The Rights of a Child: Part 2

After writing my rant last night, I’ve been thinking that this post may deserve more clarification.

Several months ago, my mom was spouting off against the government and Child Protective Services in a phone conversation, saying that they should never have a right to “break up families” and I pointed out that while some families need to be separated, most of the time the family is just helped and educated, not split up. I recalled a certain time in our family when I feel that Child Protective Services would have been helpful. She acknowledged that there had been a problem, but maintained that she would have listened to a church member or neighbour if they had confronted her. I reminded her that we were not attending church at that time of our life, and that I had begged her to make the abuse stop the day it was happening and she had not listened to me. She replied that the reason she did not listen to me was because I was only a child, if an adult had intervened, she would have done something. I gave up on the discussion at that point, but 2 weeks later my mom sent me some information from “the parents rights amendment”. She’s sent stuff like this to me before, but it brought out the frustration anew. Why are these parents so afraid of government recognizing that children have rights?

Because deep down, they know that they are doing something wrong.

I grew up in a family that does not believe that children have rights. Children are the property of their parents, heart mind body and soul. They basically have the same rights as slaves used to in the south. These conservative homeschooling parents control every aspect of their child’s life. They decide what their children are allowed to be interested in, how they will spend their time, what clothes they must wear, if and what they will be educated in, and whether or not they will be given health care. Some in the patriarchy home school movement, do not believe that they should educate their daughters beyond the 8th grade, because they will be stay-at-home moms someday, and therefore have no reason to be educated.

I used to believe it all. I was terrified of the government as a child. My parents told us that if people saw us outside during school hours, we would get taken away and put in foster homes where they would make us go to school. I remember crawling underneath the windows in the front of the house, because I was afraid someone outside would see me and call the police. One time a family friend knocked at the door during school hours, and my sister ran to open it. I heard the commotion from the other end of the house and ran in the kitchen screaming “don’t open the door!!” and when I rounded the corner and realized that the door was already open and there were no policemen waiting to take us away, I shrank away in embarrassment. I remember being outside and hearing the screams of a sister being spanked for what seemed like an eternity, and besides that usual sick feeling in my stomach for what she was going through, my main worry was that since the window was open, someone might hear and call the police. One time when I was babysitting my siblings, a chair got knocked over and broke the dining room window. I cried, and yelled at all the kids that now someone would see the broken window and think that dad was a drunk who beat us, and they would call the police.

When I actually read the UN convention for The Rights of the Child a year ago, I cried. There were people who actually believed that children are fully human? That they have the same rights to health, happiness and opportunity that adults have? I read in print for the first time the rights I want my children to have, including the rights I never had as a child.

People may argue that the UN rights of the child is redundant. We know that kids need to be protected, that’s obvious, right? But the USA can still use improvement. I found out later that a neighbour had heard my sister screaming that day, but they didn’t call the police, they thought it was funny. There are still people today who can see a broken bleeding child, and accept the parents’ explanation that they were a brat and “deserved it”.

I still have a hard time even today, believing that children don’t deserve to be hit and mistreated. I saw it with unseeing eyes every day in my home growing up. When my sister recently shared a childhood memory of “discipline” that became abuse, I was physically shaking thinking about what had happened to her. I had a vague memories jumbling around in my head. Is it possible that my sister had tried to confide in me when I was a teenager, and I’d done nothing to help her? I don’t know. Regardless of whether I knew what had happened that particular time or not, I know what my response would have been. “You shouldn’t have been rebellious, you should have been obedient, you should have done what you were told and then this never would have happened to you.” I would have said those things, because I truly believed that children deserved to be treated badly. I believed that we had no rights. I told myself that I was the problem, I was the bad one, and so were my siblings.

Parents are allowed wide discretion on whether or not to bring their child to the doctor or to use homeopathic remedies instead of standard medicine. When my baby brother was a year old, he got pneumonia and was very very sick for over a month. I remember being scared at the amount of weight he was losing, and redoubled my prayers for him since dad would not allow mom to take the baby to the Doctor. My mother was forbidden from chiropractic care for her back problems, because it could involve a man (other than my father) seeing and touching her body. Sometimes the denial of medical care can result in permanent disfigurement, or even death. What if this 11 year old girl with undiagnosed diabetes in Wisconsin had know that she had a right to medical care? Maybe she could have gone for help as her health declined, instead of relying on the prayer of her Pentecostal family as she died. Maybe someone in her family could have called 911 sooner, if they only had known what help was available, and what rights children have. But no, they trusted in the family and their interpretation of God, and the girl died. Her story is not the only one.

The United States is the only western country in the world which still allows corporal punishment in the public schools of 20 states. And unlike countries that put limits on age and amount of physical punishment allowed, parents in America are allowed to physically punish their child with a belt, paddle, (or other impliments) however they feel like as long as there is no permanent disfigurement or death. We have a long way to go in recognizing the rights of a child. And instead of working to protect children in abusive homes, Michael Farris wants to amend the constitution to make it even harder for these children to gain safety from their parents.

  • Michelle

    Ugh, I am so sad reading your environment growing up. What is also sad is I suffered a MUCH MUCH MUCH LESS abusive upbringing…but it was still abusive and still painful. I wish I could believe it was just the US that needed help in this area…

  • Rach

    I agree, 100%. I am so sorry for what you went through, and for what I went through, and for what countless conservative Christian children went through (and are going through). Physical punishment makes me sick to my stomach, because so few parents can actually stop. It's too volatile, and for that reason should be stopped before it gets started.

  • Libby Anne

    Amen! When will people realize that children are not their parents' property?

    Someone might say "well, you wouldn't want to government taking your child away, would you?" And to that I say, if I were hurting her, then yes, yes I would want them to take her away. She's not my property. She's her own little independent person. And she has the right to not be hurt by those she depends on most.

  • Anonymous

    Again, your concerns are not unfounded. But you cite extreme cases, including your own. (Your childhood IS an extreme case. And while you know other people who were raised like you, they are still a minority.)

    America is still (barely) a maverick in the realm of freedom and rights. We aren't like Europe, which is in a state of post-modern hell. Granted, neither side is perfect. But overall, the American system has worked. When we give in to the U.N., like I commented before, we're on a slippery slope.

    The U.S. system didn't fail you – your parents did. Because they mastered the art of hiding, being secretive, and coming up with wild defenses and reasons for what they did. They worked the system, so to speak.

    Every rule/law has its breakers and evaders. Drunk driving still happens even though drunk driving laws exist. It's the same with child abuse. Most people don't drive when they drink. And most parents don't treat their children as absolute and total property as your parents did.

    You are a special case.

    • Peter Noordijk

      What makes you say Europe is in a post-odern hell? I have plenty of family there. None of them seem to be in hell. They live wonderful lives.

  • Young Mom

    I am hesitant to engage comments left by combative people with no name. However, I find it highly presumptive of you to be able to carte blanch relegate my experience growing up as invalid because it was extreme. While my childhood was by no means the most extreme out there, every child is a special case, no matter the circumstances. Each person's experience can help show us a fuller picture of reality. Abusive parents are secretive and skirt the system, duh! No system or set of laws will catch them all, but both children and adults need to be educated on what a child’s rights under the law actually are so that people are educated as to when they should get help.
    Given your anonymity I have no way of knowing how you could be equipped to pass judgment on Europe. And you give no evidence that the U.S system is actually superior to other systems. In the end, this isn’t about a system or national pride; this is about children being recognized as humans and having the right to basic human freedoms regardless of whether or not their parents are willing to “grant” these to them.

  • priest’s wife

    I would respect this UN resolution more if they also realized that babies in utero are human…just saying…but I liked your post

  • Rebekka

    I am an American expat and I've lived in Scandinavia for 9 years, so I will jump in and comment on the anonymous poster – Europe is a post-modern hell, huh? I'm not sure exactly what freedom and rights I don't have here that I would have in the US. Having lived extensively in both countries I have to say that the "system" here is in many ways more humane than the American version, in that you don't have to be a 100% healthy, well-educated adult with full-time employment to "deserve" to be treated like a human being. But that's politics and beside my point…

    Corporal punishment is illegal in the country I live in now, and of course there are still terrible, terrible cases of child abuse, but my impression is that they are much fewer and farther between than in the US. The vast majority sincerely believe that even spanking is wrong. I doubt you could find anyone who wouldn't consider the beatings described by Young Mom and other survivors with her background to be 100% abuse and a telltale sign of powerlessness and lack of self-control on the part of the abuser rather than "discipline". Even among the religious.

  • Pippi

    I had a heated argument with my mom and a couple siblings over the girl with diabetes. It's unbelievable what people will defend rather than acknowledge some of their beliefs may be incorrect. They were very upset that I would say a child's right to live overrides the parental righs to follow their religion. My mom still believes that children have no rights. Now that she's realized how blatantly violent and abusive my MIL was, she keeps blaming herself for not stepping in. Never stopping to think that a woman who scorned all her other advice would never have listened to that. And that's why we have CPS – which is sadly corrupt but still necessary.

  • Anna

    Your experiences were terrible – I totally agree parents have no right to treat their children like that. But I'm not sure why you think more laws/new laws/international laws would have helped your situation. From what you and your sister say about your family, it sounds like under existing laws, if you'd gone to the authorities, they would have intervened. It sounds like the real problem was that your parents had established such firm control of your thinking that you never would have asked for outside help. How would a new set of UN regulations have helped? It seems like it would simply create more layers of bureaucracy that could do new harm of their own, rather than helping any real live children.

  • Young Mom

    Anna- There are abused children in every country, and ratifying a treaty is not going make that go away. However, I do think that educating adults and children on what rights they actually have can help them be aware of when those rights are being violated.

  • Caravelle

    "She replied that the reason she did not listen to me was because I was only a child, if an adult had intervened, she would have done something."

    Yes, like, and adult… who's providing a service… that consists of protecting children…

    Thank you for this series of posts Young Mom.

  • Petticoat Philosopher

    I don't understand this knee-jerk hostility towards laws I'm seeing here. Do you people want to go back to the days when there were NO laws protecting children, when little kids died in industrial accidents because there were no laws against child labor? Aren't some things worth the "bureaucracy" and isn't children's safety one of them?

    Anonymous–Having lived in Europe for a time, I can assure that it is not a "post-modern hell." Despite whatever hysterical, paranoid propaganda you've been reading, children are not seized from their parents right and left to be raised in state-owned mega-nurseries, or whatever nonsense you've been told. In fact, children live much as they do here.

    And it is extremely offensive of you to try to write off Young Mom's experiences as irrelevant because you see them as "fringe." And it's a dirty arguing tactic that's often employed to shut people down–"you don't count because you're not representative, you're a 'special case.'" For one thing, many protective laws are put in place for just such "special cases"–so victims can have recourse, no matter how few they are. For another, these experiences are not so "special" as you may think. There is a huge amount of child abuse in this country, and not only, or perhaps even mostly, in fundamentalist homes. And, actually, our laws are not particularly stringent. It's extremely difficult to have children removed from their abusive biological parents, especially mothers. I know a woman who fought tooth and nail to gain custody of her grandchildren from her abusive daughter and her husband. And this is another family member who wanted to get them removed! She finally did get custody, but not before both kids sustained physical and neurological injuries from the abuse that they may be dealing with for the rest of their lives.

    If nothing else (and really it wouldn't be much else because the U.N. is not this all-powerful Big Brother you think it is), this convention could spark a debate and inspire more open conversation and acknowledgement of the reality of child abuse. Silence and shame are the biggest reason it continues. This is a step towards breaking the silence.

  • growing mom

    As a Catholic I always appreciate your outside of the box thinking and sharing the experience of your childhood.

    Fundamentalist Catholics or protestants are an interesting bunch to observe from both the inside and the outside. I am waiting to hear from a generation of Catholics who I see now are growing up with very extreme views of what it means to be "loyal to the magisterium". I think they are either going to carry on extreme or completely leave the faith. There is something to be said for balance and moderation in all things.

    That said–all I hear from the Catholic fundamentalist group is how evil the UN is and how evil the IB program is for high schools due to UN involvement. I still have to take a look at this document you are referring to.

    I agree with priest's wife it is a contradiction to omit unborn children from their protection plan. Do they speak out against practices in China regarding having more than one child?

    Keep on writing young mom–it will bring healing and bring you to a closer relationship with God–even though I know that is still difficult for you. The God I know is not the one you grew up with and I hope you can find that peace one day.

  • Rebecca

    I think you have something very important to contribute to this discussion regarding the rights of a child. I admit, I struggle with this. On the one hand, I think you can have the government control too much. On the other hand, parents may abuse their call to care for and guide their children. I guess the question I have is, who gets to decide what abuse is? And I think it's that that makes us nervous as parents. For example, what if the government were to decide that teaching kids they are sinners is abuse? Obviously, that's a very extreme example and not likely to happen anytime soon, but there are some questions that are raised. I think it's always going to be a balancing act to allow parents freedom to follow their beliefs while still protecting kids.

  • Rebecca

    One way of looking at this discussion that helps me is to think of my daughter. Do I believe she has rights? Yes. I believe she has the right to a different opinion from me. I try to respect her "no" when I can. But I also believe I am the authority figure in her life and she is responsible to obey me until she grows mature enough to make all of her own decisions.

    I also believe my daughter has the right to not be harmed. This is why I don't believe in spanking. I don't believe in losing my temper with my daughter. I believe she is a human being, worthy of respect, and that if I model showing respect, I will teach her respect by example. And when I mess up or lose my temper, I apologize. Because just because I'm Mom doesn't mean I can't be wrong. And when she is wrong, I strive to discipline her fairly and calmly. Again, when I mess up, I try to apologize.

    Maybe we need more education about parenting with respect, as opposed to high-sounding UN decrees.

  • Petticoat Philosopher

    But it's not a "decree." It's a convention. The U.N. does not have the power to "decree." Seriously, I only wish the U.N. held as much sway as some commenters here seem to think it does. We'd live in a much more peaceful, humane world. The comparison has already been made, but this is no different from the Geneva Convention or even the Declaration of Human Rights.

    And who gets to decide what child abuse is will always be an open question and a balancing act, just as it is with spousal abuse. It's the courts that decide, on a case by case basis. That is what our legal system is for. Not every accusation goes to trial and not every case results in a prosecution. But aren't you glad the laws are in place? Do children deserve any less? Education is a wonderful thing but if telling everybody to just play nice always worked, we wouldn't need a legal system.

  • Anna

    Petticoat Philosopher, if you mean me, I don't have any "kneejerk hostility" toward law – of course law is a good thing, both to prevent grave evils, and also to educate people positively about what is good. I just don't see a need for MORE law here. The evils Young Mom is critiquing are already against existing laws – e.g., not treating a diabetic kid. But law couldn't educate her or her family as things stood, since they'd been indoctrinated to think the law is evil.

    And no, I don't think more law and regulation is always a good. You have to remember that every law brings some unintended evils with it, and make sure you're doing more good than harm. E.g., some horrific abuse might get caught and stopped if CPS conducted random inspections of all homes, without cause. But such a law would do more harm than good, by destroying the innocence and trust in good homes.

    Rights are necessary to prevent injustice, but as a professor of mine always said, rights are by definition not things at their best – we invoke rights when an injustice has already been done. Replacing ordinary love with rights is not going to make the world a better place. So sure, we need to invoke the child's rights when parents are out of line, but building family policy on rights is problematic.

  • Pippi

    I feel it's worth pointing out that I DO believe the U.N. is evil. That doesn't mean everything they do is automatically wrong. Our nation ought to have laws in place to protect children more. On the other hand, our government has already proven they can't properly handle the laws they have, so that wouldn't do much.
    My support for the rights of children is just that, nothing more. I don't support more laws and regulations, I don't support the U.N. I see it like the Civil War. The South had a right to secede. Denying them that right did serious damage to states' rights and we are suffering for it today. On the other hand, I think God blessed the North because slavery was a terrible evil that needed to be eradicated. And the South wouldn't do it voluntarily. If we won't do right on our own, tyrants will force us, and then eventually turn it around on us.

  • Petticoat Philosopher

    Anna–Where did I say that more law and regulation is always good? I didn't say that and I don't think it. I just think it's important to remember that laws don't necessarily infringe upon rights, laws also PROTECT rights. Nobody is talking about CPS surveillance of homes, for pity's sake.

    And we can never "replace ordinary love with rights." These things are apples and oranges. Having more recognized, and better-enforced rights is not going to make people love each other less, and it won't take away people's responsibility to love each other and take care of each other. As you say, the invocation of rights is a recourse for people who have had injustice perpetrated upon them–it is for people that love didn't come through for. These are the people that public policy is there to protect. The rest of us don't need it. So yes, policy should be based on a discourse of rights. It's not an ideal, it's a safety net.

    But all of this is really kind of a separate issue since the U.N. convention doesn't actually have any power to change our laws or add new ones or anything. Seriously folks, it's just NOT that powerful, it's not some Draconian World Government. It's not the enemy of the U.S; it was largely created BY the U.S. and the U.S. is still the most powerful force within it. It's there largely to govern the interaction of nations, to prevent things like war crimes and other Really Bad Things. Evil? Seriously? What this convention shows is that awareness of the issue of children's rights as respected persons, and the ways in which those rights are threatened, is increasing. Nothing more.

  • Rebecca

    Personally, I think the UN is more ineffective than evil. Though I was brought up on a diet of "the UN is evil." I just think they are big and clunky and kind of fail to get the job done much of the time. It's nice they try.

    Petticoat, I agree definitely that it is HIGHLY important that laws are there to protect kids. There are some terrible parents out there. Witness the parents who beat their kid to death and were fans of the Pearls (that one has Young Mom blog post written all over it!). I guess I just feel like it might be more helpful and effective to protect kids with laws and systems that are "closer to the ground"…from within the actual community. The UN is too big to get the job done in many cases.

  • Rebecca

    Also, Petticoat, you're right…it's a convention, not a decree.

  • Caravelle

    "I feel it's worth pointing out that I DO believe the U.N. is evil."

    Why ?

    I mean, I presume you think the South had the right to secede because people have a right to self-government, not government by whatever group of people has the most guns.

    Now given the UN is an attempt to get nations away from the "state of nature" where the strong take all they want from the weak, an admittedly highly imperfect attempt (partly, as Petticoat Philosopher points out, because it was created by and for the world's strongest nations, chief among them the USA) but still the furthest humans have ever come to enforcing in nations the kind of civilized, socialized behavior we expect from individuals…

    It sounds like you should be all for that, but not only don't you like the UN, you think it's downright EVIL.

    Why ?

  • Arual

    I agree that children have fundamental rights. I worry about legislation that tries to define which choices are acceptable for parents to make because a lot of the choices that I make are sometimes called "abusive" in mainstream circles.

    Eg, home birth, not vaccinating, homeschooling, alternative medicine, etc.

    I don't necessarily think there is anything wrong with this UN convention, but I do see where parents who fear the government's intervention are coming from. Sometimes the government acts unnecessarily and I sincerely fear it will happen to me some day.

  • Young Mom

    Arual- Just so you know, Canada supports the UN rights of a child and home birth is not only encouraged, it is completely paid for by the government. You can also get support and money to help with homeschooling, opt out of vaccinations (even if you are sending your kids to public school) simply by denying them. There are natropaths up here same as in the US, and I've been here 3 years and haven't heard of any "big bad government" moments yet. The government has far to many actual abuse cases and children that are in danger to bother with things that may not be smiled on by the mainstream.