Do Children Have a Right to Family Privacy?

Ideas that take root in the United Nations have an unsettling tendency to eventually make their way into America’s courtrooms.

That’s why the Parental Rights Foundation submitted a comment to the United Nations’ Special Rapporteur on Child Privacy last month, urging respect for the privacy of the child’s family and home, and not just the privacy of the child as an individual. In essence, we argued, a child’s right to privacy includes respect for parental rights.

A ‘special rapporteur” is a scholar tasked with the duty of gathering data and input on a particular subject, then creating a report to guide policy deliberations. In this case, the Special Rapporteur, Joseph A. Cannataci, will report to the Human Rights Council on the right to privacy for children in March 2021.

To aid his report, the UN sent out a request for comments, with submissions due to the Special Rapporteur by September 30. The Parental Rights Foundation chose to be among the voices providing input, in order to speak to the vital role that parents play in protecting a child’s privacy.

Too often, UN scholars cite a child’s rights as a wedge between a child and his or her parents. A child’s right to privacy can especially be used to separate a child from their parent’s good judgment, assuming one’s definition of “privacy” excludes any sense of what we call “parental rights.”

Yet, to borrow language from the US Supreme Court, parents play a vital role in supplying “what a child lacks in maturity, experience, and capacity for judgment required for making like’s difficult decisions” (Parham v. J.R., 1979).

To counter the idea that a child’s right to privacy means the government should “protect” a child from his or her fit parents, the Parental Rights Foundation submitted a comment to the special rapporteur, using language from the UN’s own documents to support the traditional role of parents.

In particular, we cited the Convention on the Rights of the Child and General Comment Number 7 on Implementing Child Rights in Early Childhood to support a traditional view of the family.

To be clear, the arguments we presented are not binding in US courts. Nor do we imply any endorsement of these documents or of their adoption by the United States.

Rather, we argued that, even by their own documents, the UN should respect the proper role of parents in a child’s life and that failure to do so actually violates a child’s right to privacy.

Our comment argues, first, for the primary role of parents in a child’s life. Even by the UN’s own standards—standards often cited by family opponents to justify intrusion into fit and loving families—parents are supposed to be afforded a high level of respect.

We then argued, again from the UN’s own documents, that a child’s privacy includes not only personal privacy but also the privacy of the child’s family and of the child’s home. These create a sphere in which the fit and loving parent exercises sovereignty.

We wrote,

“Within this private family sphere, the child shares a collective privacy right with other members of the family. While each member of the family has and exercises an individual right to privacy, the family unit is also entitled to a collective right to privacy, within which the parents bear the primary responsibility to direct and encourage the growth of the child in the exercise of his or her rights.”

This is basically United Nations–speak to say, “governments should leave fit and loving homes alone.”

Finally, we cited UN language that warns against “arbitrary or unlawful interference with [a child’s] privacy, family, home or correspondence,” to point out that such interference causes trauma and violates the child’s (and the family’s) rights.

We warned,

“A State Party or government actor may be tempted to overlook this sphere of family privacy, ostensibly in the name of protecting a child’s right to privacy from the direction of the child’s parent or caregiver. Yet to do so, absent evidence of abuse or neglect, would violate the child’s right to privacy both within the family and within the home.”

Our point in all of this, and especially in using the UN’s own words to make our argument, is to make clear that those who would cite these international accords as an excuse to invade our homes and take control over our children do not have a legal leg to stand on.

It is our hope that through our comment we can keep such a misunderstanding of child privacy rights from ever coming to America’s courtrooms through dangerous UN precedent.

Thank you as always for standing with us as we provide a voice to protect children by empowering parents through appropriate respect for our rights.


Michael Ramey
Executive Director