While last week the US press was busy reporting on the Octuplet mother, the British press was buzzing with the story of a 13 year-old boy who became a father. Alfie Patten, was 12 when the baby was conceived (his girlfriend, Chantelle Steadman, was 15) and was quoted as saying “it would be good to have a baby…I didn't think about how we would afford it. ... I didn't know what it would be like to be a dad. I will be good, though, and care for it." Chantelle, told the newspapers that they wanted to "prove to everyone" that they could give Maisie a "great future" and also expressed her commitment to stay in school.
Former Conservative party leader Iain Duncan Smith, who runs the Centre for Social Justice think tank, described the birth as another case of "broken Britain" where "Anything goes…It's not being accusative; it's about pointing out the complete collapse in some parts of society of any sense of what's right and wrong… There is no opprobrium any more about behavior, and quite often, children witness behavior that's aggressive, violent, rude and sexual. It's as if no one is saying this is wrong." The Times reported that during the last ten years more than 40 other boys younger than 14 had fathered children. At the same time Tony Kerridge, a health specialist of Marie Stopes International, spoke of the need for better education and added that "We have got the social aspect of young girls in the UK seeing having a baby as a route to getting their own place."
And thus, some commentators started discussing the licensing thesis, advanced by Hugh LaFollette, a philosophy professor at East Tennessee State University, who called for the adoption of a parenting license through administering competence tests. You can't become a parent unless you pass certain competence tests. If you do become a parent without asking for a license, you will have to take these tests after the birth of the child, and if you fail, the child will be taken from you until you improve. LaFollette believes that although such testing may not be accurate and may prove unjust to some prospective parents, the benefits should outweigh the costs. Naturally, many people objected: “People have a right to having children, as they have the right to free speech and religion.” LaFollette answered that freedom of speech does not make slander acceptable nor does freedom of religion make human sacrifice legal.
Peg Tittle, professor of applied ethics put it as follows: “"We already license pilots, salesmen, scuba divers, plumbers, electricians, teachers, veterinarians, cab drivers, soil testers and television repairmen. ... Are our TV sets and toilets more important to us than our children?.. Then again, wait a minute -- we have set a bar for parents: adoptive/foster parents. Those would-be parents have to prove their competence. Why do we cling to the irrational belief that biological parents are automatically competent -- in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary? We have, without justification, a double standard.”
Pierre Lemieux attacked the concept. He wrote: “It is not clear if, in LaFollette's scheme, a license would be required before conceiving a child, or only for keeping and rearing the baby. LaFollette claims that enforcement problems are not insurmountable. ‘We might not punish parents at all,’ he adds, ‘we might just remove the children and put them up for adoption.’ Of course, laws are ultimately enforced by armed men, and scenes similar to agents with fully automatic weapons seizing Elian Gonzalez would be repeated. Usually, though, parents would let a social worker ‘peacefully’ take their children away because they know that they have no chance against the SWAT team. So, with a few exceptions, the tyranny would be soft and quiet -- tyranny with an invisible hand.”
What do you think? Do we need a license for parenthood or is it a form of tyranny?