Bill of Rights for Infants and Young Child
Much of the philosophy of health care providers, childbirth educators and instructors for classes in infant care is oriented towards parents’ choices. Frequently the health care provider or instructor is admonished to be impartial. It is considered wrong to make any attempt to influence parents toward any one decision. However, such a philosophy of “neutrality” only makes sense if solely the needs of the adults are important. Such a philosophy totally neglects the most important third party – the helpless infant or young child who cannot speak for him or herself.
Advocates for the rights of children are sometimes unfairly judged as “biased” or “dogmatic.” Others who fail to consider the child’s perspective, perhaps imagine that our motive is simply one of insisting that others conform to our own standards of behavior. But when considered from a perspective of deep concern for the needs of infants and children, after thorough consideration of each of these matters, any demand for neutrality becomes a demand for apathy and callousness. We cannot be non-caring. Our world desperately needs us to wake up and care about these most important little ones, our next generation.
An underlying and dangerous philosophy of our society is that children are “property” of their parents, and therefore parents have the right to do or not do whatever they wish with their children. This has caused many to turn their heads and refuse involvement even in cases of extreme child abuse.
While some of these rights will appear obvious to most readers (i.e. freedom from physical and sexual abuse), others (i.e. freedom from unnecessary medical rituals and purported “cosmetic” body alterations such as ear piercing and circumcision) may be issues so culturally ingrained that many readers may have never considered them. However, we wish to point out that all of the following issues exist on a spectrum which should fit together into a proposed, common-sense philosophy of how infants and young children should be treated.
We realize that some of the following issues are complex. We can only give each concern a few sentences here, but can steer interested readers towards more detailed sources elsewhere.
We realize that some of these statements leave loop-holes such as “… except for instances of absolute medical necessity.” We know that this could be interpreted differently by various practitioners, but it is beyond our scope here to impose definite boundaries to what often involves complex, individual situations. In many cases the following proposals are simply intended as guidelines.
We are also aware that others whose philosophies are different from our could attempt to use certain statements against us. (For example, we believe in the right of parents in low risk situations to seek home birth, and the right of parents to refuse questionable medical treatments for their children. Others with conflicting views may insist that all babies have the “right” to be born in hospitals, or that sick children have the “right” to all conventional medical treatment.) Perhaps some of these statements will demand more precise definitions in the future.
Nonetheless, we propose the following as the Rights of Infants and Young Children:
I. The Unborn Child:
a.) Has the right not to be killed by outside, deliberate intervention. *
b.) Has the right to an intra-uterine environment of excellent nutrition necessary for his/her proper growth and development, provided via a well balanced maternal diet.
c.) Has the right to a drug-free intra-uterine environment – free from nicotine, alcohol, caffeine, all “street” drugs (amphetamines, cocaine, LSD, marijuana, heroine, depressants, etc.) All prescriptions and over-the-counter drugs should be used with extreme caution, only under a doctor’s specifications in the event of absolute medical necessity.
II. The Infant/Young Child:
a.) Has the right to a drug free intra-uterine environment at the time of labor and birth, barring instances of absolute medical necessity.
b.) Has the right to immediate access to his/her mother, (and father and siblings if present) at the time of birth, barring absolute medical contraindication.
c.) Has the right to the emotionally and nutritionally superior benefits of his/her own mother’s milk, for at least the first few months of life, barring absolute medical contraindication, and unusual social situations.
d.) If the infant must be bottle fed, he/she has the right to be held in the parent’s or caretaker’s arms, experiencing the benefits of close body contact and personal attention, rather than being put down with a bottle propped up.
e.) Has the right to be spared questionable and unnecessary “just in case” types of medical rituals (caustic drops in the eyes, vitamin K shots, stomach pumping, etc.) in the absence of true medical need.
f.) Has the right to gentle, considerate treatment such as stroking, dim lighting, lack of loud noises, at the time of birth and during infancy. (Holding an infant upside down, slapping him/her, or any other similar rough handling is inappropriate treatment for an infant.)
g.) Has the right to appropriate medical treatment in situations of true need, in cases of prematurity, deformity, injury, or disease.
h.) In the event of necessary medical treatments, the infant or small child has the right to anesthesia and all other considerations deemed appropriate to any other individual at any other age. He/she also has the right to support and comforting from his/her parent(s) during the treatment if possible, and definitely during the recovery process.
i.) Has the right to have his/her needs for food, warmth, comforting, relief from pain, and parental attention met immediately, as they arise, according to the infant’s/child’s needs.
j.) Has the right to love, nurturing, and appropriate attention from the parent or caretaker.
k.) Has the right to adequate clothing, shelter, appropriate environmental temperature, food, water, educational and social opportunities.
l.) Has the right to continuous care from his/her natural or adoptive parents, or legal guardian during his/her early formative years. Ideally, (since breastfeeding is encouraged and only mothers can breastfeed) the ongoing care provider should be the mother, barring instances of true financial need which requires the mother’s employment outside the home.
Value to the mothering/parenting role within the home should be encouraged over financial luxuries or status within the working world. If outside employment is necessary, alternatives, such as working within the home, part-time employment, or co-operative work situations in which the child can accompany the parent in the working place should be considered.
m.) In the event that the parent(s) must be separated from the child, he/she has the right to caring, consistent, high quality, readily available alternative care.
n.) Has the right to be spared all types of permanent alteration of normal body structures, done without medical justification, but for purported “cosmetic” reasons. Tattooing a child’s body, piercing a child’s ears, and cutting off a child’s foreskin or cutting any part of a child’s genitals all fall into this category.** We do not oppose such types of body alterations in and of themselves, but contend that such procedures should be reserved for older individuals (teenagers and adults) who are able to make such personal decisions for themselves.
o.) Has the right to have his/her genitals left entirely alone, save for simple outer washing during diaper changing and bathing, and in instances of true medical necessity (such as repair of a hernia or an undescended testicle or treatment of a vaginal infection.) Included in this right: a little boy has the right not only to keep his foreskin, but to have it left entirely alone. I should not be retracted forcibly, or even gently – by parents, caretakers, or medical practitioners. This act is totally unnecessary and is associated with virtually all problems associated with the foreskin. When the child is 4 or 5 or older, this is soon enough for the child himself to attend to the extremely simple practice of retracting it for cleaning. (Not until adolescence, with the onset of adult body odors does attention to genital hygiene become necessary.)
p.) Has the right to freedom from all types of sexual harassment by adults or older children.
q.) Has the right to freedom from deliberate physical abuse, such as beating, whipping, kicking, or burning. Necessary discipline and guidance can be carried out effectively by a wide variety of non-violent methods (Such as assigning of appropriate chores, temporary withholding of belongings or privileges, or temporary isolation of the child.) Even seemingly innocuous slapping can, in the event of parental anger, escalate into beating and severe physical and psychological damage. Also, out of personal experience most parents find that physical discipline is simply not as effective as other measures and can easily cause the child to develop violent or punitive tendencies towards others.
r.) Has the right to freedom from emotional abuse. Discipline, if necessary, should focus on the action that is wrong and not on the character of the child. (For example: “It is wrong to dump your cereal on the floor!” should be used instead of “You are a stupid idiot!”)
* This first consideration, for the right to life for all unborn children, is the only one for which Peaceful Beginnings has received any criticism so far. We realize that abortion is a highly complex and emotional issue and that some severely debilitating situations, such as crippling deformities of the unborn child, or painfully difficult social situations in the mother’s life can make this decision a horrendous one. It is our hope that effective birth control measures, responsibility in sexual relationships, and loving, caring support for all expectant mothers and their unborn babies (whether or not the pregnancy was planned or unplanned, and regardless of her social and physical circumstances) will help to eliminate any need for abortion.
** We are aware that devout Jewish parents have many other considerations besides mere “cosmetic” ones when considering infant circumcision. However, today, even some Jewish parents question the ritual. See Jewish Movement article on this site.
By Rosemary Romberg
c. 1990 (Revised – 2013)