“It is not my Age, but my Beingness that determines my rights.”
That is an audacious statement, believe it or not. As recently as the 1780s, children in European societies were simply the property of their parents, a tertiary kind of person- and not a very valuable one at that. Judith Ennew, at Cultural Survival, states, “According to Blackstone’s 1758 legal commentaries in England, child abduction was not theft in the legal sense unless the child happened to be dressed. The thief was regarded as having stolen the clothes. Apart from that, child theft was tantamount to stealing a corpse. In the case of both a dead body and a live child, no legal person was involved.”
Today in the West, we have a relatively minor sense of children being part of the collective- we educate them publicly, and attempt to offer care for the hungriest and most abused. Yet, for the most part, children today have little voice in their own care and representation. In this duck blind of “Under 18”, a child’s reality is barely visible to the outside. Even if their reality is visibly unpleasant, unless its criminal negligence (and often not even then), neither the state nor neighbors intervene.
In this twilight space, parents inflict every manner of emotional and psychological damage and transgenerational entrainment on their children, often passing on the patterns of what was done to them. Whether it’s unconscious, or done willingly (citing custom, values, discipline or control) adults frequently usurp a child’s bodily sovereignty (corporal punishment, physical restraint, forced feeding, denied feeding, even genital mutilation for both boys (circumcision) and girls (clitorectomies)). This physical usurpation in extreme cases extends to sexual improprieties, child trafficking, forced labor and more. There is so much more done to children as a class, and individually: Adults have murdered, maimed and traumatized children in warfare (whether the war is at the nation-state level, or a class, race or gender war- e.g., the war on black boys in America). More subtly, some adults speak to their children in ways not to magnify but to diminish them, to shame the child’s being, an act which is shown to cauterize the human brain’s linguistic processing centers. Adults as a whole have certainly saddled younger generations with debts that they didn’t willingly take on, from environmental degradation to massive government financial obligations that can’t be funded. That list can go on a long time.
But, in this moment, I contend we are just at the outset of the children’s rights movement- a movement begun in the late 1800s, whose first victory was child labor laws in the 1920s, and which continues to this day.
The Children’s Rights Movement, like the other movements, is a gradual awakening to the power, wonder, beauty and awe of all life that propels us forward to justice and peace, and this realm is no exception.
That is an excerpt from my upcoming book Bending the Bow, from the intro to Chapter 8 (“You are not your age: the onset of the children’s rights movement”). The spiritual basis for all of these movement is ONE: we are sovereign beings, and liberation, not enslavement, is our birthright. Our institutions and cultures will eventually reflect this equity.
Like all the other movements profiled in the book, we look at the people who are activating on some inequality 40+ years before there is public consensus or legal action- and extract the personal beliefs and characteristics of focal point leaders, and then the qualities of the pods and networks around them. And a lot more.
Three of the movements profiled are ones that I feel are just at the beginning of their swing upwards- animal rights, children’s rights and ecosystem rights. The children’s rights investigation has been startling. Seeing what happened today with the #Marchforourlives, it feels like this is coming to a head, that things will move sooner than expected.
In the step beyond granted rights, those granted by the adults, the current work of politically active minors, who are self advocating in the areas where as the #MSD leaders have stated “the adults have failed us”- especially on climate, on violence and gun control, and on the rights of women and girls.
Thank god for the young, who have yet to be coopted, and who have so little to lose, with their energy and clarity and brilliance.