On today's "World Children's Day" not only big "Fridays for Future" demonstrations will take place, in many places the initiative "Kinderrechte ins Grundgesetz" ("Children's Rights into the Basic Law") will also take to the streets. Its aim is to include respect for children's welfare as a primary state goal in the German constitution. 50 organizations have joined the initiative, including the Giordano Bruno Foundation (gbs).
The fundamental rights anchored in the constitution apply to children and young people as well. So far, however, they have not explicitly been included in the constitution as legal subjects, but merely as legal objects over which their parents have full control. Article 6 of the German Basic Law states: "The care and upbringing of children is the natural right of parents and a duty primarily incumbent upon them."
"According to the spokesman of the board of the Giordano Bruno Foundation, Michael Schmidt-Salomon, "This phrasing reinforced the impression, particularly among strictly religious parents, that they could make decisions about the lives of their children comprehensively, without considering their interests and wishes. Tragically, the German state has repeatedly confirmed this misjudgement - perhaps most dramatically with the 2012 law on circumcision of young boys. As a result of § 1631d BGB, parents in Germany now have the right to have their sons' foreskins amputated without medical indications. Clearly, this cannot be reconciled with the right to physical integrity guaranteed by the constitution."
Therefore, the Giordano Bruno Foundation insists that the rights of children and adolescents to self-determination must be explicitly included in the constitution. The initiative "Kinderrechte ins Grundgesetz" ("Children's Rights into the Basic Law"), which was launched by UNICEF, the German Child Protection Association, and the German Children's Fund and is now supported by around 50 organizations, proposes a new Article 2a of the German Basic Law with the following wording:
- Every child has the right of fostering their physical and mental abilities so as to develop their personality in the best possible way.
- The state community respects, protects, and promotes the rights of the child. It supports parents in their educational duties.
- Every child has the right to participate in matters concerning them. The child's opinion shall be appropriately taken into account in accordance with the child's age and development.
- The welfare of the child shall be paramount in all government action affecting the rights and interests of children.
The proposed wording takes up the principles of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, adopted in 1989 and ratified in Germany in 1992. If the rights of the child were enshrined in this form in the German Basic Law, it would henceforth be easier to protect children within and outside their families against direct, structural, or cultural violence and to oblige the German state to ensure the free development of the personality of the children.
The Right to Education
In this context, the Giordano Bruno Foundation particularly emphasizes the child's right to a solid, i.e. rational, evidence-based, and worldview-neutral education. The foundation points out that children have the right to be introduced to the world without prejudice, to experience the facts of life, and to learn about different perspectives that will help them later develop their own view of things without being pushed ideologically in a certain direction in advance.
gbs spokesman Michael Schmidt-Salomon comments: "Although parents may educate their children according to their respective religious or political preferences, this does not mean that the state may actively support such an ideological or political narrowing of perspectives in its education systems. Therefore, the worldview neutral state should not allow children to be manipulated in publicly funded educational institutions, held in artificial filter bubbles (example: denominational religious education) and systematically shielded from information that would enable them to gain a deeper understanding of the world. It is probably the most noble educational task of the state to provide all children, no matter from which family they come, with access to sources of knowledge in pursuit of equal opportunities, which may remain closed to them in their parental home."
Not least for this reason, the Giordano Bruno Foundation initiated the Evokids Project, which gives children a fundamental insight into evolution and demonstrates to them that together with all other life forms on Earth, they form a unique large family whose origins lie in tiny cells that were formed on Earth in primeval times.
Proponents and Opponents of Children's Rights
In the past, the gbs has repeatedly dealt with child rights issues: In 2006 it reacted to the "Bündnis für Erziehung" (Alliance for Upbringing) presented by the then Minister for Family Affairs, Ursula von der Leyen, together with the churches by criticizing the religious foundation of education and upbringing, and by pointing to the cases of abuse of the Catholic Church, which were still largely suppressed at that time. In 2010 the foundation supported the protest of the former orphanage children against "black pedagogy" in state-run and denominational institutions. In 2012 it carried out the children's rights campaign "Mein Körper gehört mir!" ("My body belongs to me!") against religious forced circumcision of boys.
"The Giordano Bruno Foundation will of course continue its commitment to children's rights," explains Schmidt-Salomon. "The chances that children's rights could be included in the Basic Law in the foreseeable future are not so bad. After all, as early as November 2011 the German Bundesrat called on the Federal Government to submit a corresponding bill to amend the Basic Law. In the Bundestag factions of the SPD, the Greens, FDP, and the Left, advocates of children's rights now make up the majority."
According to the foundation's spokesman, resistance against children's rights primarily derives from the religious side, e.g. from devout Muslims and Christian "pro-lifers": "In fact, those who are particularly committed to the supposed "rights of the unborn life" usually have no interest at all in strengthening the "rights of the born life" – which shows that they are not interested in strengthening the individual right of self-determination, but in placing religious dogmas above secular law. We will continue to resolutely oppose this endeavour in the future!"
In this context Schmidt-Salomon also refers to the "Universal Declaration of Human Rights": "Article 1 of the UN Declaration of Human Rights states that all human beings are 'born free and equal in dignity and rights'. Individual fundamental rights therefore apply in principle (under consideration of the child's stage of development, of course) from birth – not merely from the moment the minor reaches adulthood. It is about time that this is reflected in the German constitution."