Posts Tagged ‘protecting children’

William Saletan atSlate always has these big pseudo-scientific questions that he thinks are deeply thought-provoking but are actually pretty schmeh.

For example, he has a long-standing (and probably wrong) hypothesis about race-linked intelligence. (I have previously noted the goofiness of this “scientific” discovery here.)

Now Slate has two stories about a study finding that children of gay parents at a time when being gay and having children was/is maligned can be stressful and difficult. That’s pretty understandable. Saletan’s take is probably more line with mine in that he thinks it still proves gay marriage is a good outcome (two parents, loving household, financial support, etc.). Still, he takes the study as methodologically sound (some criticisms here).

That said, let’s presume, for the sake of argument, that the study is right and two same-sex parents are actually in fact worse for the child than two opposite-parent biological parents. So what? Lots of children are raised in households without two opposite-sex biological parents; couldn’t a two-parent same-sex household still be better than, say, single parents? Couldn’t some alternate arrangement (let’s say, oh I don’t know, three parents in a household, or a two-parent biological household with grandparents in the home to provide childcare) provide even better results than the two-parent biological household? Should the government or society encourage such behaviors? Maybe, but maybe not. Attacking the “worst” child-rearing environments probably yields the most returns for society; certainly two-parent same-sex households are better than, say, institutional housing or constantly shifting foster care. Since there is high demand for same-sex households to have children, maybe we should be encouraging lots of adoption by any combination of two-parent households.

My point is that much like any presumed difference in intelligence between races (which, as I’ve noted, is probably wrong on its face anyways), the difference between a two-parent same-sex financially-supported household and a two-parent opposite-sex financially-supported household is probably so marginal that the policy implications are nil compared to the differences between a two-parent household and a no-parent household, or a two-parent household and an institutional care facility, or the difference between a poor family and a rich family.

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Amanda Marcotte has a thought-provoking post about anti-vaccination parents, but her formulation of the problem highlights a problem with “children’s rights” as we have constructed them in the contemporary sense:

Obviously, this is not about children’s rights. The children’s rights are being violated by their parents, who believe their right to use their children as symbols to prove their piety trumps their children’s right to health.

But to whom to these children’s rights inhere? That is to say, are children to be protected from their parents by the state? Or are they to be protected by their parents from the state?

Consider some of the core examples of what we consider children’s rights. Child labor, for instance, is not permissible, but we permit it in many family businesses. In some sense, the state wants to protect children from their parents (who would put them to work or accept exploitation by others). Yet, the state doesn’t want to impose unnecessary burdens on parenting (or on children themselves, who might want to help their family out in the business).

Or consider the famous case of Tinker v. Des Moines School District, where children were found to have free speech rights in school after coming to school wearing black armbands to protest the Vietnam War. The Tinker kids’ parents both supported their decision and were noted area peace activists. Would the children have been protesting at all had their parents not been part of the peace movement? Or, more importantly, would the children’s parents have brought suit for them (as next friends, as necessary in court for minors) if they disagreed with them?

If we envision children’s rights as the state protecting children from their parents (or other adults through increased penalties for crimes against children, for example), then Marcotte is correct and children need vaccinations to protect them from their moronic parents. (And they are morons, for the record.) But if we envision children’s rights as parents protecting their children from an encroaching state (like Tinker!), then the vaccine-fearing parents, wrong though they may be, are asserting a vision of children’s rights that is not altogether insane.

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Just as films will try to generate suspense by putting a child in danger, proponents of new criminal laws will often tack on the name of a recently dead child. We famously have Megan’s Law, Amber’s Law (eventually to become AMBER Alert), Adam’s Law (eventually to become the Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act), and Jessica’s Law.

And yet, these laws vary from marginally effective (AMBER Alerts) to severely limiting (sex offender registry in Megan’s Law).

Now, here comes Caylee’s Law, named for Casey Anthony’s daughter Caylee, which makes it a felony for a parent to not report a child’s death within 24 hours. The proposal has already picked up tons of petition signatures and public support, but it doesn’t take into account what its actual effects might be. When someone’s child dies, the range of grieving varies greatly. A parent’s desire to conceal their child’s death — however deluded — should probably not constitute a felony in and of itself. Magical thinking is often associated with grieving families, and time-of-death is a notoriously unreliable figure. How many Casey Anthonys would be punished, weighed against how many other confused, grieving parents who failed to submit the proper notification?

Generally, I think we should be very hesitant to jump on the bandwagon of bills named after dead children. The framing of “protecting children” becomes so blinding that few will ever question the efficacy or justice behind such laws.

Take state-run sex offender registries, for instance. It’s easy, in the aftermath of a gruesome and evil act, to say that this could have all been prevented if the parents had a sex offender registry. Unfortunately, such guidelines require registration for almost all sex-related offenses, including relatively minor ones like a 16-year-old sending a picture of his dick or an 18-year-old having consensual sex with his 16-year-old girlfriend in an age-17 consent state. The Adam Walsh law also permits states to go through with civil commitment statutes, that require sex offenders to be institutionalized after their sentences are complete. Pedophilia and sex offenses committed against minors are horrific, but simply turning sex offenders into outcasts who live (literally) under a bridge probably doesn’t do much to stop their ability to be a repeat offender.

By using a dead child’s name, the hysteria surrounding child sex abuse allows for massive increases in punishment and often little to no opportunity to gauge their effectiveness. What positive effect do these laws actually produce? The evidence is pretty slim.

Proponents will argue that even if the bill saves one child’s life, it will be worth it, but it’s doubtful how many lives would actually be saved at the expense of so many other lives affected. Obviously, laws should respond to real-world events, but it’s irresponsible to demand drastic changes in law and punishment on the basis of one tragedy, without a broader basis in systematic fact.

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