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December 2nd, 2011 by Robert Franklin, Esq.
Canada celebrated National Child Day recently and with it came this op-ed (Edmonton Journal, 11/27/11).

The theme of the piece is that, although Canadians understandably want what’s best for their children and Canada recognizes the 1989 U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child, still, children in Canada suffer a range of ills.  Here’s a link to the Convention.

Four principles underpin the rights presented [by the Convention]: nondiscrimination in the application of rights to children; the best interests of children as the primary consideration in all actions and decisions concerning their well-being; the child’s right to survival and development; and the participation of children in matters concerning their well-being. Contrary to popular fears, the convention does not pit children against their parents. Rather it emphasizes the foundational role of the family and the primary responsibility of parents in raising and nurturing their children.

Through a rights-based approach the convention sets out the status of children as legal rights holders and bearers of responsibilities appropriate to their developmental level, rather than as the property of their parents, future persons in the making, or parties deserving of special charity. The convention underscores the universal and inalienable rights of children, while recognizing their vulnerability, the customary ease with which their interests are discounted or overlooked, and their dependence on and integration with family, community and culture.

Fair enough.  According to the Convention, children have rights that are supposed to be enforced by those with the authority to do so, “parents, families, communities and governments.”  But, the authors go on, all too often those in authority fail in their jobs of promoting children’s protection, development and well-being.

In the two decades since its ratification, and despite federal and provincial governments of all stripes championing the interests of children as one of their primary concerns, children across Canada face major obstacles in reaching their full potential. Too often these obstacles are linked to our failure to take children’s rights as seriously as we should and could.

I couldn’t agree more.  Indeed, if there is a single overriding theme of this blog, it is that state agencies ignore the rights of children to real relationships with both of their parents.  Actually, it often seems that those very state agencies actively promote the opposite.  It’s no accident that particularly fathers have come to see family courts and child welfare agencies as their enemies.  The simple fact is that, time and again, those two state agencies act to separate fathers from their children.

And as I never tire of pointing out, that has real consequences for children.  As great volumes of research show, children with fathers actively involved in their lives tend to do better across a wide range of criteria than do their fatherless counterparts.  Across all categories of race, class, ethnicity, religion, geographic location, etc., children with fathers in their lives do better on average than those without.  They do better emotionally and educationally, they’re more likely to graduate from high school, and less likely to abuse drugs or alcohol and be involved in crime.  They’re far less likely to live in poverty or in prison.

All of which might lead you to expect the authors of the Journal op-ed to call for increased measures to ensure father-child contact post-divorce, but they don’t.  They never raise the issue; the word ‘father’ appears nowhere in their article.  An intelligent space alien would get no idea from their article that perhaps the greatest single impediment to child well-being is father absence.

In an article whose title is “The Best Way to Help Children is to Take Their Rights Seriously,” and whose authors are clearly concerned about the condition of children in Canada, it must counted odd that so many Canadian children effectively have no father.  The divorce rate there verges on 50% and the rate of out-of-wedlock childbearing nears our own 40%.  In 90% of custody cases, the mother gets primary custody.  There as in the U.S. that sharply diminishes the contact children have with their father.  The general unwillingness of courts to enforce even the meager visitation rights fathers supposedly enjoy further separates children from fathers.

The failure of the op-ed to mention fatherlessness is doubly strange since the whole piece hinges on the Convention, and that document speaks loudly about the importance of both parents to children’s welfare.  For example:

States Parties shall ensure that a child shall not be separated from his or her parents against their will, except when competent authorities subject to judicial review determine, in accordance with applicable law and procedures, that such separation is necessary for the best interests of the child…

States Parties shall respect the rights and duties of the parents and, when applicable, legal guardians, to provide direction to the child in the exercise of his or her right in a manner consistent with the evolving capacities of the child…

States Parties shall use their best efforts to ensure recognition of the principle that both parents have common responsibilities for the upbringing and development of the child. Parents or, as the case may be, legal guardians, have the primary responsibility for the upbringing and development of the child…

For the purpose of guaranteeing and promoting the rights set forth in the present Convention, States Parties shall render appropriate assistance to parents and legal guardians in the performance of their child-rearing responsibilities and shall ensure the development of institutions, facilities and services for the care of children.

The message is clear in the Convention; parents are vital to children’s well-being and children have rights to parents and vice versa.  But however clear the Convention may be, those facts escaped the notice of the authors of the Journal piece.

It’s a strange world.  We know the value of fathers to children.  We say we value children’s well-being.  And yet our institutions often seem bent on denying fathers to those children.  That is an outrage and one of the chief reasons for much societal dysfunction.  Now it appears that even those with a special interest in children manage to miss the obvious – that to better the lot of children, we must reconnect them with their fathers.

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