Five good reasons to oppose National’s ‘procreation ban’ law
Yesterday the National Government announced that it is considering introducing a new law in this country which would “give courts the power to stop child abusers and killers from procreating or being placed in charge of children“.
At first glance this proposal sounds reasonable right?
Who doesn’t want to stop child abuse, child killing, etc with more proactive laws aimed at stopping abuse?
The problem is that this proposed solution to the problem of child abuse is not actually the sort of policy change that has any place in a free democratic society which values and respects basic human rights.
Before I explain why this proposed law is something we should all be troubled by, I think it’s important to clarify two very important things:
a) The state ALREADY has legal mechanisms open to it to intervene and remove children from abusive parents and families. These mechanisms involve a proper investigation and due process, etc. What this means is that, assuming that National isn’t simply trying to fool the country with mere window dressing, these newly proposed laws would go well beyond the protections we currently have in place.
b) A distinction must be made between sexual and non-sexual child abuse. In the case of sexual abuse, quite clearly it would not be acceptable for pedophiles to have access to children because the compulsion associated with their sexual disorder means that they pose an ongoing risk even after a prison sentence, rehabilitation, etc, is completed. So when I speak of child abuse in this post I am referring only to non-sexual forms of abuse.
With those qualifiers in mind, here are five good reasons why I think we need to strongly oppose this law change:
1. It provides the state with a power that it actually has no legitimate right to wield.
Just look at what the NZ Herald states about the mechanisms of this proposed law change (emphasis added):
Social Development minister Paula Bennett yesterday revealed people convicted of child abuse, neglect or murder could be barred from having children or have their newborn babies removed from them under proposed legislative changes. Child killers and abusers could also be banned from living in a house with children…”
Just consider the enormous reach and power such laws would give to the state.
They could literally ban a person from having children, or take their children from them based NOT on a clear and present threat to the well being of those children, but rather based merely on a previous, and already judicially punished act on the part of the parent.
This is not a preventative measure, as some are suggesting, this is a whole other step beyond mere prevention, instead this is more like the notion of ‘pre-crime’ as presented in the science-fiction short story and film Minority Report.
In Minority Report a person is treated as a threat to society and punished for a crime they haven’t actually committed yet.
2. This law is an unethical violation of basic human rights and freedoms
The state obviously does, and must have the power to curtail certain freedoms when serious situations call for such extraordinary measures.
For example, when a person poses a threat to an ex-wife or girlfriend the state would be acting quite ethically in curtailing his freedom of movement and association by imposing a legal restraining order on him.
However, if no such threat actually exists, then it would be completely unjust to simply impose such a restraining order on someone, or to tell them that because they have had a previous restraining order the state will now be issuing restraining orders for every future relationship they enter in to.
What this proposed law would do is take away a person’s basic human rights and freedoms based not on any real legitimate threat they currently pose to others, but instead this removal of rights would be based on their previous actions – which could have happened many years previous.
One of the important principles of Western justice is the notion of a proportionate response to evil from the state, and the idea that once your debt has been paid your slate has been wiped clean with the state. What this law does is see the state able to engage in excessive measures which would see us continuing to punish someone even after their debt to society has actually been paid.
3. It has some extremely concerning clauses open to totalitarian abuse
Not only has the Prime Minister stated that “there is a very strong case to say some people are not fit to raise children” when speaking about this law – which quite clearly exposes a eugenic undertone – but, according to media reports, it could be used in cases of convictions for neglect and child abuse, as well as that of murder.
Which at a quick glance seems okay, until you stop to consider the fact that only murder is a clearly defined and objective standard, while the other two clauses, ‘child abuse’ and ‘neglect’ are wide open for totally arbitrary and subjective interpretations based on little more than simple law changes.
What’s to stop the definition of child abuse being expanded to include parents who raise their children to believe that only one religious faith is true, or that ‘neglect’ could also include refusing to provide children with certain foods in their lunch boxes, or refusing to send them to school and opting for homeschooling instead, etc.
It’s not good enough to respond to such serious questions by saying ‘this government has said that this law is only going to be used in extreme cases’.
‘Extreme cases’ is not an objective and binding standard, and based on the ideological trends of the day it could be used to describe anything at all that the state wishes it to describe via the simple action of a vote in the house.
If you think this will never happen then you need to read more history, because not only has this very sort of thing happened regularly throughout human history, but it has happened in recent history, and in the most educated and advanced societies.
What we have here with this policy is what is sometimes called ‘totalitarian creep’ – the death of authentic human freedoms and just governance by a thousand cuts.
Sure, the current National Government might never use these measures in their most extreme forms, but when their time in office comes to an end all bets are off as to what these laws will be used for, or extended to include.
4. It is built on an inauthentic deterministic vision of the human person and moral behavior
Basically what lies at the heart of this law is a eugenics mentality, and the Prime Minister’s public statements today show that the Government knows that this is the case.
Just consider the way that John Key tried to preempt and close down debate about such concerns when he said that the Government would not support compulsory sterilisation for abusive parents because they thought that would make most people uneasy.
The problem with this rhetoric is that, in practice, a person who is targeted with this law has all but been sterilized.
Apart from the fact that the child can be brought into existence with this proposed version of the law, the persons who are effected by this legislation will have still lost their natural right to raise and parent their own children as they deem appropriate.
It’s hard to see how the outcome is actually that different, because in both scenarios NZ citizens are being denied the right to parent by edict of the state.
Ultimately this law is built on a false deterministic view of human personhood and behavior. Why else go to such extreme measures as preventing a person from having children unless you believe that they are predetermined to commit child abuse, and that they can never choose to make good parenting decisions?
This kind of hopeless fatalism making its way into legislation is usually a sure sign that those in power have completely lost sight of important truths about the human person and ethics.
5. It does NOT address the root causes of child abuse
Ultimately one of the biggest practical failings of this proposed legislation is the fact that it doesn’t actually address the root causes of child abuse.
Firstly, there is a very good argument to be made for the fact that increased state intervention of this type is ultimately more damaging in the long term because of the way that it seriously inhibits the ability of free autonomous persons to experience the fullness of human flourishing by living fulfilling moral lives that contribute to families, communities and wider society.
Has anyone even bothered to stop and think about what happens long term to someone who is denied the ability to parent their own children based solely on previous mistakes, and how such a denial could actually turn out to negatively impact society somewhere further down the line?
Ultimately I suspect that placing someone in such a hopeless social dead end is not actually a solution to social problems, but rather it is simply a deferral that will end up manifesting itself some years down the track in some other serious social harm.
Yes, people abuse children, but at the right time, with the right support and love, having a child can be the making of a someone, transforming their lives and behaviors in truly amazing and profound ways.
Secondly, this law completely fails to address any of the triggers and causes for child abuse.
Things like economic and social factors, educational opportunities, the role of a strong family unit, etc, etc.
Ultimately it seems to me that this proposed law is little more than placing an unethical band aid on a large and gaping wound, so that we can go on kidding ourselves that the real, pressing and serious causes of social and family breakdown, which lead to subsequent child abuse, no longer actually require our considered attention.
Earlier today John Key stated that our country needs to have an “uncomfortable conversation” about child abuse.
I couldn’t agree more, and I think it needs to start with issues such as our failure to protect and promote strong and stable marriages, our lack of attention to forming men with an authentic vision of masculinity and fatherhood, etc, as well as things like the increasing demands of capitalism and consumerism which see families being driven apart and placed under increasing and very serious burdens.
Somehow I think that conversation might be a little too uncomfortable, even for Mr. Key, and therefore it’s one that we’ll put off having in favor of inadequate quick-fix propositions such as this new ‘procreation-ban’ law.