Criticism of the children's rights movement:
Children need nothing less than rights
1. If one takes the list of children's rights – whether it is the 41 articles of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child or a list of the 10 most important children's rights put together by children's rights action groups – it is hard to avoid feeling overwhelmed. Not because of the legal demands compiled in them, but because the physical and psychological mistreatments, torments and damages listed in the legal demands enumerate the forms of oppression and exploitation to which children are exposed all over the world. One must read children's rights as just what they are, as verbal testimonies of the extremely brutal and ruthless treatment of children: If children's rights demand that children should live healthy lives and receive medical care when they are sick, that nobody may beat, harm or sexually abuse them, that they must be prevented from using addictive drugs and may not be denied social benefits, that they must be protected from exploitation, prostitution, child trafficking and recruitment as child soldiers, etc., then it is established that this is exactly what is done to them. Why should child rights activists also demand that all this cease and desist?
This still incomplete list already tells us something. First: Whoever demands such rights, which as one may note arise in the first place from the good intention to – at least – keep children away from all this, knows however at the same time that he did not have to dream up such abuse, but that he can take it from the really existing treatment of children, not only in the so-called “Third World,” but also from the treatment of children in the capitalist metropoles – including the US. Second, on closer inspection, these lists formulate, with all their good intentions, nothing out of the ordinary, express no special claims, but demand only what goes without saying. Actually, one would think that it would just be self-evident that medical care for children and protection from abuse and exploitation are something like the minimal level of a decent treatment of – not only – the young. Which is why thirdly one can be surprised that implementing them requires long and costly campaigns, international conferences with lengthy debates over the wording of the articles of protection, and requires intervention by state powers so that these concerns – well, what exactly: are enforced, get attention, achieve legal status ...? It must therefore fourthly be concluded that the treatment of children being demanded is anything but self-evident; rather, it is obvious that allowing children to be treated in such ways counts in many countries as “moral” and customary practice, if not political, military or economic necessities; to turn them into child laborers, child soldiers, child prostitutes, not just to withhold everything children need for a reasonably decent upbringing but to unceremoniously send them off to slaughter as lively and fresh material for pernicious social purposes, often with emotional or physical deformity or loss of life as consequences.
2. Much of this can also be shown in the way that children are treated in this country. But that's not all.
Certainly, in the formulation of some rights for children as they appear in the children's rights charters, one charges in this country through an open door. Here, violence against children and infanticide, sexual abuse and child exploitation, child neglect and selling drugs, tobacco and alcohol to minors are punishable offenses; nor may one sell children or force them into prostitution, turn them into dealers or pickpockets. Which, as said, points out that there are also reasons in a civilized democracy to formulate these as criminal offenses. They once again point out nothing else than that here too such treatment of children happens and that one is not dealing with isolated facts – otherwise one would not have to ban all this. A glance at the newspapers also shows that every imaginable nasty and vile treatment of children by adults is a common occurrence in this country.
But, in addition, there are in this country a whole range of harms to children that are by no means illegal: first – the issue of child poverty is quite openly announced. Official statistics calculate that 21.6% of all children in the US are categorized as living in “child poverty,” i.e. even according to the extremely problematic standards of the Census Bureau and poverty research, they grow up in circumstances in which such things as sufficient, regular meals, adequate clothing and satisfactory housing conditions are not met. These statistics show at once, when they report that the parents are low income or single parents with precarious jobs, that child poverty does not fall from the sky, but is the “byproduct” of adult poverty. A popular conversation topic on television – secondly – presents a form of damage which is seen as the product of “broken homes”: child neglect. “Supernanny” shows audiences how “overwhelmed” parents with “poor educations” give in to their children who have quickly turned into real creeps to whom vandalism, grip over their parent's pocketbooks, violence against parents and ignorance of the necessary rules for family life are completely natural. It is of course no coincidence that harm to children – third – continues in school. Far from being seen as a scandal, schooling in this country is organized as a sorting mechanism to exclude the majority of the young from continuing education. This systematically pursued dulling of children's minds, genteely called “lack of education” – according to the 2002 National Assessment of Educational Progress, 26% of 12th graders cannot read at the basic level – becomes an issue only if the US takes a back seat in international education rankings or the sorting of children too obviously disgraces any ideals about equal opportunities. Fourth, for good measure, an approved and medically sanctioned specific drug use is increasingly common during school hours. The prescription of Ritalin for children who are quickly diagnosed with ADHD if they lack the compulsory attention and willingness to submit in school is considered almost necessary for education. Children are thus tranquilized – in school and at home. Side effects such as weight loss and apathy are accepted. Dropouts can forget about a later career in the capitalist world of work and rely on government assistance, extended families or careers as petty criminals, experiencing – fifth – school disqualification still in – official – childhood as entry into lifelong material deprivation, i.e. as the prospect of following in the footsteps of their parents. Also child labor is permitted – sixth – in this country in so far as it complies with the law. This permits people to work at age 12 because the definition of childhood undercuts that of UNICEF by about six years. Finally, it is still permitted – seventh – to deport the children of poor people who have not shared in the blessings of American birth to a “homeland” that their parents fled with good reason. And ultimately – eighth – the military version of infanticide known as “collateral damage” is likewise not a criminal offense. The “innocent victims from civilian life” are indeed regularly – like in the recent bombings of Pakistan – officially “regretted,” but our leaders are clear that in war you can't make an omelet without breaking a few eggs. And how should “our boys in Afghanistan” distinguish between “innocent children” and the civilian-masked child soldiers of the Taliban?!
In this society, there are no bans on these treatments of children with all their tough, harmful and stupefying circumstances and hopeless prospects. They are just part of class society. It needs people held in poverty for the nation's growth and young people who then grow up in the corresponding proportions. Parts of them will then be dismissed already at a young age into useless poverty while others are allowed, along with their immigrant colleagues, to try to earn an income in jobs to which their “poor education” is not an obstacle. The program of increasing people's impoverishment is consequently the ultimate reason for the harms to children and adolescents enumerated here, and this program in itself is never disturbing, but always only its consequences for the law and order of the nation – as will be explained in more detail shortly.
3. But that's not all: There's good reason to ask what position the democratic state takes to the nation's younger generation as a whole. Concern for “the child” reveals that another welfare is in mind when the “welfare of the child” is spoken of; it sticks in one's craw, especially when its supporters, such as the Children's Defense Fund, make “investing in America's children = investing in America's future” an argument for children's rights.
If the USA has signed (if not ratified) the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, in which the “commitment to the welfare of the child” has a high importance, then that is fitting in this way: The welfare of children matters, but only and only insofar as they will then be in a position to meet their future role as the load-bearing part of the people in democratic capitalism. That's the only reason they shouldn't be worn out and rendered useless too early, i.e. as children – at least not in too large numbers. Consequently, their welfare means this: they have to be made into “mature citizens” by the family and school and qualify for the jobs in demand, i.e. they must be prepared mentally, morally and physically, out of their free will – thus without a guardian – for the various positions in the society, as teachers and storekeepers, as professors and hairdressers, as housewives and soldiers, as head physicians and clerks to perform their services for the success of the global project “USA.” And that includes that later, when they grow up, pretty much everything can be done with them that they should be spared as children in this country: they may be exploited and “may” sell themselves for their entire lives as labor power – including all its ruinous consequences. This variant of human trafficking is considered, as everybody knows, a quality seal of the market economy. Adults may drink, smoke and take drugs to try to compensate for the results of poverty. Their mental brutalization, vigorously promoted by the press, radio and TV, is desired, especially if they become soldiers – something they are also allowed to do; but it is also suitable for enduring 40 years of factory work. Mature, socialized adults are expected to cope with and endure all this; and indeed in that exact amount which is needed here as useful people. None of what children should be spared applies to the child; it applies rather to his role which he later has to cope with as an adult in capitalism. That's because anyone who is broken as a child is no longer useful as an adult for serving the state and its financial power. That sums up the whole difference between children and adults in this country. An action alliance to protect adults from exploitation and abuse, from wars and narcotic drugs, etc. does not occur to children's rights activists, in their narrow-mindedness.
That's why it annoys politicians if parts of the younger generation show a lack respect for parents and officials, become petty criminals, band together in gangs, etc., if they thus, measured against the expectations of them, get out of hand. And for the politicians it turns into a national crisis if Americans do not look after the turning out of the younger generation. Thus everything that annoys politicians about the turning out of the young is nothing but the result of their own political-economic doing: one can't afford to raise one's children because of a lack of money; and then the “brats” are only a disturbance; a fate shared by many children of poor people. And that's how a large part of them then behave – in the family, on the street, at school.
4. And children's rights should help against all this? Is not the reminder that the UN endorsed its children's rights convention 20 years ago, years in which the situation of children worldwide has not changed for the better, proof enough that completely false expectations are attached to such campaigns? Certainly, the child right's movement should not be reproached for this as its failure. Failure, as everybody knows, can have many reasons, but here it is assumed that child rights activism is in fact characterized by efforts to implement secure material and mental improvements for children. But exactly this is not provided to children by rights. Children do not need rights, but proper nutrition, clothing and shelter, a space to play and a good education, along with the perspective that they do not have to aim their lives later as adults as useful or useless servants to the wealth of others. Rights do not provide and protect against all this – neither their “protection,” “provision” or “participation,” as the credo of the advocates of children's rights say.
The children's rights activists are in fact wrong – in more ways than one. For one thing, they are pretty childish themselves. They do not seriously and consistently ask about the causes of all the child “abuses”; neither those which are considered as such, and certainly not those damages that, desired or tolerated, are part of the social life of children in class society. Instead, this list of incriminated mistreatments only undergoes a reversal from negative into positive: what destroys children should not be. Like the stubborn toddler who thinks that by stamping his foot on the floor the world will be at his service, good is wished for against evil. And as a means to award effectiveness to these pious wishes that ignore causes, the activists for children's welfare – in this they are no longer childish, but well educated – for the second thing only demand rights and their anchoring in law. Expressing an interest in improving the situation of children, considering and providing the means for enforcing it against the existing resistance – all this, by the way, is something adults should do, not kids – is not what motivates them. They have mixed up the difference between the need and the interest that one has and the right that the higher authority permits. Only that which is granted as a right, what one may do, is ok. To insist on one's own well-founded interest is regarded in this country as crass egotism; the relativitizing of all interests in what is permissible is the prevailing stance people take towards their own desires and goals in life. For a third thing, a right is not to be confused with material security and not even with the guarantee of that which will be granted as a right. How does one stand with the UN's most fundamental of all rights, the right to free development of personality? Free pursuit is ensured, but the objectively necessary conditions for it are far from ensured. And certainly not its success; that simply depends on whether in pursuing it one can rely on the resources that are necessary for one's well-being. What one can do with rights is consequently nothing but a question of the state-protected distribution of wealth in class society. Therefore, the activism of the children's advocates is subservient because it calculates that the same state power that organizes or permits all the well-illustrated bad experiences of children in this country will bring about the expected change for the better by the granting of rights. Once again, in different words: Have, e.g., the rights signed into law about the inviolability of the person and protection of private property ever changed anything about rapes, beatings and murder, theft and robbery still being on the agenda of many of our contemporaries? No way! That none of this is permitted by the state simply points out – one can not emphasize this often enough – all this happens every day and are ways people deal with each other in a society characterized by deep conflicts and a tooth and nail competition. The special quality of rights consists in the fact that one may sue as a private person against violations of one's rights, and indeed after they have happened. Is that what children's rights advocates want? Do they really want to argue before the court with the legal representatives of the state about what is really in this country to the benefit of a child if he has already been beaten and abused, thus the child – almost in the truest sense of the word – has already fallen down the well? And when at last – fourthly – it is demanded that every child should have a right to education, health and freedom, then a closer look at the prevailing education and health systems, as well as freedom of speech in practice, could clarify that these rights are nothing but obligations to that school system that makes so many young students illiterate and to that health care system that lets so many go untreated for disease because they can't afford it and that takes into consideration only the welfare of the hospitals. And it is also very questionable whether it is an achievement that anyone who has cause for complaint should be content that he may speak it freely and indeed without any changes in what he complains about. The content of the demanded rights is simply not up to the free, imaginative and well-intentioned formulations of the children's rights activists. Where they ask the state to please grant children rights, it either does or doesn't always for its own reasons, in which children – as said – appear somewhat differently than in the dream world of children's rights.
5. What would be good for children doesn't go for either side, the children's rights activists or those from whom they demand rights. The former want only to protect the “child” as a legal status recognized by the state, completely indifferent to the real status a child experiences in the national recruitment policy, and totally indifferent to the question what that really does to children. The latter, the politicians, alone have the problem to what extent their policy of maintaining world power entails “collateral damage” inside the country for the raising and turning out of a new generation, which could interfere with the domestication of the young into free and mature citizens. But one thing must also be grasped: they do not see it as a very serious problem. They have more pressing issues to solve at home and abroad, issues of war and peace, crisis and growth. And they are quite sure that they will succeed with the appropriate use of good adults drawn from former children of all classes and layers.
[Arguments taken from an essay by Freerk Huisken]