In 1989, the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Convention on the Rights of the Child, proclaiming elementary rights for children worldwide. Among other provisions, the Convention safeguards children’s religious freedom and their freedom of thought. But because child rearing is recognized as the primary responsibility of parents, the question of what children are raised to believe is left up to their mothers and fathers.
In this controversial critique of the UN Convention, humanist Innaiah Narisetti forcefully argues that children’s rights should include complete freedom from religious belief. Narisetti proposes that the choice of religious belief or nonbelief should be deferred till adulthood. Just as most societies recognize that marriage and civic responsibilities such as voting are adult prerogatives that children should not be allowed to exercise, so should the choice of a belief system wait till an individual is competent to exercise mature judgment.
Narisetti cites numerous examples of the ways in which early religious indoctrination leads to later negative attitudes such as intolerance, suspicion, and outright hostility directed toward those who believe differently. He also notes that religion provides a cloak for such obvious evils as sexual abuse, genital mutilation, and corporal punishment of children. While most societies are quick to condemn such abuses, Narisetti suggests that they should be willing to take the next logical step and look to the role of religion in such problems.
Including the complete text of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, this candid, unflinching critique of childhood religious education will provoke much thoughtful discussion.