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“Should there be a process of relieving bad parents from their children?”

Somebody asked on the Objectivism subreddit:

Should there be a process of relieving bad parents from their children? Or does this violate their rights?

For example say a single mother is a drug addict, or a father a booze abuser. What if any should the process be to have their guardian rights revoked? Is this wrong? Or is this wrong to remove children from those types of parents as a violation of their rights?

Here’s my answer (link added):

Here are some preliminary, not-fully-formed-yet thoughts on the matter.

Maybe it’s unintentional, but the premise implicit in the question is that children are like pawns who can just be moved from one guardian to another if those pulling the strings decide to do so. If this premise remains unchecked, another question invariably follows: ‘who is justified in pulling those strings’? Or, more simply: ‘who should determine a child’s life?’

The obvious answer to the latter question is: ‘the child, of course.’

My view is that parents do not own their children and don’t have any ‘right’ to them. Children, like all people, are (well, should be) free and have inalienable rights, so others can’t have a ‘right’ to them. If a child wants to leave his parents and live with someone else, that’s his prerogative, and any parental ‘right’ overriding the child’s rights couldn’t be a right at all (recall Ayn Rand’s remarks on how there can’t be a right to override someone else’s rights).

Where it gets complicated is when children lack the knowledge to realize their home is dangerous or unhealthy and/or that their parents are bad parents. Also, parents can exert significant emotional influence over their children. I don’t know a good answer to these problems. Unwanted protection can easily become oppressive, but not offering any help to such children would be wrong, too, IMO. In any case, I don’t think it’s wrong to remove children from parents who disastrously fail to meet their obligations as long as that’s what the affected children want, too. (I once saw a traumatizing video on Twitter of child ‘protective’ services physically dragging a teenager from her home that she begged and screamed to stay in.)

If by “guardian rights” you mean that some third party (the government or whoever it may be) can’t just arbitrarily remove a child from his home, then I agree with such rights as long as they don’t arbitrarily override the child’s. I suppose the underlying dynamic here is just the right to freedom of association, and as long as parents and children associate freely, there is no problem, and no one else gets to forbid such free association.

But again, these thoughts are preliminary. I may well be mistaken.

As usually happens when you assert children’s rights, somebody pointed to children’s alleged irrationality as a reason to override their decisions:

Everything you said works for fully rational beings, but a child is still in developing stage. That’s why the parents are the one who guide and decide for their child.

Note the mistaken implication that adults are fully rational and have completed their development – and, worse, that adults have therefore ‘earned’ their rights whereas children still need to earn them. My response:

Adults usually aren’t fully rational either. Interactions, to be rational, must be voluntary, but parents often coerce their children. Conversely, children are often more rational than their parents. When they ask ‘Why?’ to pursue a rational line of inquiry, parents sometimes shut the question down by saying ‘Because I say so’. That’s authoritarian and anti-rational.

Also, rights aren’t predicated on rationality – the Declaration of Independence, for instance, doesn’t say all rational men have certain inalienable rights. You don’t suddenly lose your rights if you decide to be irrational.


This post makes 1 reference to:

What people are saying

Maybe the question should be phrased: ‘Should there be a process of relieving children from their bad parents?’

To which my answer is: absolutely, yes, assuming the children of bad parents want to be relieved.

#644 · dennis (verified commenter) ·

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