Friday, January 05, 2007

Concern about Exploiting Juvenile Rights for Adult Political Gain

In Florida last winter three young men were arrested for brutally beating a homeless man to death with baseball bats as the man slept on a bench. One of the assailants was just 17 at the time, and the other two were 19.

The prosecutor in the case has decided that the death penalty will not be sought for any of the accused. (Read Article) The death penalty was Constitutionally only an option for the two 19-year-olds because in 2005 the Supreme Court ruled that the death penalty for anyone under 18 at the time of their crime is cruel and unusual punishment. (Roper v. Simmons)

The Florida prosecutor indicated that the death penalty was avoided in the case of the deadly beating of the homeless man for reasons of proportionality between the sentences.

Opponents of the death penalty would probably hail this as a great victory -- a chipping away at an immoral punishment. (Personally, I oppose the death penalty.)

From the child advocate's point of view I am concerned that children's rights might take on a middle man role -- being used to push along political agendas that do not directly impact children. I'm concerned that the unique character of children might be exploited for the political gains of adults seeking rights that cannot be achieved in the broader society, but might be achieved with children (and then hopefully extended).

I don't want it to seem as if I don't want children to get rights -- because I do. I'm just worried that children's issues might be manipulated in the hope of furthering some non-child-related goal. The strategy of using children's rights to gain ground for a larger societal issue is not new. Even in Brown v. Board of Education (1954) children were used as a first step toward larger societal progress.

I think that the abolition of the death penalty and the progression of civil rights are both crucial movements for the successful reign of democracy and liberty in the United States, but I wonder how children are being served when they become the focus of the development of such important rights. I'm glad that these 19-year-olds will not be eligible for the death penalty. I'm concerned though about the rationale. I would have much preferred if the prosecutor left Roper v. Simmons out of it and objected to pursuing the death penalty on moral (or other non-child related) grounds.


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