>I had an interesting discussion a while ago on facebook with a friend of mine, regarding the rights of children. Since I do plan on going into law, children’s rights have been an issue that I have considered specializing in, at an international level. In my own two countries of Canada and the U.S though, children’s rights are not exactly enshrined in the laws, and are especially not regarded in our culture. In North American culture and law, children are most often treated like property, accessories to their parents, future consumers, or unformed beings who require constant moulding and shaping. This manifests in many different ways, but the two most vivid examples from my experience are discussions revolving around corporal punishment and the case of Ashley X  (Which also is an excellent case of how disability rights intersect with children’s rights)

In the case of a corporal punishment debate I had once, people casually advocated for “a smack on the bottom” to discipline children. When I offered facts and statistics on the harmful nature of physical punishment towards children, how it’s more likely to promote aggressive behaviour, I was given George Carlin quotes in return as “evidence” in favour of spanking (No comment on how Carlin himself would have felt about it; they were out of context quotes) and treated to a rant about how science is “useless”, and we need to return to the “good old days” of going with your instincts on parenting (For the record, the people making these claims were under 25 and childless) It was only the saving grace of my best friend, a Swede, which rescued me from completely losing my cool. Sweden has banned corporal punishment use by parents or teachers for a very long time, and their society has not fallen into the ruin that pro-spanking advocates were claiming was just around the corner at the halt of corporal punishment in America. I’m angry about the result of that debate, even though we won, simply because a man (my Swedish friend) had his opinion and his citations and facts taken more seriously than mine. But it demonstrates the sheer disregard for children’s rights that people can display, in this idea that children are to be controlled, and the way to do that is through physical punishment.

The second one, the Ashley X debate, really infuriated me. I consider her case to be a blatant example of a disabled person’s body being violated and mutilated without their consent for the convenience of people other than themselves. Part of the narrative of disabism is how disabled people are a “burden” on their parents and caretakers, and the burden-talk was on full speed when I expressed my disgust at the actions of Ashley X’s parents. But there was another, more disturbing mentality which circulated among people who commented on my opinions on the Ashley X story: the idea that it would be better, overall, for someone “forever with the mind of a child” to be given the body of a child, so that their physical body would match their mental age. I blanched at that one, had all the colour drained out of my face. First, because I find the concept of mental age to be dubious at best, considering the wide spectra of intelligence and skill which encompasses the human mind: Am I at a mental age of 15 because I can’t drive? Am I at a mental age of 3 because of my urinary incontinence?

Also, this idea that children shouldn’t have a right to what goes on in their bodies is deeply disturbing, more for the realm of crappy Jodi Piccoult novels than procedures which take are performed on real children. If it were ever suggested that every human being were required to undergo surgery, pills, or hormonal treatments against their will in order to be more convenient for fellow human beings, we would see rioting in the streets. In fact, if every case were as extreme as Ashley X’s, then you would see rioting on the streets. But parents wanting to sacrifice their children’s liberty for convenience can be found in other areas of life too, such as in “cures” for autism, which are treated in the mainstream media as unfruitful efforts of the desperate at best and as the actions of brave heroes at worst. And the most insidious and horrible examples of children’s rights being completely disregarded by parents and courts is, of course, faith healing, at the opposite end of the spectrum, but equally nefarious is Münchhausen Syndrome by Proxy, which is often looked upon less kindly in extreme cases, but is still common, again with the efforts of mainstream media and society to lionize the parents of sick and disabled children as heroes taking on a great burden.

There are more, but it’s nearing 2 AM and I need to sleep. But feel free to discuss your own ideas on how a children’s rights movement in North America (or your home country) should manifest, and which rights of children you think are the most important to protect.