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Do Children’s Rights Override Parental Rights?

What Would You Say?

You're in a conversation and someone says, “We have to respect the rights of children. No one, not even their parents, should be allowed to interfere with their sexual autonomy. We have to let them decide who they really are.” What would you say?   Children's rights are absolutely crucial, but does that mean parents shouldn't be able to direct their children’s education and medical care, or be informed about the choices they're making? Another way to ask this is do we have to choose between the rights of parents or the rights of children? No. The next time you're in a conversation and someone says that children’s rights conflict with parental rights, here are 3 things to remember.    Number 1: Children have rights, but they're frequently misunderstood.  Many people have only heard the term “children’s rights'' misused. It’s no wonder, when top-tier UN agencies including UNICEF, and the WHO and UNAIDS use the phrase to primarily promote the “sexual rights” of children. For example, some professionals argue that children have a “right” to harmful transgender treatments, even if their parents don’t agree. Some school districts hide a child’s transgender identity from their parents based on the very wobbly “right to privacy”.  But just because the term “children’s rights” has been misused doesn’t negate the reality that children have natural rights.  Natural rights spring from our nature as human beings, what we need as a human person, and what we owe other humans (which can be called justice). Natural rights exist independent of custom or legal convention. When we apply that natural law framework, we see that, indeed, children have rights. Number 2: Children have rights, including the right to life and the right to their mother and father.  Children’s primary natural rights are first, their right to life and second, their right to their own mother and father.  Despite the fact that these natural rights are addressed in the most widely ratified treaty in the world, the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, confusion persists. So when seeking to distinguish between genuine “natural rights” and “I want it so bad how is it not a right?” it’s helpful to apply the “Three Rules That Confirm a Right” test to determine whether this “right” shares the three qualities to which all rights conform.  
 First, a natural right is pre-government. It doesn't exist because of legislative or judicial decree, rather, the government exists to protect that natural right.   Second, no one has to provide a natural right. If someone has to bottle, package, ship and stock it, it’s not a natural right. Third, a natural right is distributed equally. If the quantity, size, or degree can vary -- a dorm room vs Mar-a-Lago, for example -- it’s not a natural right.  Children’s right to life clearly passes the “Three Rules That Confirm a Right” Test... in fact, it passes with flying colors. Life existed pre-government, life needs to be protected but not provided, and we all get the same allocation of life - just one.  A child’s right to her mother and father also passes the “Three Rules That Confirm a Right” Test.  It existed pre-government. Whether you are on Team Adam and Eve or Team Homo-erectus, children’s right to their parents are as “pre” as it comes.  No one has to provide parents to a child. If a child exists, their mother and father also exist. And, e veryone gets the same amount of parents - exactly two. Number 3: Children have rights, and they don't conflict with parental rights.  In natural law theory, rights correspond to duties and obligations. Parents have a natural moral duty or obligation to care for the children that they create. Because caring for children requires making decisions on their behalf, even at times when they disagree, parental authority flows from parental obligations. Parental rights protect that authority, enabling parents to fulfill their obligations in line with the dictates of their consciences. Those obligations have implications for the rights of children as well. As parental rights expert Melissa Moschella explains: "These obligations on the part of parents correlate to children’s absolute right raised by their biological parents.”  Think of it this way: We all understand that parents have a right to take their own newborn home from the hospital. Parents don’t want just any baby...they want their baby. And parents don’t have a right to just any baby... only their own. There is something distinct about the intimate, biological connection between the parents and that child. Well, guess what? That special, intimate, biological connection matters to the baby as well! The baby shouldn’t go home from the hospital with just any adults, she has a right to go home with her own mom and dad.  Children’s rights and parental rights are two sides of the same natural law coin. Thus, true children’s rights and parental rights don’t contradict one another, but reinforce one another. So the next time someone you’re talking about family and someone says “children have a right to be free of their parent’s authority” remember these 3 things:     Number 1: Children have rights, but they're frequently misunderstood.  Number 2: Children have rights, including the right to life and the right to their mother and father.  Number 3: Children have rights, and they don't conflict with parental rights.  For What Would You Say, I’m Katy Faust.

“Them Before Us: Why We Need a Global Children’s Rights Movement,” by Katy Faust and Stacy Manning


For more on how some professionals argue for children’s harmful transgender treatments despite parental objection, see: Maura Priest, “Transgender Children and the Right to Transition: Medical Ethics When Parents Mean Well but Cause Harm,” National Library of Medicine, National Center for Biotechnology Information, February 20, 2019


For more on how some school districts hide children’s transgender identities from their parents, see:


For more on how parent’s moral obligation to care for their children correlate to children’s rights, see: Melissa Moschella, “The Rights of Children: Biology Matters,” Public Discourse, The Journal of the Witherspoon Institute, February 20, 2014