the fact that the child is in fact an individual. We cannot have a rational discussion on this matter if we do not understand that. Many parents seem to believe that they own their children; they do not. I know this may be a radical concept. Some will react and say: “It’s my child and I’ll raise my child any way I damn well please!”

My response to this notion is to ask the question: what is the meaning of ownership? My test to determine whether or not an individual owns something or not: Can I pour gasoline on it and burn it without violating anyone else’s rights (assuming I can burn my property even if I do own it without setting fire to someone else’s property)? If I can burn it, I own it. Using this simple test I would conclude that I cannot burn my child (or even my pet), therefore, I do not own my child (or pet).

This is why being a parent is such a challenge: as parents we are responsible for our child and his or her actions yet we do not own the child. This has the effect of taking away some of the rights we have as individuals to protect the rights of our children.

I do not want to give anyone the wrong idea; far too many anti-liberty laws have been passed ‘for the children.’ To make a law on this basis, we would have to demonstrate actual harm to children (such as smoking in a car with children inside). I do think we have to keep the interests of children in mind to some degree, however and find the right balances…assuming that is even possible.

Next: Part II of this series I will be discussing a child’s fundamental right to health & safety

3 Comments:

Blogger Mindwyrm said...

One major problem with your assertion that a child is an individual is the fact that the child is not capable of living independently yet. I would say that if you require the intervention of another, merely to continue your existence, then you have lost a major portion of your individuality. When you factor in the idea that a child has yet to learn many of the behaviors or develop the personality that will allow them to be an individual then it gets even harder to lable children as true individuals. I'm not saying that parents can do anything they want to their children, but the parents are the ones with the responsibility to the child, not society at large.

11:52 AM  
Blogger Icarus Goodman said...

I think a proper term for a parent would be a steward or gaurdian. They don't own the child, as the idea of owning another person, even if they do have limitations on their reasoning capacity, is perposterous. The parent, or the dog "owner" has taken the responsibility of looking after the proper development and nurturing of the child or animal. Having such a role, they have a right to determine certain aspects of the childs upbringing, like what school she will go to or what clothes she will where, just as a dog owner chooses what dog food to feed his pet. Once the stewards actions are no longer beneficial to the upbringing of the child but instead are detrimental then they have violated their responisbility. They have a right to look for the well-being of the child, they do not have a right to bring about detriment to the child.
And as a Steward their right to make decions for the child ceases once the child comes of age and is able to make them herself.

Interesting topic, the realm of children and what rights they have is underdeveloped.

8:54 PM  
Anonymous Ivo Moelans said...

Call me old fashioned, but I still think that Khalil Gibran had it right when he wrote:

Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life's longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you, yet they belong not to you.
You may give them your love but not your thoughts.
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow, which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams. .

Parent have only obligations to their children an no 'rights'.

11:47 AM  

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