Child liberationism and legitimate interference

Journal of Social Philosophy 23 (3):5-15 (1992)
Abstract
Child liberationism holds that children are entitled to more freedom from interference than we currently acknowledge socially or legally. It holds, for example, that "the law [should] grant and guarantee to the young the freedom that it now grants to adults to make certain kinds of choices, do certain kinds of things, and accept certain kinds of responsibilities. This means in turn that the law [should] take action against anyone who interferes with young people's rights to do such things".1 Call an agent minimally rational just in case he/she is capable of basic means-ends reasoning and of basic reflection on his/her beliefs and desires. No plausible form of child liberationism advocates full freedom from interference (i.e., as much as normal adults) for children that are not yet minimally rational. Some child liberationists do, however, advocate full freedom from interference for all minimally rational children -- typically those over age 5, say. Call this position radical child libera tionism . Other child liberationists only advocate full freedom from interference for older children -- typically those over age 12, say. Call this position moderate child libera tionism .2 For the sake of argument we shall grant that even young minimally rational children (e.g., 5 year olds) have full rights of non-interference. We shall argue that there are nonetheless a wide range of paternalistic practices regarding such children that are legitimate. In short, even granting the radical child liberationist thesis that young children have the same formal rights to freedom as competent adults, it does not follow that young children should enjoy the same effective freedom. Indeed, there are good reasons for holding that they should enjoy less freedom. Or so we shall..
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