It is interesting that, once a child is born, family law principles all seem to boil down to “the well-being of the child”.  At least in theory, it outweighs almost anything else which might be a factor in a dispute.  Yet, before birth, in conceiving children, and in dealing with the actual relationship breakdowns caused by adults who can’t handle remaining in the family home for any number of reasons, society seems to place so much more weight on the adult’s ‘right’ to that child at any cost or ‘right’ to be happy than on a child’s well-being and natural need to have a stable family unit to fall back on.  

The newly formed International Children’s Rights Institute wants to put some focus back on the rights of the child.  A non-partisan, secular educational and research centre comprised of scholars from around the world, it plans to focus on the rights of children to be born free, to have a mother and a father where possible, to know their heritage and bond with their biological parents as much as possible, and be protected from exploitation.  It is a welcome addition to global debate on these sometimes controversial issues.

In their first conference this month “Bonds that Matter” they discussed a range of situations where children’s rights are commonly infringed upon such as donor conception, surrogacy and divorce.  One of the speakers present was Alana Newman, founder of Anonymous Us.  The Anonymous Us Project was formed to help those affected by donor technologies share their stories, inspire more truth and transparency, and to ultimately help shape healthier families and happier people.  There is a surprising lack of any accurate demographic data about people born through donor conception.  Little information is even available to the children themselves often, let alone at a state level.

Newman spoke on behalf of donor-conceived children and adults who believe that their lives have been permanently negatively affected by being cut off from at least one biological parent. She was especially traumatised by the fact that her biological father was paid for his promise to stay out of her life, saying that not only do many donor-conceived children and adults suffer from feelings of worthlessness, grief and shame, but they are denied access to half of their genetic background – something she feels every person has a right to.

She also discussed how donor conception creates other completely unnatural societal problems.  For example, the American Society of Reproductive Medicine recommends (as these numbers are not based on law, the reality could be much worse) a limit of twenty-five children per donor per population of 800,000. That means that within New York City one person could have 258 offspring, and the son of such a donor could easily have over a hundred sisters in the same area. The result is that is it possible that people unknowingly engage in incest and have consanguineous children, which is normally prohibited by law and may cause birth defects and health problems.

There is a surprising lack of transparency or regulation around the rights of a child to know their own mother and father in the case of donor conception.  In July this year, Emma Cresswell became the first donor-conceived Briton to have her “father’s” name struck off her birth certificate. She persuaded the court to order a new form because she did not share any genetic heritage or relationship with the man named as her father.  She was made even more distant from him by the fact that her mother had long separated from him.  Awfully, Miss Cresswell only discovered the truth because “in the middle of an argument, Geoff decided to tell one of my brothers and me that we were actually donor-conceived and that he wasn’t our father” she says. “It came as a shock to all three of us. We had no idea or inkling as we grew up.”

Situations such as this are a terrible violation of children’s rights, and seem to put adult’s rights far above that of children’s.  Hopefully, this new Institute will help to put the spotlight on the issues currently affecting children’s happiness and ability to grow into stable, happy adults around the world.

Shannon Roberts

Shannon Roberts is co-editor of MercatorNet's blog on population issues, Demography is Destiny. While she has a background as a barrister, writing has been a life-long passion and she has contributed...