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“Children’s rights” is a nebulous phrase subsuming two very different issues: the extent to which children can assert the same rights against the state as adults, and the extent to which the state can limit a parent’s power over his child. In cases involving the issue of children’s rights , the Supreme Court has defined those rights in a relatively restrictive fashion. On the one hand, the Supreme Court has recognized that children have constitutional rights independent of those enjoyed by their parents. On the other hand, it has frequently held those rights to be either less than those afforded to adults or subordinate to the rights of parents. A recent opinion listed three reasons why children could not enjoy the same constitutional rights as adults: children’s “peculiar vulnerability…; their inability to make critical decisions in an informed, mature manner; and the importance of the parental role in child rearing.” To the extent that the courts have recognized children’s rights, they generally have done so within the context of a parental right to “family autonomy”.


Originally published by the Northern Illinois University Law Review in 1983.