How to control adults by means of 'children's rights'.
By Lynette Burrows
This article is published by The
Human Life Foundation, Inc.
Lynette Burrows is a well-known English educator and
journalist. Her latest book, The Fight for the Family, was published
in 1998, revised and reprinted in March 1999 by the Family Education Trust,
When you think about it, the fashionable crusade of 'children's rights' is bound to be anti-family. It is a movement which declares itself to be more interested in the welfare of children than are ordinary parents. It seeks rights and laws for children that neither they, nor their parents, want. It promises to give children legal sanctions against their parents and, in so doing, pits the interests of children against their parents. The inescapable implication is that children are not in safe hands with their own parents and that a whole movement has had to be called into being in order to protect them. It is an innocent-sounding piece of subliminal, anti-family propaganda, advertising the fact that parents are, at best, inadequate and, at worst, hostile to the needs of their children.
Analysing the 'loaded' message of the title 'children's rights' one can see it attempts to pack the punch of an appeal to both parental feeling and the nobility of action implied by the word 'rights'. It is utterly bogus! A 'right is classically defined as 'the freedom to act without interference, according to one's conscience.' It means nothing unless the individual has the capacity to act upon their 'right' and children, by nature of their immaturity and inexperience, do not have that capacity. So they have people who act for them, in the form of the people who created them and who love them more than anyone else. Those people, the adult parents, have a freedom to act according to their conscience, and within the law, with their children and it is that freedom that the children's rights activists seek to remove.
One can clearly map their intentions by what they have
achieved so far and what they are signalling they want to do in the future. I
don't know anything about the American scene but, in
The right for children to 'divorce' unsatisfactory parents has also been secured for them by children's rights lawyers; working on the usual pay-rates but with the bill settled by the taxpayer. So far parents have not been given the right to divorce unsatisfactory children - but that is consistent with the philosophy of children's rights. It is parents who are failing in their duty to give children the freedom they need. Children, the client group, are not to be criticised or restricted in any way.
Children have also been given the right to take themselves out of the care of their parents and put themselves instead, into the misnamed 'care' of the local authority. Just what this can mean was illustrated by a mother, Mrs Iverson, whose14 year old daughter went to live with a 33 year old drug-dealer from Jamaica. She appealed to the local authority to get her daughter back and they responded by getting a social worker to take the child to a contraceptive clinic. The anguished mother could do nothing whilst her daughter was first introduced to a life of prostitution and then, a month later, murdered. No-one in authority was criticised or prosecuted for their lack of action since they, and the police, were prevented from denying the child her 'right' to free association, by the Children Act, 1989.
Thus, one can see by their aims and achievements, that the right to behave badly is second only to the right to premature sexual activity, according to the children's rights agenda. Furtherance of this aim was massively enhanced by the successful campaign of one of the earliest children's rights groups to get corporal punishment, of even the mildest kind, outlawed in schools. An unwary parliament passed this law by one vote, against a background of generally unproblematic discipline in schools. Certainly primary schools were little havens of tranquillity and learning for children in even the roughest areas. All this has gone now; together with thousands of good teachers who have fled a profession where harassment of them is the norm rather than the exception in many areas.
Children have, in other words, been given an amazing collection of liberties to behave badly, with absolutely no enforceable obligations to behave themselves or even to observe the law. On the other hand, their misdeeds are providing masses of highly paid work for the now enormous lobby of professionals who are parasitic on the new options available to children and the problems they bring. Any attempt to improve the behaviour of young people, is bound to run into opposition from these professionals since they are defending a financial interest that is dependent upon more of the same.
Another peculiarity of the rights, sought by activists for children, is how extremely limited and arbitrary they are. If these really were rights that any child could legitimately be supposed to need or to want, they would surely start with the right of a child to be born and not to be killed before birth. But all children's rights activists support abortion in principle and in practice as if, in any circumstances, it could be considered in the unborn child's best interest.
Then again, any child should surely have a right to enjoy a relationship with both their mother and their father; rather than being created by artificial insemination for the benefit of a lesbian couple. In all the arguments about this still highly contentious practice, and its rather more relevant, related topic, the ability of homosexuals to foster and adopt children, the children's rights people have been 'out to lunch'.
Another major area where a serious question of children's rights are involved, is surely the right of children not to be bullied at school. Parents protest about it all the time, but little has been done to address their concerns because parents do not belong to well-funded organisations with direct access to the media. 70% of parents were found last year to want corporal punishment restored in school; and so too did 68% of schoolchildren.
The reason for this is, no doubt, because many children are in fact receiving punishment that is decidedly 'corporal' in school - but from bullying thugs rather than from lawful authority. The rights activists don't address this subject because they are so busy monitoring schools for signs of homophobia, sexism or racism that they seem to have overlooked the much larger number of children who are simply terrified of the big boys.
Other areas deserving attention from those who could support parents in wanting the best for their children, would be having a flexible school leaving age and having the right to do work outside of school hours. Even more important, amongst the list of glaring omissions in the children's rights agenda, is the care and protection of children who have been taken into council care.
The Social Services Inspectorate presented a report last year that pointed out just how badly children 'in care' are doing. Despite there being only 0.5% of children in local authority care, 22% of young men in prison and 39% of prisoners under 21 have been in care. One third of people sleeping rough in London have been in care and one quarter of children in care aged 14 or over, don't go to school regularly. For some reason, referred to in the report but not explained, many of those who abscond from children's homes, somehow disappear from local authority records thereafter.
When this report came out, there was much public discussion about this parlous state of affairs and many people commented on the lack of independent monitoring to safeguard vulnerable children. None that I saw, even thought to question the complete lack of involvement or interest in this scandal by the many, high-profile, publicly funded, children's rights organisations. There are many areas of pressing need in relation to disadvantaged children, where parents with the best will in the world, simply have no power to get things done. Well-funded organisations with premises, facilities, telephones, full time staff and, above all, access to the media, could do so much of real value if they wanted to; but our current crop do not. So, one has to ask, what do they really want?
The answer to this must be that it is something ideological as well as something financial. The financial objective is fairly straight-foreward. It has provided a good many jobs and the children's rights activists have certainly found themselves a career. My book, The Fight for the Family, (a second edition of which came out in March) started life as a commissioned chapter in a book about social affairs. I was given a researcher (American) and told to find out about the principle children's rights groups; who formed them, who supported them and who paid for them.
Once we began, we found a scene so entirely different from what we had expected, that we became seriously interested and what had started out as a fairly hum-drum piece of research turned into a fascinating lesson in the modus operandi of pressure groups. It also ballooned into a small book.
For a start we discovered that all the principle groups concerned with this characteristically liberal/left version of children's rights, groups were founded or co-founded by one man, and his domestic 'partner', mostly as limited companies. Their friends and colleagues over the years were spread amongst child care charities and government committees and one, or both, turned up on the boards of all eight of the principal organisations promoting their version of 'children's rights'. Their ideological orientation explained why the narrow agenda they pursued in every case was so similar. It also explained why the basic assumption was always that children needed to be 'liberated' from their parents care and control. Not having chosen to get married themselves, despite having children, it is fair to say that they have some rooted objection to marriage as an institution or, at least, believe that it is not important.
These groups have played an important part in promoting all the rights referred to above relating to premature sexual activity and behaving badly. One of the organisations was exclusively devoted to securing the abolition of corporal punishment in schools and, that having been achieved, its funds were transferred to another organisation, End Physical Punishment of Children, (EPOCH) which is the principle driving force behind attempts to get parental smacking of children criminalised.
The part of my book which really enraged rights activists, however, was not the discussion of their ideological bent, which they did not seem to dispute. It was the fact that attention was drawn to the similarity of their aims to those of the paedophile organisations of the 1970's, which were prosecuted and suppressed in 1980.
As a matter of fact, the similarities are striking and, whilst I was not claiming that children's rights activists were all paedophiles, it is nevertheless evident that their campaigns have been useful to those who want greater sexual access to children. 'Unwitting' was the word I used to describe the direct help given to paedophiles by the de facto abolition of the age of consent for girls in the matter of providing them with contraceptives at school. Now it is proposed to apply the same age of consent law to boys for homosexual activity, we will no doubt see its de facto abolition too.
However, it was after the book was sold out that the response to the publishers began to make another aspect of 'children's rights' clear. It was always obvious that the welfare of children was very low on most of the activists' agenda. Otherwise they would have been doing honest research to discover whether the freedoms advocated by them for children, were actually beneficial. They would also have been much more interested in whether breaking up families was the best response to anything but clear law-breaking on the part of parents, not to mention whether local authority care was better for children than a normal, even strict, home.
Now, like a voice from beyond the grave, we suddenly heard that Sweden had, at long last, developed a protest movement against the things that were being done to them in the name of children's rights. I don't know if it is the same in America, but here and in Europe, Sweden has always been held up as a paragon of 'progressive' innovation. It is referred to in reverential tones by liberals everywhere and children's rights activists place particular emphasis on the beneficial effects of their 1979 law which forbade parents to smack their children. According to their literature, no parents have ever been imprisoned or otherwise penalised for having laid a hand on their children and there is no cause for concern anywhere.
Well, it isn't true! An organisation of academics, lawyers, doctors and other professionals have formed 'The Nordic Committee for Human Rights', which is principally concerned with human rights abuses in Sweden, the most powerful and influential of the Nordic nations. They have a website (NKMR.org) where you can read all about it in English. They point out several crucial, historical factors. Notably that the Nazi's copied a good deal of their social policy from the Swedes; particularly that part of it which saw children as belonging to 'the parental state' rather than to its parents. The family too was viewed with dislike since it encouraged thoughts and actions that were not prescribed by the state.
Unmarried mothers had their babies automatically taken away from them and an organisation called 'Save the Children' was begun during the 1930's in Sweden, which was, contrary to expectation, profoundly anti-family. What children had to be 'saved' from, were the imperfections of their natural parents and the oppressive and un-enlightened atmosphere of a normal family. That has a familiar ring to it, doesn't it?
They were also very enamoured of eugenics and the idea of a perfect racial type. Unbeknown to the rest of the world, the Swedish government pursued a policy of forced sterilisation of children it thought came from poor stock, until 1976. What a surprise for liberals everywhere when the fact came out, only last year, that more than 60,000 children had, in that way, been cleansed of their ability to procreate .
Few people had any idea that the Swedish government had the power to maintain such secrecy when it also had a relatively free press. One can hazard a guess that the truth only emerged finally because a couple of sad individuals, who had been deprived of their birthright by being sterilised when they were children in care, sued the government for compensation for what was done for them. Victims have now been promised the princely sum of £7,000 apiece.
The Nordic Committee, under its energetic and fearless chairman Ruby Harrold-Claesson, has at last broken open many of the other half-truths that the Swedish authorities are still putting about. She is a lawyer - incidentally, the only black one in Sweden - and has dredged up a lot of the figures relating to the seizure of children by the authorities. These are difficult to obtain because they are not recorded in the normal, criminal courts. Hence the ability of the children's rights people to claim that there have been no prosecutions under the 1979 law. Children are taken away under the auspices of an administrative court which, in the public interest, of course, keeps the figures safely out of reach of most people.
To give you an idea of the scale of the tyranny over the family, it is necessary to describe the context. Sweden has a population of eight million; it is also extremely homogenous as to race and no people in Europe are more clearly identifiable by their appearance alone. It has virtually no poverty, wall to wall welfare and no large cities. The capital city has a population of less than two million and the second city has one hundred and fifty thousand people. There should be, in fact, very few cases where children need to be taken from their parents. Yet, in 1981 the authorities seized 22,000 children; which represents a rate of seizure 86 times greater than that of West Germany. An equivalent figure for America would be, by that reckoning, more than 687 thousand - in one year!
No doubt the authorities had such a field day because of the number of children who had been smacked by their parents before the 1979 Act came in. The figure fell somewhat after that but, in 1995, it was 14,700 children removed from their homes. That is a rate 57 times that of Germany and, in American terms, would be nearly 500 thousand children. A mind-boggling number for the rest of the world to contemplate and a clear explanation why so few people in Sweden either get married or have children.
Yet why is this so little known? From time to time there is brief publicity of the abuses of Sweden, before liberals return to their uncritical admiration of it. Unfortunately for the oppressed everywhere, the liberal/left always treasures its heroes - even when they are murderous tyrants - so it will take some time, and a lot of repetition, for the truth to rise to the surface.
Another stalwart of the Nordic Committee, Siv Westerberg, has taken eight cases to the Court of Human rights at Strasborg, and has won seven times. The Readers Digest featured one of her cases in 1993. It involved three children who were abducted by the authorities whilst they were at school. They were sent to separate families 600 miles away and it took the parents 5 months even to find out where they were. No specific reason was ever given for why they had been taken; just that it was in their 'best interest'. It took seven years before the parents were able to get their case to the European Court, which found in their favour. The parents were awarded £33,000 compensation and the Swedish authorities were told to return the children to their parents. The eldest, who was then 17, was allowed home but the other two were not. This is the system that we are being asked to admire and follow!
By a striking coincidence, on the very day the organisation that published my book held a conference to discuss its findings, the BBC asked to do an interview with me about the smacking debate. Since I was tied up with the conference, they decided to interview me in a side room during the lunch break and, accordingly sent an interviewer and crew. I took the opportunity to introduce them to Ruby Harrold-Claesson, who was one of the principle speakers at the conference and she gave them a brief run-down of what she was saying about Sweden.
The team looked uncomfortable and, when I suggested that they include an interview with her to beef-up the debate, they said they already had been to Sweden and would be including an account of things there, as part of the programme.
When we watched the programme a few days later, sure enough, there they were in Sweden interviewing a handful of schoolchildren who confirmed that their parents were not allowed to smack them. They then asked a senior official about whether many children had been taken from their families as a result of the anti-smacking law. Laughing uproariously, she waved her hand around her, 'Can you see many children being taken?' she said. And that was supposed to be a sufficient answer.
After this, the missing brick fell into place! The question was always, why are the children's rights people so concerned to make the parental right to smack their children illegal? Most of their organisations have been more or less devoted to the subject despite the fact that 90% of good and caring parents say that it is necessary at times. Now the answer is clear.
It is a device which places most parents in the power of social workers. They are, by training and tradition, marxist, feminist, and anti-religious. They don't much care for the family and lend their weight on every possible occasion to arguments and devices that show it in a bad light. In this country, they are still opposed to the inclusion, in official statistics, of figures which show the precise nature of the relationship of abusers to the children they abuse. At present, they are simply called 'fathers', even though they are seldom genetic fathers and, even more seldom, genetic fathers actually married to the mother of their children. The traditional family is still the safest place for any child to be - but you would not know it from official literature on the subject.
Thus, anybody who wanted to further a marxist, feminist agenda, could not do better than to have most families in thrall to social workers. The right to browbeat parents because they smack their children when they think it necessary, as the Bible tells them they must, would be all an officious bureaucracy needed to infantalise the majority of adults. It is not about the elevation of children's rights at all. It is about the crushing of adult ones.
It is a particularly crafty bandwagon to set on the road because it has drawn support from so many unpleasant but powerful allies. Contraceptive-selling commerce has welcomed and supported them; paedophiles love them; and as for those government employees engaged in the job of directing, but not curbing, the rising tide of young people in trouble - they simply could not do without them.
Baby-snatching, as it has always been called, is almost bound to be due for a make-over in the years to come. There has been in increase in infertility amongst the young that would be considered alarming if we were not still so fixated with the idea of over-population; plus the fact that the 'wrong' sort of people are still having babies, particularly out of wedlock. This rise must be due, at least in part, to the powerful steroids being given to young girls to ensure their continuance as sexually active people. Also because of the extraordinary increase in the sexually transmitted diseases which cause barrenness in women and sterility in men.
Evils have a habit of happening one upon the other and
it is an ironic observation made by the Nordic Committee for Human rights, that
one of the reasons it is so easy to find foster-carers for the thousands of
'snatched' children in
It is incongruous, isn't it? To build your home on the
ruins of someone else's. No wonder Scandinavian dramatists at the turn of the
century were always so gloomy; they must have sensed what was coming.