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Student protests raise moral issues

May 2012

Under the Quebec Civil Code, parents have both the right and duty of custody, supervision and education of their child.

This is referred to as “parental authority” and should be exercised by both parents. Last year at this time I wrote about a parent’s financial obligations toward a child. This year, I want to consider the right and duty of a parent to supervise and educate their child.

Parents have a right to decide how their child will be brought up and educated. It must also be emphasized that they have a duty to do so. We are all aware of the recent student demonstrations supposedly carried out to get our attention to the objection to an increase in school fees. Such collective, public and organized expressions of opinion are permitted by our laws as long as they do not disrupt public order. What we have seen are students not only demonstrating, but repeatedly and deliberately causing public disruption, inconvenience and property damage. How can this be if we, as parents, have been carrying out our duty to supervise and educate? How can this be when teenage students announce a fight on Facebook, attend the fight as spectators and cheer as the victim is beaten, as occurred recently at a Hudson high school

The law accepts that a child’s parents are the best ones to look after his interests. The Quebec Civil Code contains a section from the Quebec Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms. It specifies that every child has a right to the protection, security and attention that his parents are able to give him. It provides that decisions must be made in the light of his interests and with respect for his rights. In so doing, his moral, intellectual, emotional and material needs are to be considered, as well as his age, health, personality and family environment.

These laws also declare that a child has the right to express himself and to be heard. Gone are the days when a child is to be seen and not heard. Nowhere, however, is it declared that a child has a right to riot. A child’s rights are further fortified by the International Convention on the Rights of the Child, of which Canada is a member. This latter document refers to the duty of parents to provide appropriate guidance and advice as to the exercise by the child of his rights. I wonder if we, as parents, are failing to provide that guidance and advice.

Parental rights are often discussed before the courts, especially on the occasions of family breakdowns and divorce hearings. Perhaps it is time for greater discussion of parental duties and obligations. Perhaps it is time for the law to take a hard look at what is meant by the duty to educate.

We know we must send our children to school. But what about the lessons of civic responsibility and moral duty, of acceptable behaviour of one human toward another, of how to acknowledge the rights of others when exercising our own?

If we are not providing a value system to our children, we are not educating them, we are not acting in their best interest and we are failing them. It is not only the welfare of the child that suffers, but society as a whole.

British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli, in a speech before the House of Commons in 1874, said: “Upon the education of the people of this country, the fate of this country depends.”

About 50 years later, H.G. Wells in his Outline of History said: “Human history becomes more and more a race between education and catastrophe.”

So as we celebrate Mother’s Day, let us think about what we can do for our children to enable them to become better people and better citizens.



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