© 1995 Karen Selick
 Children: The New Excuse for Everything
An edited version of this article first appeared in the December, 1995 issue of Canadian Lawyer.  If you wish to reproduce this article, click here for copyright info.


 Children: The New Excuse for Everything

Human beings, generally speaking, are fond of children.  We can't help it--we're hard-wired that way.  Maybe once, millions of years ago, there was a branch of our evolutionary tree whose members detested children, but it would quickly have died out, for obvious reasons.

Unfortunately, this fondness makes us vulnerable to manipulation and skulduggery.  Just as kidnappers use children to extort money from distraught parents, other scoundrels in philanthropists' clothing invoke the public's affection for kids to inveigle us into all sorts of dubious deals.  

For example: governments all over the world would like to control the Internet.  They can hardly bear the thought of their citizens romping in an unregulated environment where political borders are irrelevant.  The citizens, however, love the emancipation of cyberspace.  What to do?  Invent a crisis.  

Suddenly we're told, "The Internet is a danger to kids.  Pornographers corrupt them with lewd graphics.  Perverts lure them to illicit rendezvous.  Let government control the Internet to save your children!  (Of course, we'll also be reading all your e-mail.)"

Those who wish to control the content of television, movies, books and even pop music also rely on society's love of children to justify their meddling.  Freedom of speech may be okay for adults, they say, but all that violence / sex / drug use / profanity (pick one) is damaging our children.  State censorship, not parental control, is their solution.

Examine almost any hot issue today and you'll find someone trying to curtail freedom in the name of protecting children.  The anti-tobacco lobby, having virtually abolished smoking in so-called public places like airplanes that are actually private property, now seeks to invade the privacy of smokers' own homes, claiming that sidestream smoke is killing kids.  Environmentalists rationalise each new encroachment on property rights on the grounds that they're saving the planet for our children.  Mandatory bicycle helmets?  But of course--for the sake of the children.  Even the U.S. government's fiasco at Waco, which ultimately killed 17 children, was defended by authorities as an exercise in preventing child abuse.

But the biggest kiddie-protection sham today is the outcry over cuts to welfare benefits.  Welfare activists claim children will go hungry if cuts persist.  How can society be so cruel to innocent babes who never asked to be born?

My experience in family law tells me someone is indeed exploiting the plight of innocent children, but it's not society.  A large percentage of those innocent babes need not be on welfare.  Someone is putting them there.  I'm sorry to say it's usually their mothers.

The unnecessary welfare cases fall into three categories.  First there are babies born to unwed teenagers.  A generation ago (when welfare was not available to them), such girls customarily gave up their infants for adoption.  Nowadays, more than 2,000 Canadian couples per year, aching for a child, exasperated with fertility treatments and waiting lists, adopt babies from Third World countries at a cost of up to $25,000.  Thousands of other couples continue to wait.  When a 17-year-old Canadian girl quits school to raise a baby by herself on welfare instead of placing her child in one of these financially secure two-parent homes, should we call it love, or should we call it cashing in a meal ticket?

Next there are the second, third and even fourth babies born to single mothers already on welfare.  Who is to blame when these women, already familiar with the allegedly tough grind of welfare, choose to inflict it upon additional offspring?  There are other options open to them: celibacy, birth control, abortion or adoption.

How many children are being born into welfare households?  My Freedom of Information request to Ontario's Ministry of Community and Social Services, followed up by two letters and two phone calls, never produced anything more than a promise to provide an estimate of how much they would charge me to produce this information.

I have personal knowledge of at least 12 such cases where I've been involved as counsel, and I am just one lawyer in one small town.  There must be thousands. 

Finally, there are kids from failed marriages whose working fathers would be glad to have custody of them and support them unassisted, instead of leaving them on welfare with mom.  I've met many such men.  Unfortunately, the deck is stacked against them in custody battles simply because they're male and they work all day.  Facing poor odds and paying interim support, few can afford to litigate. 

Examine the history of welfare rolls.  As benefits have increased and eligibility has broadened, the child welfare population has soared.  To reduce the numbers, benefits must be cut and eligibility restricted, forcing mothers to make the tough-love decisions they can currently avoid.

No, the children on welfare didn't ask to be born, but they're not the only innocent parties to this affair.  The taxpayers who support them also didn't ask for them to be born.  Why doesn't their innocence count?

Childhood is a temporary condition.  We each spend about a quarter of our lives as children, and three quarters as adults.  The kindest thing we can do for today's children is to bequeath them a country that won't burden them with guilt and crushing taxes throughout the greater portion of their lives.

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June 11, 2000