It's Time for a Children's Bill of Rights
Trespass on a property right or a patent ownership and you’ll cause a firestorm. It is convention to say that this country was established with a deep respect for the rights of property and frontier grit. In the course of time, we also learned that land was not just a personal asset but a national one. So we created land trusts, parks, public lands in a sense of common purpose for a major natural asset: our land. Perhaps we might think of our nation’s children as an asset of at least equal importance, an asset we can hold in common too.
Surely the revolutionaries who gave us the Bill of Rights (and for us too, in moment of good sense) cared at least as much about their children as their land. But not other people’s children. Yet all children are our greatest asset. From other people’s children have come robber barons and silicon sultans as well as all those who make the whole social enterprise work. The future lies with the brave, the inventive and the hard working. They are children now. Yet children in this country (and all around the world) are massively denied the most fundamental human rights. Indeed they are among the most impoverished and vulnerable among us. Perhaps we need a Bill of Rights for children to give us a reference point, to invite us to declare a commitment to reverse this sorry state of the child.
A Bill of Rights for the children would have to include the following:
No child should be afraid to play outside for fear of random mistaken or over-reacting gunfire.
No child should go to bed hungry.
No child should have to work for a living.
No child should be afraid of losing his or her parents to gunfire or deportation.
No child should have to be a gang soldier or a sex worker.
No child should be arrested for misbehaving in school.
No child should have to live on the street.
No child should be bullied because he or she is considered different.
No child should be refused medical care no matter what the circumstance.
No child should have to drink poisoned water or eat malnourishing food.
All of these conditions exist in America. Any reader can Google the data on each item to find ample evidence, or to discover the debate about scale, cause, and blame. The debate you will find runs from accusations of misbehavior and biology on the one hand, to arguments based on caring and compassion on the other. At the extremes and in between you’ll find clear racial bigotry and fiscal restraint versus social justice warriors and defenders of human’s priorities. What you won’t find on Google is the much-needed algorithm that can reset our moral compass so that any of these occurrences register as both a shock and an imperative to act to repair the fractured foundation of our shared humanity.
Everybody’s children matter. When that covenant is breached, it ought to be that we go into repair mode immediately and with all the resources needed, even if it means a few more people pay a few more taxes. The health of our society, like the proverbial canary in the mine, has no better indicator to guide us than the health and security of our children. If even one state or municipality took the lead in ensuring the rights of its children, it could mark the beginning of a sea change -- one that could finally move us away from the tooth and claw reflex that has ruled in recent years.