21 March 2011

What Are Children?

That seems to be a reasonable question in light of the following:
The two cases generally considered as establishing constitutional protection for parental rights are Meyer v. Nebraska (1923) and Pierce v. Society of Sisters (1925).  In the first case a Nebraska law prohibited schools from teaching a foreign language to students before eighth grade.  In the second Oregon passed a law requiring all students to attend public schools.  In both cases, the Court found the laws unconstitutional because they infringed on certain basic liberties all citizens have.
I’ve already shown how parenting is no concern of the federal government.  However, there is still the lingering question of how to best classify children as legal entities.

There are generally two approaches to this answer, at least from a legal standpoint.  Some argue that children should be classified as a type of property; others argue that children should be classified as a type of citizen.  Each argument has certain merits as well as limits.

Treating children strictly as citizens leads to the logical conclusion of holding them legally liable for their behavior.  Of course, this is undesirable if, for example, a ten-year-old child accidentally shoots and kills someone.  In this case, he would face, at the very least, a civil suit and possibly a legal suit.  Thus, this sort of approach is easily understood to have serious flaws.

On the other hand, treating children strictly as property leads to the logical outcome of parents terminating their child’s life without ever having to face legal repercussions.  The undesirability of this outcome is obvious.  Therefore, this approach is also easily understood to have serious flaws as well.

Thus, the question still remains:  What are children?  Are they property?  Are they citizens?  How should they be classified?

The answer to these questions strikes me as rather obvious:  children should be classified as (wait for it)…children.  By this, I simply mean that children should be classified as their own distinct legal category, and treated as such.  I also think it wise to rely on the traditional common law understanding of parental rights and children’s rights.  There are some instances where children are more directly comparable to property’ there are other times when children are more directly comparable to full-fledged citizens.  The law should be flexible in this area, and demonstrate wisdom and prudence at all times.  Maybe this way the issue of parental rights can be addressed properly.

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