Do children have rights?

Pardon the incendiary question, but it bothers me. Children certainly lack some rights, including that of entering a contract.Using that as a starting point, we can agree a child cannot agree to buy, for example, a gun from a neighbour, irrespective of the criminality of the neighbour. A child cannot buy a car, a house, a plane ticket or a computer. In this, children are not limited, but protected. Nonetheless, they have no right to buy these things. Interestingly, it is not illegal for the children to possess any the above, including the gun, assuming the legal paperwork is done by their parents. The parent has the right to enter into the contract for the good of the child. In the area of free expression, however, society seems to have excluded the parent from the exchange in two meaningful ways. First, the idea of free expression, no matter how juvenile, has become enthroned in juvenile institutions, which suddenly seem both empowered to freely express their social ideas at the children and encourage parrotry, while suppressing any idea that does not conform with the current political positions of the institution. Each week sees another angry parent or parents trying to hold accountable an institution that is teaching or preaching contrary to the beliefs of the parents. Secondly, the worst communication a boy once would have received from third parties would have been a pervert at the schoolyard offering to show him dirty pictures. With the advent of television, smart phones and the internet, dirty pictures are among the most prolific, but least of his problems. In large measure, the reason the purveyerts are able to launch these attacks on kids follows court rulings in the U.S. and Canada protecting what they call “commercial speech.” Time after time, groups have tried to interdict the commercial messages of the food or entertainment industries, only to be frustrated by the defence of “free expression.” Granted, limits have been placed on commercial speech in such areas as cigarettes, alcohol and guns. However, commercial speech is being vigorously defended in the areas of video games, gangster music and abortion, which are more offensive to some parents. In 1920, such people would be beaten and ridden out of town on a rail. Today, they are the object of rights projects. John Milton would have held that corporations should have the right to broadcast whatever message they chose. According to Milton, “…if it be true, that a wise man like a good refiner can gather gold out of the drossiest volume, and that a fool will be a fool with the best book, yea or without book, there is no reason that we should deprive a wise man of any advantage to his wisdome, while we seek to restrain from a fool, that which being restrain’d will be no hindrance to his folly.” Clearly, however, Milton used exclusionary terms like “wise,” obviously made allowances for fools, and likely intended those terms and allowances be understood. Children are not wise. That job, Milton would have said, belongs to their parents, even if they are idiots in the eyes of society. Irrespective of the morality or arguments above, the legal question remains: do children have rights? Granted, the Convention on the Rights of the Child of the UNited Nations, Article 13, says, “1. The child shall have the right to freedom of expression; this right shall include freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other media of the child’s choice.” Doubtless, this and the candy man on the playground rose from the same well, but no nation of my understanding has adopted this language as law. Like the U.N., itself, it’s just there. A quick check of legal citations comes back empty, save for the obvious penalties for people that commit crimes against kids and kids that commit crimes. Turning to academia, we find one of those truly sanguine observations of the elite: “Children are young human beings. Some children are very young human beings.” Obviously you can stop reading at the start; there is nothing there, as there has been no hindrance to the author’s folly. If we go back to the courts and the rights of the food industry, it is clear the industry has a right to address children, in the eyes of the court. The court, by now, is accustomed to being idolized for its role in assigning rights like candy at a playground parade. Fewer decisions work at defining responsibity. What if children actually have no overt rights, but their rights are subordinated to the parent? What if nobody could address a child with a commercial (political?) message without the express consent of the parent? Let’s face it. When Disney advertises to a child, it cannot legally accept an agreement from the child to attend Disney World. However, the intent is to compel the agreement by proxy, i.e., to get the child to gain contractual consent from the parent. Most would agree it is the parent’s responsibility to resist the pressure, but that’s not the point. The point is that it’s illegal for an adult to solicit sex from a minor under laws against statutory rape. Not even if the solicitation is done with candy. The fact that the victim complies willingly is not a defence. How, then, is it a defence when a child engages in other promoted behaviours following coercion by an adult? Abortion again comes to mind, but so does drug use, hits for gangsters and suicide games. On first blush, a journalist is inclined to promote the idea of minors publishing “underground newspapers” in their schools. However, considering the funding sources that might want to help influence the editorial decisions of the so-called newspaper, would it really hurt to require a parent’s permission prior to publication if the editor is under 18?

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