THE RIGHTS OF THE CHILD
"Give me liberty, or give me death!"
The subject of Children's Rights does not provoke much sentimentalism in this country, where, as somebody says, the present problem of the children is the painless extinction of their elders. I interviewed the man who washes my windows, the other morning, with the purpose of getting at the level of his mind in the matter.
"Dennis," I said, as he was polishing the glass, "I am writing an article on the 'Rights of Children.' What do you think about it?" Dennis carried his forefinger to his head in search of an idea, for he is not accustomed to having his intelligence so violently assaulted, and after a moment's puzzled thought he said, "What do I think about it, mum? Why, I think we'd ought to give 'em to 'em. But Lor', mum, if we don't, they take 'em, so what's the odds?" And as he left the room I thought he looked pained that I should spin words and squander ink on such a topic.
The French dressmaker was my next victim. As she fitted the collar of an effete civilization on my nineteenth century neck, I put the same question I had given to Dennis.
"The rights of the child, madame?" she asked, her scissors poised in air.
"Yes, the rights of the child."
"Is it of the American child, madame?"
"Yes," said I nervously, "of the American child."
"Mon Dieu! he has them!"
This may well lead us to consider rights as opposed to privileges. A multitude of privileges, or rather indulgences, can exist with a total disregard of the child's rights. You remember the man who said he could do without necessities if you would give him luxuries enough. The child might say, "I will forego all my privileges, if you will only give me my rights: a little less sentiment, please,вЂ”more justice!" There are women who live in perfect puddles of maternal love, who yet seem incapable of justice; generous to a fault, perhaps, but seldom just.
Who owns the child? If the parent owns him,вЂ”mind, body, and soul, we must adopt one line of argument; if, as a human being, he owns himself, we must adopt another. In my thought the parent is simply a divinely appointed guardian, who acts for his child until he attains what we call the age of discretion,вЂ”that highly uncertain period which arrives very late in life with some persons, and not at all with others.
The rights of the parent being almost unlimited, it is a very delicate matter to decide just when and where they infringe upon the rights of the child. There is no standard; the child is the creature of circumstances.
The mother can clothe him in Jaeger wool from head to foot, or keep him in low neck, short sleeves and low stockings, because she thinks it pretty; she can feed him exclusively on raw beef, or on vegetables, or on cereals; she can give him milk to drink, or let him sip his father's beer and wine; put him to bed at sundown, or keep him up till midnight; teach him the catechism and the thirty-nine articles, or tell him there is no God; she can cram him with facts before he has any appetite or power of assimilation, or she can make a fool of him....