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5 Geo. J. on Fighting Poverty 313 (1997-1998)
From Property to Personhood: A Child-Centered Perspective on Parents' Rights

handle is hein.journals/geojpovlp5 and id is 319 raw text is: FROM PROPERTY TO PERSONHOOD:
Barbara Bennett Woodhouse*

atification of the United Nations Conven-
tion on the Rights of the Child (Conven-
tion) has been consistently opposed in the
United States, with much of this opposition com-
ing from defenders of the traditional family.
These opponents believe that the Convention's
attempt to articulate a scheme of rights for chil-
dren undermines the rights of parents. I believe
that this concern is unjustified and that it reflects
the continuing influence of a property theory of
parenthood that was discredited long ago. Such a
theory conceptualizes parental rights as being
virtually absolute and an end in themselves, rather
than as an outgrowth of parents' responsibilities
and a means to secure the well-being of their
children. This property theory has been an
impediment to the acceptance of children's rights
in general, and to the ratification of the Conven-
tion in particular.
Much of the domestic opposition to the Conven-
tion comes from those who believe that by attempt-
ing to articulating a scheme of rights for children,
the Convention undermines the fundamental
*Barbara Bennett Woodhouse is a Professor of Law at the
University of Pennsylvania. The following is an edited
transcript of an address Ms. Woodhouse gave on February 28,
1998 during the Symposium on the United Nations
Convention on the Rights of the Child, an event hosted by the
Georgetown Journal on Fighting Poverty and held at the
Georgetown University Law Center

rights held by parents in the traditional family.
This hostility to children's rights reflects the con-
tinuing influence of the long discredited tradition
of treating children as property.
The tenacious power of this property theory is
not surprising. The concept of human property, of
which slavery was the most notorious vestige, has
ancient roots. The notion of children as their
fathers' property flowed naturally from the story of
procreation as told by a patrilineal society; accord-
ing to the ancients, it was the father's seed
which, once planted in the mother's womb, grew
into his likeness within the woman's body. Flesh of
their father's flesh, children rightly belonged to
the patriarch, to be worked, traded, and given in
marriage in exchange for money. Had you tried to
engage Aristotle in debate over the question of
parental powers versus justice for children, the
debate might have ended almost before it began.
He contended in the Nicomachean Ethics that:
There cannot be injustice towards that which is
one's own; and a chattel, or a child, until it is of a
certain age and has attained independence, is as it
were a part of oneself; and nobody chooses to
injure himself (hence there can be no injustice
towards oneself) and so neither can there be any
conduct towards them that is politically just or
son trans., 1986).


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