By Istarin McVicar
We are always told that we should listen to adults as they’re older than us and know best. This is normally the case and most children are lucky enough to have parents that look after them and tell them what to do because they love them and wish to protect them. Unfortunately, some adults mistreat children and believe that they can get away with it simply because they are older and bigger.
However, some children don’t know that they have rights. We all have rights as soon as we are born and it’s important that these are protected so we can live happily without fear. The rights that we are given come under law. Obviously, the law is quite long and complicated and so it’s impossible to know everything about it. Therefore our blog project ‘Reading my rights’ aims to make you understand that even though children are deemed as vulnerable by society because of age and lack of knowledge , children still have legal rights just like adults. This project will be examining some popular books to help illustrate the legal rules that protect us.
There are some spoilers in this blog so make sure to read the book first!
A Series of Unfortunate events
A Series of Unfortunate Events is a book series written by Lemony Snicket from 1999 to 2006. There are 13 books altogether in the unfortunate series but the books have also been turned into a film and, most recently, a popular television series on Netflix. The books explore the lives of the Baudelaire siblings ; Violet, Klaus and Sunny. The children find themselves orphaned after their parent’s untimely death and are put into the care of Count Olaf.
Olaf is the villain of the series, intent on stealing the children’s fortune. The books focus on the relationships the children form with adults. Their welfare is sacrificed due to the selfishness of Olaf and other characters ,such as Poe , often overlook their plight. Poe is banker who was put in charge of their parent’s will. He never properly listens to the children and always believes other adults over them even though these adults don’t have the children’s best interests at heart. The children have to encounter many obstacles to escape Olaf’s greedy grasp. Would this situation happen in real life? How can the children be properly protected from a horrible adult like Olaf?
What happens if your parents die?
Most parents have a will. This is a legal document which states their wishes after they die. In the document it will say who will look after their children. In this case Count Olaf is the adult the Baudelaire’s parents chose and he is what is known as a ‘testamentary guardian’. This means that he has a right to look after the children. However, Count Olaf is clearly not a suitable adult . In real life would he be allowed to look after them?
UNICEF says that childhood is a ‘precious’ time and children should therefore be ‘safe from violence and protected from abuse’. Therefore in the UK children have certain rights and these are set out in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNRC). In Wales this is reflected into law with the ‘Rights of Children and Young Persons (Wales) Measure 2011. The Welsh government has to have ‘due regard’ to the UNRC when it makes laws.
The rights that would apply to the Baudelaire children include:
- Article 20: children unable to live with their family
- Article 19: Protection from violence, abuse and neglect
- Article 12: Respect for the views of the child
In the book Count Olaf is ‘in loco parentis’ and Poe explains to the children that this meant that the Count could raise the children as he sees fit. In law this is known as ‘parental responsibility’ which means that Olaf has to make decisions on behalf of the children.
What the Count sees fit, however, is abusive. For instance when he ‘struck’ Klaus across the face or when his friends threatened Violet that if she didn’t do as Olaf asked he would ‘wreck’ her ‘pretty’ face. In real life when a child is unable to live with their family the government must give them special protection and assistance and to place the child in care that is continuous and respects the child’s culture, language and religion. It would therefore not be right to allow the children to live with a man who is abusive to them as this would not be filling their needs.
This right is strengthened with article 19. Under The Social Services and Well-being (Wales) Act health, social care professionals and teachers must inform the local authority if they have reasonable cause to believe that a child is at risk of experiencing abuse, neglect or other types of harm. As the Baudelaires are not in school but instead serving Count Olaf this would raise alarm with their teacher and social services would visit the children.
Furthermore under this Act in section 21 where it appears to the local authority that a child may need care and support instead of the care provided by the child’s family (in this case now Olaf) the authority must assess whether the child does need care and if it does what those needs are. This means that the local authority would look at the needs of the Baudelaire children and will examine their well being. If the Baudelaires were a real case it is certain that the local authority would assess that living with Olaf was not good for their well -being. It would be very frightening living in a house where the only reason your guardian has not ‘torn you limb from limb’ is so he could get ‘hold of your money’.
Therefore the court can choose to terminate Olaf’s parental responsibility in order to protect the children.
In the book the children’s voices were overshadowed by adults. An example is when the children wished to live with Justice Strauss, but instead they were whisked away from the ‘possibility of a happy life’ to an ‘unknown face with an unknown relative’.
However, in real life the children’s voice would be heard as under article 12 respect must be given to the children’s views. This means that when the children wished to live with Justice Strauss this should have been taken into account.
Another example of the children’s voice not being heard is where Violet is forced to marry Count Olaf. The book reveals how a loophole can be used in the law to allow forced marriage. In the UK you are not allowed to get married until you are 18 but you can get married at 16 with parental consent. In this case Olaf was Violet’s parent so could give consent on her behalf. Luckily in real life this would not happen. This is because we have The Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014.This means that if you force anyone into marriage, including a child, you can be liable to a maximum of seven years in jail. This protects against child marriage.
Although the Baudelaires have been subjected to cruel abuse it should be comforting to know that in real life their rights would be protected. Although the legal framework is there to protect us a lot of children don’t know what their rights are. In 2022 the school curriculum in Wales is going to be reformed and a report given by the Children Human Rights Defenders in 2018 wrote that it is hoped the curriculum will include more on children’s human rights. Hopefully this project can help this cause.
Look out for more blogs in the ‘Reading my Rights’ series.
My name is Istarin McVicar, I am a law graduate from the University of Exeter and I’m currently studying the Legal Practice Course at Swansea University. In the future I hope to become a solicitor though I am not sure as to which area I would like to practice in yet. During my time at Exeter University I volunteered as part of a student group to examine criminal cases and see whether there was any opportunity for appeal. From my experiences I have understood how important it is for everyone to know their rights which is why I’m so excited to be involved in this ‘Reading my Rights’ project. As well as enjoying reading , I also go to zumba and like to sometimes surf when the weather is good.