This is a post about human rights. Rights that we all enjoy because, well, we are human beings and not tadpoles, buttercups, or granite slabs. We are born human, and in a special position in the world even if we share most of our DNA with a host of other similar creatures.
Humans have the ability to commit both magnificent acts of good and terrible acts of evil. In the mid-20th century, the world was recovering from a horrific world war and related events of genocide and destruction, which had ripped apart families and left much death and suffering in their wake.
A coalition of “civilized” nations swore that this evil should never happen again, and worked to create what became the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted and proclaimed by the General Assembly of the United Nations ion December 10, 1948.
Included in the Universal Declaration are rights that are belong inherently to all living human beings. They include rights to dignity and equality, the right to be free from slavery, and the right to equal protection of the law. Also included in the Universal Declaration are rights that protect even the most vulnerable of our citizens from systemic cruelty and exploitation. Rights that our governments try to conveniently forget.
A mother and her child together are one of the most precious and yet are often the most vulnerable families in any society. Vulnerable, that is, because in some cultures, they are rendered without protection from external forces that work to separate them. In many patriarchal nations, a mother is often only certain that she will be able to keep her baby if: (1) she is married and thus financially/socially protected by a man, or (2) she has sufficient status in the employment market such that she can independently support her baby by herself.
Men and women are equal, but due to biology they are very different, an example being when two people of the opposite sex make love. The man can walk away from his responsibility for any resulting child — he may not even know he is a father. The woman cannot walk away. She must deal with the consequences in a directly personal way. During her pregnancy, social sanctions limit not only her options, but stigmatize her into solutions that society either provides or withholds from her. A baby is a part of her body for nine months, and that experience is one she can never walk away from.
To be a woman means the inherent capability (or implied capacity) to create and give birth to a child.
“Making the decision to have a child – it’s momentous. It is to decide forever to have your heart walking around outside your body.” – Elizabeth Stone
Human rights factor into the experience of every woman who becomes pregnant. Firstly, human rights are universal, guaranteed to all human beings. Article 2 of the Universal Declaration states:
“Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status.”
Article 16 states:
“The family is the natural and fundamental group unit of society and is entitled to protection by society and the State.” A mother and her child together is a family. There can be no doubt, and no argument, about this. They thus have the right to protection by society and the state.
But perhaps most explicit is Article 25, which states:
“(1) Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control. 2) Motherhood and childhood are entitled to special care and assistance. All children, whether born in or out of wedlock, shall enjoy the same social protection.”
This explicitly provides every family — every mother and her child — with the support and means required to keep them together, as a basic human right. It also means that women have the right to social protection, the right to keep their children, without having to be the “social property” of a man (did you know that until very recently, in many areas the birth certificates of the children of unmarried mothers were stamped “Illegitimate”?). It means that marriage is not required to “legitimize” a woman fulfilling the natural function of her body, a natural function of being a woman: giving birth to her child. Marriage or at least a long-term parental commitment from both partners is indeed the ideal situation, but for many mothers it is just not feasible or possible.
This Declaration agreed to in 1948 protects all mothers and their children. It provides mothers with rights such that no mother need be forced by poverty, coercion, or social pressure to surrender her baby for adoption. Every mother has the right to protection and social support for herself and her child as a family unit such that horrific trauma of surrender, the coerced separation from her infant, is not inflicted upon her.
“Almost everyone believes that on some level, [mothers] made a choice to give their babies away. Here, I argue that adoption is rarely about mothers’ choices; it is, instead, about the abject choicelessness of some resourceless women.” (Solinger, 2001).
It is clear that if the basic human rights of ALL mothers were respected, protected, and codified into the laws of each nation, that there would be far fewer unnecessary adoptions. Fewer families would be destroyed, fewer mothers would be forced to surrender their beloved infants, and the world would be a far more ethical and safe place for mothers who are giving birth — mothers left vulnerable to the adoption industry because their human rights have been violated.
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- “Elizabeth Stone Quotes” at http://thinkexist.com/quotes/elizabeth_stone
- Solinger, R. (2001). Beggars and choosers – How the politics of choice shapes adoption, abortion, and welfare in the United States. New York: Hill & Wang.
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