U.N.'s "rights of the child": undermining parental authority.
Sometimes parents, in their efforts to educate their children with as little state interference as possible, can get caught up in fending off minor irritations which keep cropping up, and lose sight of the bigger picture. They may be totally unaware of the impact which the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child will have on their families. The language of the Convention makes it seem sincerely concerned with ensuring that children and their families achieve their rights. But anyone involved with the pro-life or educational scene can recognise its language for what it is -- an attempt to undermine parental authority, while giving the illusion of defending children. The authority given to parents by God to raise their children is now usurped by the state. As Michael O'Brien warns in his little book The Family and the New Totalitarianism, unless we recognise the state's increasing encroachment we will succumb to totalitarianism without even knowing that we have done so.
How the Convention was Adopted
A Declaration on the Rights of the Child adopted by the U.N. in 1959 listed ten principles which would ensure that children were cared for, particularly in the areas of health, physical safety, and education. Parents were recognized as having primary responsibility for their children's welfare. Article 7 read: "The best interests of the child shall be the guiding principle of those responsible for his education and guidance; that responsibility lies in the first place with his parents."
The Convention drafted thirty years later, in 1989, however, lists no fewer than 54 articles. These detailed the rights of the child, and the procedures to ensure compliance by nations ratifying the document. Each signing country must ratify the convention and then adjust its own laws to comply with it. It must also submit reports, within two years of ratification and then every five years thereafter, to a U.N. committee composed of ten experts of "high moral standing," on its progress in bringing children's rights into force.
Canada ratified the agreement in December 1991, without the unanimous consent by the provinces which it was supposed to have: Alberta refused its consent. This signing and ratification took place without the consent of Parliament and without public debate. So an international treaty defining rights for children, brought in without public debate, is supposed to be the measure by which the rights of children in Canada are decided.
Many of the articles may have very troubling consequences for parents. Article 12, for example, gives the child capable of forming his own views the right to express them freely, and to be heard in any judicial or administrative proceedings affecting him. Suppose some children decide that homeschooling is not to their liking; not only have they the right to express their views to their parents, but they can bring their complaints to state agents who can steer them through the steps to end this form of education for them--no matter what their parents say.
Article 13 gives the child the right to freedom of expression, including the freedom to receive and impart information in any medium of his choice, with due regard for the rights and reputations of others and for the protection of public order. So parents are not to be the arbiters of what is suitable or unsuitable information for their children. The implications of this article for parents is enormous. How many parents are educating their children at home because of unsuitable information being given to their children--in the areas of sex education, religion, values education, etc.--in the schools?
At the Human Life International conference in 1993, Charles Francis pointed out that this article "will make it impossible for parents to resist the exposure of their children in schools and elsewhere to material which many parents may legitimately find objectionable on religious, moral or other grounds." Ted Byfield of Alberta Report asked whether any of Canada's provincial premiers had really read what they signed: "taken at its face value (Article 13) means that the father who confiscates a pornographic magazine from his son, or a mother who orders a daughter not to listen to `2 Live Crew' has therewith violated the child's right."
Article 14 carries on the same idea: parties are to respect the right of the child to freedom of thought, conscience, and religion. While the parents are graciously allowed to provide `direction' to the child in these matters, they are unable to `prohibit' the child from pursuing other religions under this provision. According to Dr. James Dobson of Focus on the Family, "the real freedom given by Article 14 is a freedom from any form of parental control..." Charles Francis points out that a relatively young child who wishes to join some fringe religious sect, or an adolescent who wants to associate with a satanic cult, may do so: the parents would have the right to advise, but not necessarily any right to intervene.
Article 15 recognizes the rights of the child to freedom of association and of peaceful assembly. No restrictions may be placed on the exercise of these rights other than those imposed in conformity with the law, and which are necessary in a democratic society in the interests of national security, public order, and so on. Parents have always recognised the danger that bad company poses to their children's faith, morals, and safety. Now we are told that the only restrictions that may be placed are those necessary in the interests of national security, public safety, and public health. One would like to think that this allows parents to protect their children from homosexual groups and activists--but the state has no problem with homosexuality.
Many other articles take the same direction. Article 16 says that no child shall be subjected to arbitrary or unlawful interference with his privacy. Western Report says that in B.C. the Convention was "cited as a rationale for amending the B.C. Infants Act to allow minor children to make medical decisions without parental approval." Article 17 ensures the child access to the mass media, so that one might wonder whether parents who refuse to have a television, to let their children listen to some radio stations, or even refuse to get the daily newspaper are in violation of this provision. For home educators, our freedom to choose what our children will be exposed to in the media is seriously eroded by this clause.
As Canada's laws are changed to bring them into line with the Convention, we may expect that homschooling parents are going to be subjected to demands to incorporate the U.N. agenda into the curriculum. According to Western Report, National Film board Director Therese Deary received $4,000,000 to develop a series to teach children the U.N. message that "education and political action solve everything" and to make children aware of how their rights may be violated.
* promote "family planning education and services," meaning contraception, sex education, and abortion;
* promote indoctrination by state schools;
* forbid corporal punishment;
* make public education and school attendance compulsory (which could be used to forbid homeschooling).
Implementation of the Convention
A year after the U.N. adopted the Convention on the Rights of the Child (1989), it hosted the World Summit for Children, which was chaired by then Prime Minister Brian Mulroney. Canada launched its response to the Summit via the Brighter Futures Initiative under the auspices of the Children's Bureau. (Yes, we have a Children's Bureau in Canada!) Brighter Futures is Canada's action plan for children and it involves a series of steps toward "achieving a better tomorrow for Canada's children." In May 1992, for example, a Child Development Initiative was launched; this was a five-year program with a $500-million budget to address conditions threatening the health and well-being of children. One project was the development of a national database on the characteristics and experiences of Canadian children, ostensibly to understand the problem of youth crime.
Another was the compilation of a profile on the health of Canada's children. One statement says, "Many children have mental health problems that have been identified clinically, or they express feelings of discouragement and melancholy." On that basis many of us can be considered to have mental problems! A strategy to help children feel competent to deal with the developmental challenges that face them is "to re-orient health, social and educational services so that they are integrated at the community level--with the intention that the school system becomes the community home for children."
It goes on and on. We have barely scratched the surface with regard to the Convention and the legislation and programmes it has spawned and the implications for parental autonomy. Barbara Johnson of the Alberta Federation of Women United for Families (AFWUF) sums it up neatly in an article on the U.N. Convention, "Fracturing the Family":
"The danger of the Convention is posed by the fact that it portrays the state as the protector of children, and the arbiter of how a child should be raised. In pre-emptying this role from the parents, it will inevitably result in weakening the family unit further, and thereby doing untold harm to the children it purports to be advocating for. For, in the end, the only real chance a child has to grow up safe and whole, to live and grow and learn and find happiness, is to be raised in a strong family."
Additional note on corporal punishment
Articles 28 and 29 create the following three concerns:
1. Public education and school attendance would be compulsory.
2. Schools would be forced to adopt "national curricula" (which, for example, could well prohibit any teaching contrary to feminist or gay-lesbian dogma).
3. Corporal punishment is forbidden.
Here it should be noted that "the spanking prohibition does not only apply to schools but also to parents, legal guardians, or any other person who has care of the child." Currently, Great Britain is being called to task by the U.N. for violating the Convention, because Britain allows private schools to spank students and because parents are allowed to chastize their own children in their home.
The Convention is also being used as grounds to make spanking illegal here in Canada. As has been pointed out, in Western Report (July 14, 1994) "a B.C. group pressing for the elimination of corporal punishment contends that Section 43 of the Canadian Criminal Code, which permits parents to use reasonable force as a way of correction, contravenes Article 19 of the convention." Ted Byfield also reports that the Convention is being used to argue against any further toughening of the Young Offenders Act. It is interesting to note that the CCRC (the Canadian Coalition for the Rights of Children), a lobby group established in 1989, is also heavily involved in these endeavours. According to Mr. Byfield, "the CCRC is an umbrella group of about 50 largely left-wing organizations from Planned Parenthood Federation of Canada and the Canadian Association of Social Workers to the Canadian Teachers Federation." As of August 1994, "the CCRC has been given a blank cheque for four years to fund projects it deems worthy across Canada." One of these projects "was its own lobbying effort to abolish parents' right to spank their children" and to call for a review of Section 43 in light of the Convention.
Make no mistake, however, the issue here is not really that of `spanking', but is another red herring to divert the public's attention away from the erosion of family autonomy and parental authority.
The above article is a shortened version of an address to the Catholic Home Schoolers' Association, Ottawa, 11 May 1996. Myriam Doylend and her husband are the parents of nine children.
Editor's note: It may now be somewhat clearer to readers why we attached a little note to the article "Ontario Catholic Schools are worth saving" (noting that an appeal has been launched with the U.N. Human Rights Commission in Geneva objecting to Catholic public schools, June 1997, pp. 67).
Editor: The anti-family lobby is very worried that opposition to the U.N. parental rights legislation may grow. Hence the following item from Open File, June 1996, the monthly bulletin of IPPF (International Planned Parenthood Federation).
Minors' reproductive health care threatened
`Parental rights' legislation, which has been proposed at US federal and state levels, is a threat to minors' access to reproductive health care, says the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).
Parental rights bills give parents grounds on which they can sue government entities, such as school boards and other state agencies, for violating their right to "direct the unbringing and education" of their children.
Some state bills, by requiring parental notification or consent, would limit minors' access to sexuality education, birth control and AIDS prevention services; testing and treatment for sexually transmitted diseases (STDs); pregnancy testing; prenatal care; and abortion services, says ACLU.
The Federal "Parental Rights and Responsibilities Act" is being promoted by anti-choice organizations and individuals including the Christian Coalition, Focus on the Family, concerned Women for America and Phyllis Schlafly's Eagle Forum.
(Action Pak, April 1996)