Experts from around the country gathered Saturday morning at the Brigham Young University Family Law Symposium to discuss the future of "kids' lib," or children's rights.
The main thrust behind children's rights is that children have government protection to do most of what they want to do - the same as adults - said John Coons, a specialist in children's rights from the University of California at Berkeley.But, after discussing some of the legal and moral implications of children's rights, Coons said, "Maybe the best way for liberation is to allow the kids to stay in the family situation where they will be guided toward it."
Coons said, however, that there are exceptions, and not every family can provide the atmosphere that will help children cope with society, but, for right now, no other institution can adequately serve that role.
Lee E. Teitelbaum, a professor at the University of Utah, said there are holes, especially in the juvenile justice system.
"One trend is to start treating juveniles as adults in the criminal justice system," Teitelbaum said. But there are dangers with that because youth are different from adults.
He said minors often commit "minor" crimes, violations that they won't commit as adults because they have matured.
"Second, adults are prone to commit crimes alone; minors will do it in groups," he said. And some places look only at the crime and not the age of the criminal.
"There is no foundation to the claim that children reason as adults," Teitelbaum said. But some of these questions aren't answered by the current legal system.
This is just one aspect of children's rights. Other questions can be raised, said Stephen D. Sugarman, who heads the family law program at the University of California at Berkeley.
"When does a child become a child?" Sugarman asked. In one state, a homicide rule states that if a fetus in the womb is killed as the father beats the mother, the father is not guilty of homicide.
But, if the father dies, the fetus is eligible to receive all benefits from the father's will as the man's offspring.
"Which is the correct definition of a child?" Sugarman asked.
Other points that Sugarman raised include "What type of childhood is right?" One justification for children's rights is that life has become better and they have a right to it. "Is life better?"
What are children's rights to resources? "If a mother works, should she spend the paycheck on a boat for herself or a bicycle for her daughter?" Sugarman asked. And what are children's rights in regard to other children? Sugarman said he hopes he caused some confusion because these questions do not have clear-cut answers.
According to Coons, children are small, inexperienced and mostly without funds.
"Children will learn to decide for themselves when they are capable of deciding," he said. "No one is really liberating them simply by taking away their restraints."