A Plea for the Children
Workers’ Republic, 2 December 1899
Recently republished in Red Banner, No.2 (PO Box 6587, Dublin 6).
Transcription: Aindrias Ó Cathasaigh.
HTML Mark-up: Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.
We wonder how many of our readers fully appreciated the significance of that plank in our municipal programme  which demands the free maintenance of children at School. In no item of the Socialist programme are the economic and humanitarian aspects of the movement so closely blended, and none are so much required in the interest of future generations. For the misery and oppression under which the adults of this generation suffer, they have themselves largely to blame as much of it is immediately removable, and all of it could be abolished by a concerted effort on the part of its victims. But the children who suffer most from this inhuman social system; who are stunted in growth, physically and intellectually; who are dragged up, for the most part, in tenement houses which ever tend to become veritable cesspools of crime and degradation; who are shut out by the poverty of their parents from every avenue of enlightenment, and who find their whole lives warped and distorted by the evil conditions surrounding their infancy; their claim for consideration is superior to all political exigencies, and ought to be pressed forward with all the energy we possess.
It may be urged against such a demand that it introduces the public power of the community into a sphere from which it ought to be excluded – the home. But this is an argument which cannot be seriously entertained when we consider the many and varied inroads upon private life which the power of the State has already made, and in which such public intervention has proven to be in the highest degree beneficent. The individual can no longer use his property as he pleases, even when that property is in inanimate things, but when property takes the form of human beings, as children, the ‘rights’ of the individual are circumscribed and limited in the most thorough manner. And what sane man to-day would venture to assert that the right of parents to do as they like with their children – a right which all too often took the form of brutal maltreatment and systematic starvation – was more compatible with public welfare, or private morality, than the supervision enforced by the State at present. And as the right of the individual to maltreat his children has been suppressed in the interest of the children, should not the social maltreatment of the children which follows as a result of the enforced poverty of the parents also be suppressed? If it is right that parents should not be allowed to sentence their children to corporal punishment of a severe character, or to curtail their supply of food below what is necessary for their subsistence, is it not also right that Society which, through its faulty economic organisation, sentences the parents themselves to a lifetime of drudgery and ill-requited toil, should use its power to provide the children of the poor it has created with sufficient of the necessaries of life to allow of their proper development into capable, self-respecting men and women? It is said this would encourage drunkards and loafers to neglect their children. But the children of such people are neglected now, and the maintenance of their children out of public funds could not increase such neglect, but would only save the helpless little ones from its consequences. Why should children suffer, even if the parents are criminal and indolent?
Society owes a duty to these children – they are the citizens of the future; as their childhood is made happy and healthful, and therefore truly susceptible of receiving education, so will their manhood and womanhood tend to become; so will the civilization they mould be worthy of an enlightened people. Therefore, we repeat, the Free Maintenance of the Children is a most important item to be fought for, and we look to see the revolutionary working class making this demand a prominent feature in its future agitation – resolved that capitalist society, which starved and stunted our childhood, and debases and exploits our manhood, shall, at least, be compelled to take its clutches off the lives of our children and leave the rising generation physically and mentally capable of accomplishing the glorious task of social reconstruction now awaiting it.
1. The programme put forward by the ISRP in local elections.
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Last updated on 11.8.2003