29 Oct 2010

Can hate-mongering parenting justify seizure by the state?

Troy Media Corporation - June 2, 2009

Protecting children from ethical abuse

By Janet Keeping | President - Sheldon Chumir Foundation for Ethics in Leadership

The Manitoba government is seeking permanent custody of a brother and sister already in care. What’s wrong with the parents? Media reports have mentioned possible drug and alcohol abuse. But if press coverage is accurate, the main issue is that the parents have been teaching their children to hate non-whites and how to act on that hatred. Apparently, the seven-year old not only believes people of colour are inferior and ought to die, but knows how to kill them.

The particular case will be decided – as the lawyers say – on the facts as proven. But the policy questions merit consideration by us, the public, for it is in our name that our governments act. Does the systematic, intentional inculcation of hate warrant taking children away from their parents? Can the ethical abuse of children – teaching them to be seriously bad – ever justify their seizure by the state?

These are complicated matters. Here are some thoughts:

First, we must acknowledge that the seizure of children is draconian. I am the mother of three, now adult, children. There is little worse the state could have done to me than take our children away. No doubt, extreme vigilance on government seizure of children is needed.

Second, I fear many people are much too ready to see child abuse where it doesn’t exist. Consider the false accusations of satanic, ritual abuse of children that arose in the early 1990s. Acting on the false belief that children always tell the truth about their treatment by adults, many people were charged with serious offences. A prime Canadian example occurred in Martensville, Saskatchewan, where a mother alleged that a woman who ran a babysitting service and day-care centre in her home had sexually abused her child. Eventually more than a dozen people, including several police officers, faced a host of serious allegations of child sexual abuse.

The reality was far different. There had been no epidemic of ritualistic abuse. An RCMP investigation into the Saskatchewan charges concluded they had been driven by “emotional hysteria.” Impressionable children had told investigators what the children thought they wanted to hear and investigators had molded the children’s testimony according to their own preconceptions. In the process, reputations – indeed, lives – were ruined.

Third, the state does intervene – rightfully, many of us think – when the beliefs of parents threaten their children’s welfare in an immediate way. Consider the cases involving Jehovah’s Witnesses for whom blood transfusions are unacceptable from the religious perspective. The courts have a well-established practice of taking children they consider too young to make the decision for themselves into care, just long enough for the necessary transfusions to be made.

It’s clear: a parent’s freedoms of conscience and religion, while legally protected in the Charter, are not absolute. Children are not the property of their parents. They have independent rights and interests which the state must sometimes protect by blocking their parents’ wishes. Yes, but which rights and interests, and when?

Is physical harm the only criterion? I think not. Imagine parents who persistently prevent their children from getting an education. Probably most of us would agree their children should be taken from them. Uneducated, the children have no real future.

What then about children brought up in a household that is relentlessly and hatefully racist? The generally applicable standard for guardianship decisions is “best interests of the child”. Given that foster care is often inadequate, we can’t justify seizure of children unless their best interests will be so served. Is ethical abuse – the systematic inculcation of hatred – enough? Does it differ so greatly from refusal to educate? How do you function safely, let alone even remotely successfully, in our highly diverse society, if you are taught from day one that people of colour (or Jews, Aboriginal people, or other minority populations) deserve to die?

And what if it isn’t just hate as an attitude that is taught, but also the ways in which hate can be acted upon? The seven-year-old girl in the Manitoba case – if the reports are correct – told investigators she knew how to kill black people and proceeded to explain.

To remove children from such a home does not strike me as ideological tyranny. Given such extreme ethical abuse, we would be justified, I think, in trying to give the children involved a better chance at a decent future. And in my book, the hate alone, even without the teaching of murderous technique, could sometimes warrant removal.

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