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Using children as puppets of parental opinion

By John de Meyrick - posted Monday, 19 September 2016


Children living in advanced societies today are no longer regarded as just there to be seen and not heard. Indeed, since the adoption of the Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1989, which is the most extensively ratified UN convention by all but two countries of the World, a child's right to be heard and respected has been the subject of far reaching legislative and administrative action.

Various 'positive' rights are provided for in the Convention in respect of matters ranging from health, education, nutrition to lesser considerations such as the right to rest and recreational play and even to the advantages of breast feeding; whilst other provisions concentrate on 'counter rights' against such matters as neglect, sexual abuse, exploitation in employment and the recruitment of child 'soldiers'.

What is not to be found in the Convention (although it may be implied by other provisions) is the exploitation of children who are used in ways that are intended to promote and advance the opinions of their parents on controversial subjects that, having regard to the development of children as thinking and reasoning individuals, one could not possible accept that they are expressing their own entirely independently formulated views.

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There were two such exampleson television last week:

The first was a 13 year old lad called Eddie, one of several children, who had participated earlier in the day (13/09/16) in a demonstration outside Parliament House against the proposed plebiscite on same-sex marriage. He had then appeared with his two female parents in a short segment in the ABC's 7.30 Report that evening, during which he acknowledged his situation of having "two mums" and was heard to support same-sex marriage saying, "it doesn't affect anyone in any way."

Of course, many thirteen-year-olds can formulate sound opinions on many subjects. But this lad was clearly forced by his circumstances to defend the situation he was in and over which he had no control nor right of preference. What else could he have said? He was being used as an emotional 'pawn' in a very sensitive, and more important (but less debated) aspect of the issue on same-sex marriage.

It was deplorable of his parents to have put him in that position. It was also appalling that he was used by the Deputy Leader of the Opposition, Tanya Plibersek, for her 'cheap' points-scoring question in Parliament relating to the plebiscite which gave rise to the report. And it was reprehensible that the ABC saw fit to include the segment in its program.

So much for the need to protect the sensibilities of young persons from the supposed traumatic consequences of holding a public debate and plebiscite on same-sex marriage.

The other example also appeared on the ABC on the same day as part of a separate news item. It showed at least one child holding up a placard and taking part in a demonstration in Sydney protesting against the 'lock-out' laws that prevent alcohol being sold at venues in King's Cross after certain late night hours.

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That second child could not have had any mature understanding of the issues involved in the demonstration in which she was participating. She was obviously being used as a 'mule' for the message contained on the placard at the behest of some adult.

Such exploitation of children is more common than just these two examples. In recent times, and from time to time, we see children being used in similar ways, carrying placards and/or wearing 'slogan messages' and made to participate in public protests and demonstrations on a range of controversial issues.

Children are frequently seen in television news reports protesting and demonstrating on such issues as 'compulsory' vaccinations; religion-denied 'forced' blood transfusions; 'right to life' and abortion clinics; home birthing in preference to hospital delivery; corporal punishment; race and immigration; 'gay pride'; education funding; and environmental degradation in land development, gas and coal mining projects.

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About the Author

John de Meyrick is a barrister (ret’d), lecturer and writer on legal affairs.

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