The Irish Times – Friday, November 2, 2012
Say ‘No’ to children’s amendment to protect society
The proposal attacks the very molecule of society, the unit group out of which the health of the whole emanates
‘THOUGH SELFLESSNESS and devotion towards children may easily be found in other persons, it is the experience of mankind over millennia that they are very generally found in natural parents, in a form so disinterested that in the event of conflict the interest of the child will usually be preferred.” – Mr Justice Adrian Hardiman, Supreme Court judgment in the Baby Ann case.
When we speak about “rights” in our culture, we almost invariably have instantly in mind an individualised notion of such entities. But individual rights are just one kind, and by no means the most socially useful. You might say that individual rights represent simply the loose ends of modern social organisation, ensuring that the management of society and the dispensation of cohesive energies – as well as quantities such as justice and fairness – are more equally ordered.
But individualised rights are crude instruments. They tend to be exercised, for example, in opposition to other forms of rights, or the individualised rights of others, and to be asserted in an unhealthily adversarial process. Individualised rights – or the struggles to achieve them – imply that, once achieved, these rights will fall within the ambit of the individual concerned and may be exercised by him or her in a process of permanent negotiation with others who are endowed in a similar or equivalent way.
It becomes clear from this basic understanding that such rights cannot be exercised effectively by children, who are ontologically and, in lesser respects, dependent on their parents.
Other than under certain fundamental categories – such as the right to life, food, shelter, developmental needs, freedom from oppression or abuse etc – to “give” individual rights to children implies that such rights must be implemented on their behalf by some other party who must interpret the wishes, desires and intentions of these children and seek to vindicate them.
If these functions are not to be exercised by parents – as nature decrees – they will be exercised by the State (or some agency fronting up for the State) – in many instances against the parents, who will be, in effect, placed on trial by the State in the names of their own children.
There are certain rights which are self-evidently beneficial for adults – for example, access to information and ideas, the right to privacy – which would in certain instances and circumstances be inappropriately extended to children.
Among the functions of parents is to protect children from potentially negative consequences of their own innocence. Clearly, to set up a situation whereby a parent seeking to protect his or her child from such consequences could be confronted by the State purporting to represent the child’s “rights”, is potentially destructive of the family’s cohesion and also endangering of the child’s true interests. This is among the appalling vistas the so-called children’s rights amendment unleashes for Irish families, regardless of functionality or devotion.
Article 41 of the Constitution outlines an understanding of rights so removed from the individualised kind as to amount to a separate category. Although they are called “rights” in the Constitution, the term may be misleading by virtue of the confusion created in modern culture by the ubiquity of discussion of the individualised variety.
We tend to forget, having disastrously come to take such things for granted, that among the primary aims of the Constitution is to set down the stabilising values and constructs of a functional society.
This, fundamentally, is the purpose of article 41, which, apart from the guarantees it offers to families, also pursues the cohesion of society by affirming the family as the “fundamental unit group of society”, as “the necessary basis for social order” and as “indispensable to the welfare of the Nation and the State”.
In terms of the internal dynamic of the (as it were) individual family, article 41 acknowledges the complex nature of family life, which manifests many characteristics and qualities that cannot be accounted under the heading of “individual rights”. These include: love, affection, devotion, duty, responsibility, dependence, fragility, protectiveness.
Not only is it impossible to deal with such complexity in the context of an individualised dispensation of rights, but the idea of imposing an individualised interpretation of rights on such a construct is abhorrent to the very nature of what is being pursued.
To propose that these individualised rights be prosecuted by the State – an entity incapable of love or devotion, which has displayed gross incompetence and inadequacy in the execution of its existing responsibilities and duties towards children – is to misappropriate the innocence, vulnerability and dependence of children, transforming these qualities into an enhanced form of State power, to be used against those who, in all but a sorry handful of cases, love children most of all.
This is monstrous in human terms. In societal terms, it is doubly disastrous, because it attacks the very molecule of the society, the unit group out of which the health of the whole emanates and coheres.
It is fundamentally for these reasons that the 31st amendment to the Constitution must be rejected by anyone who values the core cohesion of our society, the continued security and serenity of its fundamental unit groups and the freedoms of its citizens.