Royal Babies…. and human rights!

Screen Shot 2014-09-08 at 13.34.58The news of another Royal Pregnancy – the Duchess of Cambridge is expecting a second child – has as usual provoked a lot of media attention. To say the least. Lots of cooing, lots of cute pictures (like this one of the last little prince to be born), a fair amount of cynicism about the timing of the announcement (in relation to the Scottish Independence referendum in particular) and so on. Flags will be waved, bells will be rung, tears will be shed – but when it comes down to it, will anyone ask the question that comes up so often in other circumstances: ‘won’t anyone think of the children?’ There are many, many reasons to object to the monarchy – but one rarely mentioned is that it’s inherently cruel to the children. Indeed, it might be argued that it breaches their human rights.

The institution of the monarchy brings into play a whole plethora of human rights. Looking at the European Convention on Human Rights (the ECHR), and glossing quickly over Article 4, which prohibits slavery and forced labour (the application of which I will leave to your own imagination), we can move on to Article 8, which covers the right to a private life.

Article 8: Right to respect for private and family life

“Everyone has the right to respect for his private and family life, his home and his correspondence.”

How much privacy does any Royal Prince or Princess get? As a child, their every move is watched – the huge excitement over Prince George’s first steps was just a start of a lifetime of being snooped on, stared at, scrutinised and analysed in every detail. Of course the Prince or Princess will have protection, and the vast wealth of the Royal Family and indeed the powers of the government will be brought into play, but even so, the level of privacy is minimal. What kind of an institution puts that kind of pressure on a child pretty much from the moment it’s conceived – and certainly from the moment the bump is noticed.

Article 9 – freedom of conscience and religion

“Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief, in worship, teaching, practice and observance.”

What freedom does a Royal Prince or Princess have? Their religion is predetermined – after all, they might grow up to be Defender of the Faith. We often look down on religious fanatics who force their children to follow in their footsteps – but Royal Babies are every bit as restricted. No chance to change – even if it’s legally possible, the pressure not to change is so huge as to be almost insurmountable. It could bring about a constitutional crisis.

Article 10 – freedom of expression

“Everyone has the right to freedom of expression. This right shall include freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart information and ideas without interference by public authority and regardless of frontiers.”

Almost none of that for a Prince or Princess. One word out of place and the media will jump on them from a great height. Prince Charles has tried a bit, and been viciously attacked (yes, sometimes even by me) for doing so – but even he keeps his pronouncements to a pretty narrow range of topics. The expectation is clear – don’t say anything wrong. All statements in writing care carefully edited and vetted. Nothing political. Nothing that might be misconstrued. No real freedom at all….

Article 11 – freedom of association and assembly

“Everyone has the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and to freedom of association with others, including the right to form and to join trade unions for the protection of his interests.”

How can a Prince or Princess exercise freedom of assembly or association? They’re watched and monitored by the Royal Household, by the paparazzi, by a huge number of others. They can’t meet with who they want, when they want, or associate with who they want. Imagine a trade union for Princes and Princesses….

And the rest…

There’s Article 12, covering marriage,  and article 14 covering prohibition from discrimination, but even forgetting them we’re still left with the institution of the monarchy being deeply in breach of the human rights of Royal Babies.

There’s only one solution. The abolition of the monarchy. We must do it, for the sake of the children.

 

Children have a right to privacy

The latest proposal from David Cameron’s ‘Advisor on Childhood’, Claire Perry, is that parents should ‘snoop’ on their children’s texts. Apparently it’s ‘bizarre that parents treat youngsters’ internet and mobile exchanges as private’, as reported in the Daily Mail.

For those of us who work in the privacy field – and indeed for anyone who works or has knowledge of children’s rights – it’s Claire Perry’s ideas that are bizarre. In fact, I’d go a lot further: to anyone who pays any real attention to their children, that kind of idea should be bizarre. Children have a right to privacy – and not in the technical, legal sense (though in that too, because it’s enshrined in Article 16 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, which the UK has both signed and ratified) but in what I would call the real, natural, sense. They want privacy. They need privacy. They demand privacy. Anyone who has children, who spends time with and listens to their children, who respects their children should be able to see that.

Part of that privacy – perhaps the most important part of that privacy – relates to privacy from their parents. That’s the part that children are most likely to care about too – they’re not so worried about the government snooping on them, or companies gathering their personal details for marketing purposes – but they do care about, and need to have some control over, what their parents know about their private thoughts. And we, as parents, need to understand that and respect that – if we are to understand and respect our children. If you want to know what your child is thinking about and caring about, and what they might be doing in their private lives, the best way, as the excellent @SturdyAlex tweeted this morning, is to ‘foster a relationship with them where they trust you enough to tell you’.

Of course the extent to which this is true varies from child to child and from age to age, but children all want and need privacy, and if we don’t understand and respect that all we’ll do is make them less likely to respect and to trust us – and hence more likely to find ways to hide the stuff that really matters from us.

So, Mr Cameron, and Ms Perry, don’t snoop on your children’s texts – or encourage anyone else to. Encourage them to listen to their children more, to respect their children more, to build better relationships to their children. Help your children to help themselves…

It’s about the children…

The Jimmy Savile story has provoked a huge amount of reaction – revulsion, disgust, anger, frustration, and great many attempts to find someone or something to blame. One of the biggest questions being asked is why we didn’t find out about it earlier – so many people seem to have known about it, or at least suspected what was happening, so why didn’t the news come out?

Many different suggestions have been made. Some blame the BBC – and its failures as an institution over this and related matters are all too clear. Some have blamed the libel laws – saying that they would have told the story if it hadn’t been for the threat of a big law suit. For me (as someone who teaches defamation law) that one really doesn’t wash: it may have made a small difference, but newspapers and others have published many, many stories over the years with far less evidence and with pretty much a guarantee of legal action. If they really wanted to publish, they would have.

Some of the ‘mea culpa’ stories from celebrities and others who knew but said nothing have rung true – but others haven’t. For many of them, if they’d really wanted to, they could have said something. For some it might have been ‘career suicide’ to do so – but is your career worth so much? Is anything worth so much?

That, brings me to my point. The main reason, as I see it, that the information didn’t get out, it ultimately that we didn’t care enough. Why? Well, there are two closely connected issues. Firstly, the idea of a man having sex with a young girl wasn’t (and still isn’t) considered such a bad thing. Rock-stars and underage groupies wasn’t (and still isn’t) seen as child abuse by a large number of people. The opposite. It’s almost one of the perks of the job. That’s not just a 70s attitude, it’s a current one. If you look back at the story of the 15 year old girl who went off to France with her 30s teacher, some of the reactions – indeed some of the press coverage – made that very clear. ‘Lucky bloke’ was how it was described by some. The story was presented to a great extent as titillating, a bit scandalous, not as what it was. For many men, the idea of a good-looking and ‘mature’ 15 year old girl seemed very attractive – and if you look at (for example) the sidebar on the Mail Online you can see that idea repeated again and again and again.

The second point, though it might not seem so obvious, is closely related: our overall attitude to young people. We don’t respect them – and we don’t take them seriously. We don’t listen to them, and we don’t believe them – and they know it. We laugh at their taste in music (Justin Bieber, One Direction etc) and their taste in clothes – or we demonise them as terrifying youths in hoodies. What we don’t do is treat them with respect, and try to properly listen to them or be willing to take seriously what they take seriously. To some parents – at least as it’s presented in the media – children are possessions or investments, or devices to be controlled. To some people children are something to be ‘managed’, or corralled like cattle – stop them gathering on street corners, ban them from places. The whole ASBO approach to children took this angle. Does it help? Only at the most superficial level – and it spreads a culture that says that children and young people aren’t worth listening to. They’re a problem to be managed.

So of course it’s hard for children to speak up when things really matter. If they’re not used to being listened to or taken seriously, they won’t talk. If they’re used to their wishes and ideas being either derided or over-riden, why would they think it was worth trying to be heard?

Of course what Savile did was hideously monstrous, and I doubt very much that many of those who knew or had suspicions over Savile and didn’t speak up knew that much of it – but the many who knew a little and didn’t speak up either knew they wouldn’t be listened to, or didn’t think it was such a big deal. Given our attitudes to children in other ways, the more ‘obvious’ stuff he did – groping a few teenaged girls on TV or in his caravan – wouldn’t have been seen as such a big deal. That attitude wasn’t (and isn’t) restricted to a few institutions or a few people – it pervaded (and to an extent still pervades) pretty much our whole society.

That’s not say things aren’t getting better – I think they are, but not to the extent that some people seem to think. Until we show more respect to children, until we listen more to children, until we trust our children a lot more, things won’t change nearly enough…