Towards children's rights in the home : a philosophical consideration of the parent child relationship in the era of human rights and the concept of an 'enlightened parent'.
Nicholls, Gordon Charles.
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Research on children's rights very often deals with the legal aspects of their rights, based on perceived protection and provisioning needs, and focussed on deficiencies in children's lives. There is obviously a place for such considerations. It is rare however for writers on children's rights to deal with the personal, ontological and moral rights of children in a principled way. This study aims to address this deficit and reveal the axiomatic and essential rights of children in their home setting. The standing of children's rights in the Republic of South Africa (RSA) is reviewed. Although the primary focus will be on the South African situation, it will be illuminated by references to cogent international experience and positions, apposite to the prosecution and theme of this study. This is appropriate, as South Africa is integral to the international initiatives and imperatives in human rights, especially as they apply to children. In terms of the South African state, children's rights have been given formal recognition in the Constitution, as well as in laws and policies flowing there from. It is noted that there may be deficiencies in the implementation and realisation of these rights in practice, however. Only a fraction of children's rights apply in the public sector. Children live their lives predominantly in the home and so the realisation of their rights very often comes down to the attitudes and actions of their parents, in a horizontal application of the Bill of Rights. This study explores what rights children should be bestowed by their parents in their home and according to what values and criteria. The traditional and emerging roles of parents are considered, as they relate to the realisation of rights by their children. The evolution of the concept of childhood is explicated, including social change advocacy and social movements designed to assist children to realise their rights optimally. This study is not based on legal rights per se, but is predicated on an ontological vision of personhood, as it applies to children. Instead of natural rights, the fundamental and universal values that underlie human rights are considered. These values include respect for person, dignity , equality, autonomy, freedom and justice for children in their relationships with their parents. In order to generate the debate on children's rights in the home, two exemplars are considered, based on first principles and fundamental, axiological values. The first exemplar is the child's right not to receive corporal punishment from parents. The second exemplar considers the child's right to realise freedom of religion in the home, including the right to hold different religious beliefs from his or her parents, and to act on these beliefs, in contradistinction to the religion espoused by his or her parents. The thesis contained in this study is that children's rights can only be realised and assured if parents treat their children as persons of worth and dignity, and raise them to become fully functioning adults. The concept of an 'enlightened parent' is critical, if children are to realise their rights. Enlightened parenting involves a lifetime of support and education by parents in order to assist their children to achieve their own special ends as persons. The concept of an 'enlightened parent' is proposed as the portal through which children's rights will be realised. An 'enlightened parent', as the ideal type of parent, should form the basis on which an advocacy campaign should be mounted to enhance the realisation of children's rights in the private domain. The values implicit in an 'enlightened parent' are briefly sketched, incorporating critical values such as tolerance, good will, respect, care, concern and unconditional positive regard. These are the relational values between parents and children that will deliver the human rights values, and therefore ensure, in effect, the accomplishment of children's rights.