The Moral and Political Status of Children

The Moral and Political Status of Children

The Moral and Political Status of Children

The Moral and Political Status of Children


The book contains original essays by distinguished moral and political philosophers on the topic of the moral and political status of children. It covers the themes of children's rights, parental rights and duties, the family and justice, and civic education.


Do Children Have Rights?

Of course, children have legal rights. But do they also have human rights? Or do they, at least, have something closely analogous to human rights—namely, general moral rights that children have simply in virtue of being children? One cannot answer these questions unless one knows, as one might put it, the existence conditions (Sumner 1987 : 10-11) of these various kinds of rights, conditions that allow one to say that the right in question exists and what its content is.

Let me start with the existence conditions of human rights. I can only baldly state what, to my mind, is the best account of them, without justifying it. But, in compensation, the account I shall propose is not at all eccentric and, indeed, seems to be the dominant account in the human rights tradition.

The Human Rights Tradition

A term with our modern sense of 'a right' emerged in the late Middle Ages, probably first in Bologna, in the work of the canonists, experts (mainly clerical) who glossed, commented on, and to some extent brought system to the many, not always consistent, norms of canon and Roman law (Robinson, Fergus et al. 1994). In the course of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries the use of the Latin word ius expanded from meaning a law stating what is fair to include also our modern sense of 'a right', that is, a power that a person possesses to control or claim or do something (Tierney 1997 : passim but e.g. 42-5). For instance, in this period one finds the transition from the assertion that it is a natural law (ius) that all things are held in common and thus a person in mortal need who takes from a person in surplus does not steal, to the new form of expression, that a person in need has a right (ius) to take from a person in surplus and so does not steal (Tierney 1997 : 72-3). The prevailing view of the canonists is that this new sort of ius, a right that an individual has, derives from the natural law that all human beings are, in a specific sense, . . .

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