Bill of Rights for Children
Introduction to an article in Student Lawyer by Henry H. Foster and Doris Jonas Freed, Oct. '73. Vol. 2 No. 2. Available from the Law Student Division of the American Bar Assn., 1155 E. 60 th St., Chicago, Ill 60637

Children are persons and the law should recognize that fact, although it will take some doing. The status of minority is the last legal relic of feudalism and the arguments for and against perpetuation of that status have a familiar ring. In good measure they are the same arguments that were advanced over the issues of slavery and the emancipation of women.

The liberation movements of the past hundred or more years have succeeded in establishing the principal, earlier proclaimed in the Declaration of Independence, that there is a moral right to be regarded as a human being and not be treated as a thing. Gradually this moral principal is being implemented into law.

It is curious that parents, judges, police and teachers in their relations to children, often behave in authoritarian fashion, no matter how respectful they may be in coping with adults. Lord Acton's famous maximum that power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely may have some relevance in this phenomenon. Children are scapegoats for adult frustrations. But the worst of it is hypocrisy -- a vice readily discernible to youth. They are specialists in discerning it. Hypocrisy, we say, because invariably adults dispense denials and punishments in terms of it's-for-your-own-good, no matter what the circumstances and in many cases where it is really a case of "might is right."

Authority carries with it added responsibility, and in the case of adults dealing with minors, there are obligations of fairness and empthy. The relative helplessness and lack of autonomy of children require self-restraint and legal checks on parental and other authority. Moreover, if children are persons, their points of view should be considered, adult decisions should always be reasoned, and children's true best interests should always be reckoned with in terms of reality rather than fantasy. In addition to love, children are entitled to respect.

The ideal for adult behavior does not carry with it the inference that, as persons, children are incapable of wrong conduct or should be immune from accountability for their actions. On the contrary, the more self-determination and responsibility accorded to minors, the greater their accountability. To stipulate a "Bill of Rights for Children" does not rid them of moral legal obligations but, on the contrary, is intended to enhance their sense of responsibility.

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