Respecting a Child's Point of View
Kids would rather play than pray
by Perry Bulwer
“This post is part of a series inspired by the Prevent Abuse of Children Today (PACT) campaign, hosted by Stepping Stones Nigeria. Please add your name to the PACT petition to prevent abuse of innocent children in the Niger Delta and visit the site to find out more: www.makeapact.org
An Australian professor of child and family health nursing, Cathrine Fowler, caused a minor controversy this past August when she suggested that sitting babies faced forward in pushchairs or carrying them in slings in that position is selfish, may stunt their development and causes unnecessary stress which can turn them into anxious adults. She said: "In not considering our baby’s perspective, we are inadvertently quite cruel to children."
That insight goes far beyond the practical question of how best to push or carry a baby, and into the legal territory of the 'best interests of the child' standard, which is the guiding principle of the Convention on the Rights of the Child (the Convention). It is important to keep in mind that the best interest of a child is also the best interest of the adult that child will become, so that standard protects not just children, but adults as well. If an inadvertent failure to consider a child's point of view can cause harm in such a pedestrian matter as the correct position to carry them, then far greater harm, even death, can be caused by parents who deliberately act to subsume their child's rights and perspective. And that is exactly what religious parents do when they indoctrinate their children so that they conform to their beliefs. Indoctrinating children into one religion before they are capable of making their own free and informed decision whether to believe or not is a direct denial of their human rights. Protecting the right to religious freedom for children, which includes freedom from religion, is one of the best ways to protect that right for adults.
All children are born atheists. If allowed to develop without having a belief system imposed on them through constantly reinforced direct and/or cultural indoctrination, most children eventually reach the stage where they abandon belief in fantastical figures. Given the time of year I'm writing this, Santa Claus is a perfect example of that, and belief in God would follow that pattern too if children were free to grapple with belief in the supernatural on their own without interference from dogmatic adults. Unfortunately, most children in the world are not allowed to exercise their inherent human right to develop free from religious impositions. However, I am certain that if given a free choice unhindered by dogma or superstition, all children would prefer playing to praying.
Kids just want to have fun and be happy, which is their right recognized in Article 31 of the Convention:
1. States Parties recognize the right of the child to rest and leisure, to engage in play and recreational activities appropriate to the age of the child and to participate freely in cultural life and the arts.
2. States Parties shall respect and promote the right of the child to participate fully in cultural and artistic life and shall encourage the provision of appropriate and equal opportunities for cultural, artistic, recreational and leisure activity.
Many children never get the chance to play and have fun, however, let alone enjoy their own right to religious freedom. The unlucky ones are burdened with supernatural religious beliefs, either imposed on them or targeted against them. In extreme cases, children who have religion forced on them are denied even the most simple childhood pleasures. Some are forced to become adults before their time. Parents indoctrinate them with their own beliefs that forbid playing with toys or riding bikes, or deny educational opportunities, or worst of all reject medical care; religious groups target them for unethical proselytising or exorcisms; and child-traffickers abduct, maim and murder them for body parts used in witchcraft rituals.
I recently wrote an article arguing that corporal punishment by parents is an abuse of authority and an infringement of children's rights. In the course of that argument, I touched on the issue of a child's right to religious freedom. It is an important point that is worth repeating over and over, because although all countries except for the United States and Somalia have ratified the Convention, the denial of religious freedom for children is still rampant around the world. Here is what I recently wrote about Article 14 of the Convention, which sets out a child's right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion:
Article 14 is crucial for establishing the proper balance between parental and children's rights. Clearly, children have the right to freely form their own thoughts and conscience, and choose their own religious beliefs, or none. After all, freedom of religion for children, and for adults, would be no freedom at all if it did not include the right to be free from religion. Since parents also have the right to the same freedoms, it is inevitable that conflicts between those rights will arise. As it must and does throughout, the Convention sides with children. Sub-section 2 clearly states that the rights and duties of parents in this regard must not be directed towards protecting their own freedoms, but towards ensuring their children are able to exercise their personal religious rights in accordance with their evolving capacities. Anticipating objections from parents who only read the first few words in sub-section 2 and insist that their own religious freedom gives them a right to indoctrinate their children, sub-section 3 clarifies that the right to religious freedom is not absolute. A parent's right to religious freedom does not give them the right to deny that same freedom to their child, regardless of the child's age. Or, as the U.S. Supreme Court famously said: "Parents may be free to become martyrs themselves. But it does not follow they are free, in identical circumstances, to make martyrs of their children before they have reached the age of full and legal discretion when they can make that choice for themselves."
That quotation also touches on the principle of the "evolving capacities of the child" as well as the concept of a child's right to an open future. That is a right that is not specifically set out in the Convention, but is implied in this Article and elsewhere. After all, if a parent makes an irreversible religious decision on behalf of their child, such as to rely on faith alone and refuse necessary medical treatment and the child dies, then that child has no future at all. Circumcision of both boys and girls is another common example of a religious decision made by parents that causes irreversible harm to children. But even where death or injury does not occur, a child's right to an open future can still be easily denied them through indoctrination that cuts off their capacity for critical thinking and ability to freely form their own thoughts, conscience and beliefs.
If a child is indoctrinated into a particular religious dogma by authoritarian parents from the earliest age, their right to freedom of expression and information denied through restrictive, narrow-minded 'education', and they are unaware of the full extent of their human rights, it becomes impossible for them to exercise those rights, either as a child or later as an adult. I have encountered countless believers who are so unaware of their own rights that they insist that religious freedom does not include the right to be free from religion. But if the right to freedom of religion has any meaning at all, it must mean that everyone, including children, is free to choose their own religious beliefs or none. When that freedom is denied to a child, it is also denied to the adult that child will become. Protecting a person's rights while they are a child is the only to way to protect that person's rights once they are an adult. That's what a child's right to an open future means, reaching adulthood with their capacity to exercise all their rights still intact. Protecting the full range of children's rights protects human rights for everyone.
Imagine, John Lennon exhorted, a world where there is no religion to kill or die for. That would be a world where all children were truly free to be children -- to play, laugh and have fun without fear or threat.
|A child is forced to be a Hindu|
|A child is forced to be a Jew|
|A child is forced to be a Buddhist|
|A child is forced to be a Zoroastran|
|A child is forced to be a Sikh|
|A child is forced to be a Mormon|
|A child is forced to be a Muslim|
|A child is forced to be a Scientologist|
|A child is forced to be a Christian|
|A father tortures his child as a witch|