I didn’t think it would come to this. I honestly didn’t. But perhaps it is time for me to float a possibly revolutionary idea. Something that stands in contradiction to a certain idea that crops up among certain circles from time to time. This idea is so profound that I never thought I’d have to say it in such times as these. Indeed, I thought the debate was settled and it was considered common knowledge, but for the record, allow me to repeat it: Children are people too.
Shocked? Appalled? Yes? No?
Well whatever it may be, this thought will probably not come as a surprise to many who will read this. What will come as a surprise to you, however, will be the idea that children are the property of their parents, still exists and rears its head every once and a while. The notion that children inherently belong to their parent is dangerous and violates the philosophical principles we have evolved to protect the autonomy of the individual. After all, children are human beings and to uphold the liberty of one portion of society to the detriment of another is an injustice, not to mention a breach of universality and/or equality.
Though I do not pretend to have all the answers, (I never have and would never dream to) the role of the parent or guardian is to serve as both a ward and to provide for their offspring an easy transition into autonomous life. Both roles are essential and are commonly forgotten or abused in cases where a parent neglects a child to the point of starvation or, alternatively, becomes over protective to the point of locking their child away. Each disrespects the individual liberty granted to the smallest of people and neither implies that the child is somehow property of the parent. A child’s dependence does not make them akin to a piece of furniture or family pet. No, children simply depend on the parent for survival.
It is all too often implied in these debates that the initial conception of a child, the initial act of creation between two parents, means that the product is naturally the property of the parents, just as a toy soldier would be the property of its creator, a wood carver. However, this implied assumption holds that sex is no different from labour, which is absurd. I’m quite sure you’d be hard pressed to find anyone who would consider sex labour, unless of course the relationship is downright awful. Regardless, if we are to consider this thought, it becomes necessary to place some time restriction which results in the parents no longer possessing total control over the child from then on. However, to produce some arbitrary number (as governments worldwide do, generally at the ages of 18 or 21) and claim that a child becomes an ‘adult’ from that point onwards, is just as bizarre. Each individual is unique and matures at different rates, some quicker than others. We see the effects of such arbitrary distinctions when the legal system commits such atrocities as prosecuting teenagers for exploring their sexuality. Opposite from this is the idea put forward by Rothbard,
The clue to the solution of this thorny question lies in the parental property rights in their home. For the child has his full rights of self-ownership when he demonstrates that he has them in nature—in short, when he leaves or “runs away” from home. – The Ethics of Liberty
Which raises the question, what happens when we have an individual of age 23, still living at home? Are they still the property of their parent simply because they may not have the means to leave home without starving? These individuals are fully developed individuals in both mind and body and so can be considered autonomous human beings to which we can each apply our differing philosophical principles. However, according to Rothbard’s approach they are still, strangely, considered the property of their parents.
Further, when presented with the idea of slavery, any Anarchist worth his salt will immediately reject the concept as barbarous, for slavery has been explicitly rejected and opposed by Anarchists since its inception. Naturally, if we were to accept the idea that children are the property of their parents, it would be no different from claiming that a slave is legitimately the property of his master. After all, property is the right to ‘use and abuse,’ which then leaves the door open to any injustice; paedophilia, murder, assault, forced child labour and prostitution all may then be considered philosophically legitimate just as a slave master may beat, rape and murder his slave. The child could be forced to work for no wage in a business owned by its parent or taught to use a gun and employed as a unwilling child soldier. If we oppose slavery so intensely, we must equally oppose the idea that a parent owns a child as evil, for the concept of property, even in its varying forms, is an absolute.
Once it is understood that a child is no different from any other person, the question becomes one of how to view the relationship between parent and child. The answer lies in mutual aid, in that the parent raises and a child and assists it as someone may assist the elderly, homeless or ill. This is made possible because, and as unlikely as it may sometimes seem, people actually do get something out of raising a child. A parent often comes to value the unconditional love and affection that a child will all too freely give, even if the parent is unattractive, not very good at parenting, or generally an ass.
Obviously what follows are the cases where a parent may give up their stewardship of the child for lack of ability, interest and so on. Naturally, this forms the basis of adoption and may, again, be considered mutual aid in that it prevents the child from suffering a harsh existence for the possibility of a better one when another parent is willing to take up the responsibility of assisting it. Granted, the system of adoption and the state of orphanages world wide is fairly low, as many foster children often wind up the victims of abuse, or even suffer psychologically which impairs them later in life. However, there is hope that wresting such processes away from the hands of the state will improve the way in which these dealings transpire, though I would not dare offer a blueprint for how this may be achieved. I’ll leave that to those with the knowledge, experience and inspiration.
To allow ourselves to consider children to be property, we are giving them up to a position of servitude. The parents are raised to a position of higher authority, no matter what good intentions lead to the argument that a parent’s power is restricted by time and degree. Such an argument is contradictory if we understand property to be an absolute and yet still wish to recognise the inherent right to liberty, irrespective of what that property theory is founded upon.