There have been a few posts in reaction to the one on school children indulging in sex and drugs that unearthed some questions on ‘children’s rights’. Having worked some time within the ambit of childcare, I raised  some questions with child-rights authorities of an international organization with regard to children’s ‘rights’. The questions were as follows:

CORPORAL PUNISHMENT
Is any form of corporal punishment an infringement of a child’s rights and/or considered to be ‘abuse’?

CHILD LABOUR
If a child chooses to work in order to support his/her parents or him/herself, and is under the age as stipulated by law, does this choice cease to be a ‘right’ of the child?

AGE OF SEXUAL CONSENT/AGE FOR MARRIAGE
Does any child have the ‘right’ to partake in a sexual relationship of his/her choice? At what age does this become ‘right’?

At what age does a child have the right to marry the partner of his/her choice?

EMANCIPATION
At what age does a child have the right to live independently – as he/she chooses?

SEXUAL ABUSE
If a child is raped and does not want to inform the authorities, should this child’s ‘right’ of choice be respected?

VIEWS OF THE CHILD

Does the child have the ‘right’ to disregard his/her parent’s directives/decisions? If not, at what age would the child acquire this ‘right’?

At what age should a child have the right of choice with regard to continuing with his/her education?

Some of us consider that the rights of a child that include calling the cops when a parent chastises him or her, and that results in the parent(s) being charged in a court of law, is going overboard with this whole affair. And some of us see no harm in a teenager indulging in sexual activities of his or her choice. Some see no ‘abuse’ in a child wanting to work to support a dysfunctional family, but there are others who think that children who choose to partake in these activities should not be allowed to do so. The quandary here is who has the right to decide – the ‘authorities’ or the child? And if the child is denied its choice, does he or she have the right to object? If not, what are we talking about?

Of course a definition of ‘child’ must be established, and I do believe that the age to determine this varies from country to country. For instance, the Sri Lanka report to the Committee on the Rights of the Child states that: “The Sri Lankan system has accepted 16 years and 14 years as the ages of discretion for boys and girls respectively, without the reference to the maturity of Sri Lankan children. Accordingly a girl of 16 years old has been judicially considered to be free to decide whether she wishes to sever all connections with her parents and reside in a place of her choice. The Sri Lankan law recognizes the concept of tacit emancipation, according to which permission granted by a parent to a minor child to carry on a business and lives on his/her own confers legal capacity for certain purposes”

Generally, however, I believe that the accepted international standard (UN Convention on the Rights of the Child) is that anyone under the age of eighteen is considered to be a ‘child’. And this seems to me to be pretty absurd. I’m sure that when most of us were around that age, we considered ourselves perfectly mature enough to determine who we wanted to have sex with, what we wanted to smoke or drink and where and how we wanted to spend our time. There are so many ‘adults’ who forget what they were up to when they were ‘kids’ and impose all sorts of constraints on young people that would have been par for the course for themselves when they were that age.

There are also other dangers that result from the imposition of child-rights, one of which is the unjust incarceration of individuals who have been falsely accused of child-abuse. Several cases have been documented where children have lied (and later recanted) about being abused by adults that resulted in the incarceration of innocent folk and the subsequent destruction of their lives and those of their immediate families.

So there’s the dilemma. How do you see it? And if you want some answers to the questions I posed above, stay tuned – I’ll let you know how the ‘authorities’ responded.

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