LONG BEACH (coup2k.com) March 6, 2001 -- We live in a political culture that constantly speaks of the connection between rights and responsibilities -- except, that is, where the young are concerned.NEXT: FUN WITH FREEPERS, by Linda Deak
In the past several years of this country's political discourse, talk of human, civil, and individual rights has become tempered with talk of responsibilities. Politicians have asserted that the two go hand-in-hand, that with rights come responsibilities, and that there must and should be a give-and-take.
Leave for the moment the question of whether or not they are right about that -- about their assertion that there are no absolute human rights, and that rights must somehow be earned, rather than being inalienable. The point is, they assert this is so, and they assert that they are right to say so.
Which begs the question, what about children -- what about the young?
There has been a movement afoot in this country to try younger and younger children as adults, and to make younger and younger children subject to adult justice, and to the ultimate punishment, the death penalty. We are told, ad nauseam, that children from ages as young as eleven, are responsible for what they do, and have the understanding of right and wrong that adults do -- that children should be held to adult standards.
Perhaps this is true. PERHAPS. But assuming that it is, where are the rights to go along with these new responsibilities? If children are smart enough and responsible enough to be held accountable under adult laws, and to be tried as adults in our legal system, where are their adult rights?
They are nowhere. At the same time we, as a society, are feverishly working to punish younger and younger children for their transgressions as adults, to saddle children with the same legal responsibility as adults, our society is working feverishly to curtail their individual rights and freedoms.
School uniforms, curfews, restricting access to art and entertainment, more draconian driving laws -- these are just a few of the ways our society seeks to proscribe the rights of the young. At the very same time that we are telling the young that they are smart enough and responsible enough to die for their crimes, we are telling them they are not smart or responsible enough to decide how to dress, what time to come home, what music to listen to or movies to watch, or to drive alone. We claim to do this for their protection, which we say they need. We INSIST they need our protection.
The hypocrisy of these contradictory opinions is obvious, the immorality, more so. Our society wants to saddle children with adult responsibilities at the same time we are, bit-by-bit, and law-by-law, narrowing their rights.
Children are so easy to scapegoat. They have no voting rights, no lobbies, no financial power, no political clout. Where children are concerned, politicians can act with impunity. Children cannot vote them out of office, or visit consequences upon those who do not act in their best interest. Unlike almost any other group in our society, children are subject to sweeping media generalizations and negative propaganda. The acts of a single child, a child like yesterday's high school shooter, are presented as a bellwether for an entire generation. Almost 45 million students are enrolled in kindergarten through the twelfth grade nationally, yet still the media and politicians use these tragic events to forward their own careers and agendas, pointing to the acts of an astronomically small percentage of the young to justify generalizations about the entire group.
It is time for fairness, balance and justice for our young citizens. Either they are adults, and endowed with both adult rights and responsibilities, or they are children, and entitled to special protection. Politicians and the media have had it both ways for too long. It is time to put a stop to that.