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Children’s Needs, not Rights, should be the Focus

Children’s Needs, not Rights, should be the Focus

Bob McCoskrie –National Director Family First

Parents have every right to be very nervous over recent media reports of cases involving the rise in Children’s Rights.

The first warning shot was news of a teenager effectively ‘divorcing’ her parent because she didn’t like the family rules. The mother, in a letter to her local MP, listed reasons the daughter won under "unusual circumstances" to have guardianship placed with the court including the facts that the 16-year-old is given permission by her older sister to stay at friends' houses on school nights when that would be denied by her mother.

Otago University law faculty dean Mark Henaghan said the case is the consequence of the Care of Children Act (2005) which recognises children as independent entities rather than members of their families. The Act gives the wishes of children more prominence, removing age and maturity as factors in court decisions. Henaghan cites a case where a four-year-old's views should have been taken into account in a family dispute, and believes there will be a rise in such cases.

The report of a girl (well under the age of sexual consent) being sneaked off by her school to get contraceptives without any parental knowledge should be another warning.

The girl's stepmother only found the pills when she was cleaning out her stepdaughter's locker. The label on the box of pills showed the girl's name, care of the school, and one packet was dated back to when the girl was only 13. The parent, not surprisingly, felt a sense of absolute disbelief. The medical implications of being on the pill also concerned the family.

And we have Sue Bradford’s anti-smacking Bill which sends a clear message to parents that they are no longer primary guardians of their children. The State and its agencies know better and parents who responsibly correct their children will become guilty of assault and criminalised.

Ironically, the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, which is constantly quoted as the catalyst for removing section 59, acknowledges the important role of parents in raising a child with appropriate direction, guidance, and correction.

It recognises the right, and duty, of parents to provide direction and guidance in a manner consistent with the evolving capacities of the child. Yet our new, and ironically named, Care of Children Act says that age and maturity should not be factors when considering the views of a child.

Any parent knows that the capacity of a child is very different to the capacity of an adult. That’s why we have laws protecting children from sexual involvement and exploitation, driving vehicles, voting, drinking alcohol, certain purchases, watching violent and sexually explicit movies etc. That’s why we say “no pudding until you eat your peas”, and “get to bed now!” That’s why we need to train and correct children in a way that is different to how we deal with adults.

A recently published book on children’s rights “From Innocents to Agents – Children and Children’s Rights in New Zealand” by Dr Michael Reid, previously a researcher with research and public policy think tank the Maxim Institute, is compelling.

It highlights deep concerns around the politicisation of children’s rights.

Dr Reid says that children are no longer being seen as innocent and vulnerable, but as full human beings needing support to assert rights to autonomy and independence.

He warns that the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child is part of a wider attempt to redefine the family, and an “undermining of what some saw as oppressive parental rights to control children.”

For example, Articles 15 and 16 of the Convention argue the right of a child to associate with others, the right to protection from interference, and the right to privacy. Yet what happens when children want to start dating, stay out late, engage in sexual activity, and view objectionable video games or movies at home? Dr Reid warns that “as the wider rights culture moved to uphold the child’s individual autonomy, this came – in the home setting at least – at the expense of a parental right to prohibit these practices.”

Parents are right to be indignant about a government and state encroaching on ‘their turf’. Child abuse is truly awful but an increasing fixation with children's rights will not reduce child abuse.
Too many ‘concerned’ and ‘child-friendly’ organisations and governments are not only doing the worthy task of protecting children who are emotionally and physically vulnerable, but have adopted moral supremacy and appointed themselves as the experts on parenting and the well-being of children.

In an attempt to protect children from the small minority of parents who are obviously unsuitable to hold the responsibilities of parenting, we are steam-rolling good parents who deserve the backing of the state – not undermining and potentially criminalising.

A child’s rights should never be at the expense of the parental right to nurture, protect and set boundaries in a family setting. Rights of children have been shifted from simply protecting vulnerable children to granting them rights that are destructive to them, to good parenting practice, and to the welfare of the whole family in which they are being raised.

The nurturing needs of children should be paramount. They’ll have plenty of rights, and responsibilities, to worry about when they become adults.


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