I’m interested in children’s rights but also more generally in the relationship between rights and value. Many, or most, children’s rights are justified in terms of the adult persons that the children may become and the goods those adults lives may contain. Perhaps the most famous paper on children’s rights, "A Child’s Right to an Open Future," makes this explicitly clear. Our focus on children is largely future directed. For the most part, I think this makes sense. But I also think there is a danger in focusing too much on the future and neglecting the goods of childhood. This is especially true if some of the goods of childhood are valuable in their own right, and even more so if some of those goods are incommensurable with the goods of adult life. (Michael Slote makes this point but doesn’t develop it much further.) Suppose, for example, there is no amount of good in the future that could outweigh a childhood of suffering and misery. Let me give two examples to illustrate this point. Both are areas in applied ethics where this point makes a difference.
First, the literature on a child’s right to good sex education is entirely adult-directed. Sex education for children is justified entirely in terms of producing mature and competent adult sexual decision makers. There is little or no recognition of the positive role sex plays in the lives of teenagers. We focus on protecting children from adults and on the adult choosers they’ll become but largely ignore the positive aspects of teen sexuality. The dangers here should be obvious. The most important strategic consideration is having one’s educational materials dismissed as largely irrelevant. We also fail children if we cannot provide them with the information they need. For philosophers, we also get it wrong if we neglect those aspects of the good life that occur before adult life begins.
Second, the literature on children and sport likewise focuses on adults. And this cuts both ways. Sometimes an appeal to a balanced childhood is justified in terms of maximizing choices for adult life. This is a common argument against children’s involvement in one sport in a serious way. At other times the appeal to the adult athlete the child could become were her potentially fully developed is used to argue for children’s participation is seriously demanding sports. Both arguments have in common that they ignore the goods that occur within childhood.
I’m interested both to see whether you can think of other examples and whether you think the general point is correct.