Having Children: Philosophical and Legal Reflections on Parenthood, Onora O’Neill and William Ruddick

By Nandini Puri

This reading is an excerpt from a book of collected essays that focus on parental authority over a child and the first part, written by John Locke disputes the view presented by Robert Filmer’s Patriarcha, in which the role of the father within a household is described as being a kingly authority; something that is absolute and unquestionable. In the first part of the reading, Locke wrote that the mother of a child has as much hold or authority over her offspring as the father. The mother takes equal responsibility over the upbringing of the child as the father, but only because in most situations the father is the breadwinner, he is accountable for the education and providing for the basic well-being of the child. Locke compares the modern day parents to Adam and Eve, stating similarities between the two. By this, he is trying to explain to the reader that God has made man and woman equal and expects both partners to share equal responsibility while looking after a child. In the second section of the essay, Locke points out that ‘on the other side, honor and support, all that which Gratitude requires to return for the Benefits received by and from them is the indispensible Duty of the Child and the proper Privilege of the Parent’. Implying that children are only under the control or influence of their parents for a certain amount of time and after that they don’t need not obey their parents out of force but because they respect and honor them.
In ‘Growing up and Apart’, it tells us how the maturity of a child into adolescent is determined by the physical age. More times than not, children are restricted to various activities only because of their age and in some cases ‘the liberties older children acquire have often more to do with the trappings than with the substance of independent adult life’. In the eyes of the law, every individual is a minor under the age of 18 (most countries) and tried accordingly in court when faced with charges. However this is today, Philippe Aries wrote that ‘adolescent was bypassed by nearly everyone before the nineteenth century; work began before physical maturation for most people’, which shows that age is merely a social contruct. Futhermore, Henley wrote about education and liberty in the life of a child and how the family and the community are responsible for ‘socialzing’ the individual so he or she can later grow on to be a productive part of society. He uses the example of Adam and the only reason he was not sent into formal education is because he was born ‘perfect and socialized’, however none of us are born that way and depend on factors around us (primarily the family) to teach us the various norms and values of society. there are five reasons why an individual is educated: satisfying the child, satisfying the parent, satifying society, protecting the liberty of the child, and protecting the liberty of the parent.
It is important to look at the fact that even though children should be allowed various rights, they are denied those rights on the basis that if given too much freedom, a child will most likely harm themselves because ‘they cannot be a judge of what is good for themselves or that they are not mentally mature enough to make life changing decisions’. Overall, the eternal question of whether children should be allowed the same rights as adults remains unanswered, there are blatand examples of when children must be controlled for example in imposing a legal drinking age or an age to drive automobiles. But what about the circumstances where a child needs to decide where to live? Or legally sue an adult for mistreatment? These are ambiguous questions that need to addressed.
I feel that this reading is essential for understanding the topic of our learning cluster thoroughly. This text examines all the arguments that are made for and against letting children have the same legal rights as an adult in the court of law. There is always a thin line dividing people who view and treat children as adults and those who do not. After examining this text, I can see that both sides do infact have extremely valid points and in the end it depends on the individual case of the child. For example, after a child was discovered by the Grandmothers of Plazo De Mayo as an appropiated child, the child could decide for themselves if they want to stick to their old identity or be known as what their birth parents wanted them to be known as.

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