SOC: Children's Rights (was: Tough Questions)
Sat, 11 Sep 1999 09:33:26 EDT

In a message dated 99-09-07 12:58:04 EDT, (Edgar W Swank) wrote:

> But an infant has nothing to trade and and obligations can't be
> enforced against a child. So I agree with Crocker except that the
> child has one right, to run away. This, I think, was also Murray
> Rothbard's view, although I can't quote a source.

I think this is an overly-static view of the status of children. Children don't remain children: Unless someone interferes with them, they become adults. Thus, with a child (as with any moral and legal subject) one is dealing not only with what the person IS, but what they have the potential to BECOME.

> The current situation, which I call a "cult of the child," where
> children have all the "rights" and the parents have none, is just
> slavery of the productive parents to the unproductive child and I
> have a hard time justifying that!

Again, I think you can only liken the parent's position vis-a-vis the child to "slavery" by taking a completely static view of the relationship. You have to look backward in time to the point where the parents chose to put themselves into the situation of conceiving the child, and forward in time to the point where the child is an autonomous moral subject. Only by putting on temporal blinders can you ignore the (to me) obvious moral responsibility parents have to their children.

> I think the problem of enforcing contracts made by/with children
> can be solved if a court (of a government or defense agency)
> approves it in advance, possibily with the advice of a lawyer or
> advocate appointed to represent the child's interests. If the
> court doesn't approve the contract, then the court won't enforce
> it.

I love it when bright people think through a problem and come up with the solution that specialists have developed. This is, in fact, how courts deal with this situation every day. The child's advocate is called a "guardian ad litem". I deal with them and the mechanism of court approval of contracts with minors all the time when I have to secure an enforceable release from a child or structure some other legal transaction involving a child. The other mechanism for dealing with the rights of children and other "legal incompetents" is a trust (a guardian ad litem is actually a "special trust").

> Children have the right to run away, and fend for themselves.
> This works fairly well right now in many 3rd world countries.
> c.f. "street children."

I'm sorry, but I have to differ strongly with the characterization that this "works fairly well". The hordes of "street children" in the Third World result from a collapse of civil society and are a tragic mechanism for propagating dysfunctional societies. Such children are poorly socialized and become cannon fodder for tin-pot dictators and other slime. Where do you think the gun-toting armies of 12-year-olds who fight the civil wars in Africa come from? It's statements like this that make people think that libertarianism is all about the Hobbesian "war of all against all".

> Another possibility is a "Kiddy Pound"
> where parents can bring unwanted children or children can run
> away to. Hopefully, an acceptable parent can be found for every
> child brought in. But if not, then the child can be put back on
> the street. Or, perhaps, if stray children become a pest, an
> unwanted child can be "put to sleep" as we now do to unwanted
> pets. I don't see how "society" has any motivation to protect a
> child which NONE of its citizens wants.

Just FYI, it was a situation like this that made 19th century England turn its back on classical liberalism. We've been paying the price ever since. If free people can't develop better institutions to deal with suffering children than this, they will get the kind of nanny-state they deserve. With respect, I suggest you try to see a performance of "A Christmas Carol" this year.

     Greg Burch     <>----<>
     Attorney  :::  Vice President, Extropy Institute  :::  Wilderness Guide   -or-
                         "Civilization is protest against nature; 
                  progress requires us to take control of evolution."
                                      -- Thomas Huxley