Jack Hart is Communications Manager at The Freedom Association.
There isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach to parenting. What’s right for one child is rarely exactly the same for another. Therefore, when the state takes it upon itself to step in and seek to govern how parents bring up and care for their children, there are always bound to be disgraceful failings – like in the ongoing Ashya King case.
More and more in recent years, politicians, bureaucrats, policemen and health professionals have begun to express their opinions on how parents should raise their children. While this all starts with friendly advice about being home before it’s dark and eating five portions of fruit or vegetables a day, it ultimately leads to parents being criminalised for making what they believe to be the right decisions for their child.
Ashya King’s parents believed, and still believe, they were acting in a manner which was best for their child. So far, rather than being supported for this, they’ve been criminalised. Thanks to the NHS and Hampshire Constabulary, the initial media coverage was horrifying, with continual breaking news alerts as the story seeped out. They were described as having “snatched” their own child; had it implied that they were fugitives on the run, and became the focus of an international manhunt. At times it almost felt as if the media had come close to counting down how long the batteries for the vital medical equipment they had been supplied with might last.
In the rush to control the media, Hampshire Constabulary and the NHS failed Ashya King and his parents. As this debacle unfolded, Hampshire Police even found themselves either unwilling or unable to explain what crimes had been committed, especially when they issued a European Arrest Warrant.
As the dust begins to settle, it has become clear that Ashya King’s parents appear to have acted with seemingly noble intentions. They wanted the best possible care for their child, and they believed this would be better achieved abroad. However, now, instead of being able to continue caring for their child, they’re awaiting extradition back to the UK for as yet unspecified criminal behaviour.
To choose to have children and care for them yourself is a fundamental freedom and right. Of course others, including state institutions, also have the right to offer you advice – but they should not have the right to dictate. There’s been an ever growing move to dictate how parents should bring up their children, and the calls earlier this year for a “Cinderella Law” clearly highlight this.
A “Cinderella Law”, should it be enacted, will seek to quantify how much a parent loves their child. Just how on earth is that going to work? While of course there’d be easy examples of how such an offence might have occurred, who is to say where the line might be drawn? What if a parent decides their child has to go to bed earlier than usual because of bad behaviour? They might even send them to bed without any dinner – would this break any Cinderella Law?
There has to be a distinction between what the state can control and what it cannot; in the same way there must be a separation between the elements of an individual’s private life which the state believes it has the right to influence. Parenting is a difficult area, because of course, some parents do behave terribly. But they’re already breaching existing laws and can be dealt with accordingly. A new rush to legislate, especially in such a complex area, never ends well.
Recently the past failings of those responsible for child protection have been laid bare, and the failings appear to have often been plentiful and common-place. This of course leads to emotions running high, and those in authority seeking to instantly rectify perceived problems. Society is rightly challenging how children are cared for, but it is examples like Ashya King’s which show how easily it can and will go wrong.