Tuesday, March 06, 2007

ordination of children - a human rights violation?

dinidu de alwis of chappafine blog wrote a post yesterday entitled "mass human rights violation by buddhist monks" criticizing ordination of children. i also think ordination children to be a human rights violation. however imo (as i said there) he muddied the argument by bringing in unwarranted comparisons with barbaric practice of forced terrorist child recruitment and unsubstantiated allegations about sexual abuse.

clarity of argument is important. a rights violation should not be measured in relation to other rights violations, even if such comparisons are possible. (in this case i don't think there is any comparison between the fate of a young monk and a ltte child recruit.) nor is it logically correct to condemn a widespread practice based on the actions of a very few (if any) who may engage in sexual abuse. even the scale of the ordinations should not matter much.

i consider ordination of children to be a human rights violation because such ordinations commit the children to rules of behavior and a path of life before they are able to fully understand or to freely decide on, the implications of such rules and that path.

as i understand in theory monks can leave at anytime, but in practice it would be a very difficult (in some cases almost impossible) decision to make, given the inertia, prevailing culture, and other economic opportunities available. when i was in my twenties i gave up my entrepreneurial activities and started on a 'normal' career due to various personal reasons, intending to get back after 5 years. however when the time came, i found it hard to give up a clear socially accepted career path and regular income for the risky business of being my own boss in pursuit of my dreams. it took me two extra years to make the decision. so i can understand the difficulty facing a monk who wants to lead a normal life after being ordained and educated from a young age to be a monk. if we have a system like in thailand where supposedly a majority of young men get ordained for a short period this would not be a problem. unfortunately that is not the case here. in other words imo an ordained child is trapped in a way of life without his informed consent and that is a violation of his rights.

i know that there haven’t been any sort of major objections to this practice. on the contrary lot of highly educated and respected buddhist monks (most of whom were ordained as children) support it (whether they are political or apolitical does not make a difference). so do vast majority of buddhist laymen i know. what i have not seen is a proper justification.

that is why (as i said in reply to referred post). i would really welcome a properly argued justification of child ordination from buddhists in blogosphere.

btw i am not a buddhist. i was bought up as a roman catholic by a non practicing catholic mother and a non practicing buddhist father, and was more or less an atheist from my teens. you may gather what i think of religions in general (including buddhism), and impossibility of constructing a secular universally valid moral code, from some of my earlier posts. this one for instance.


Dili said...

Cant put everything i wanna say here .Click HERE and see my view of the scene.

Voice in Colombo said...

I too agree ordination of children is kind of a human right violation. Both your and chappafine's posts got a very good point in that sense.

My concern is, the definition of "human rights". We say ordination of children is a violation of human rights, based on the definitions created for some other purposes. (Like war, good governance, etc)

But, have some one defined "human rights" in a religious context?

Then how do we explain Christian baptism? Other Islamic rituals? And, Islamic code for how women should dress etc etc? Aren't they also violations of human rights, under the same definition?

Few years back, some people raised the question whether using elephants in Kandy Perahera is a violation of animal rights or not. (Ironically, again they were linked to NGO's!) But, they never questioned the bull fighting festivals in Spain is a violation of animal rights or not. Bull fighting is a cultural symbol in Spain, and Kandy Perahera is a cultural symbol in Sri Lanka.

So, from the surface, though we see ordination of children as a violation of human rights, we have to look at the deeper aspects too, before drawing conclusions. The society is build up on so many traditional, cultural customs like this. We can't expect to eliminate such things overnight, by just pointing out human rights laws. May be in another 50 years, there will be laws to govern ordinations, baptism and all other religious activities. 50 years ago, being a black man in America was a sin. But, things are different now.

Dinidu de Alwis said...

Clarification: The comparison between conscription into Sangha Sasana and the LTTE/Karuna conscription, is actually a comparison how how people react to it.

The GoSL, NGOs, Tom, Dick and Harry shout their arses off the moment Children/Conflict are mentioned. My point was, nobody gives a shit about this issue kiyala...

sittingnut said...

Dili ( i posted the same reply in your blogs too):
thanks for expressing your views.

i do not think and did not say that children are being forced into ordination. problem is that even when they are making a free choice they are not competent to make that decision. as i said in the post "ordinations commit the children to rules of behavior and a path of life before they are able to fully understand or to freely decide on, the implications of such rules and that path....ordained child is trapped in a way of life without his informed consent"

you say
...i never saw him complain of not being able to bed down with a girl.You cant stop them guys, that would be taking away their human rights too
we do ( at least try to) stop children from making certain decisions even if they like it ( having sex , cutting school, work, etc for instance) . even a parent cannot permit a minor do certain things even if both parent and child like to do it.

it doesn't matter that most children ordained do not speak ill of the practice ( as i said some of the respected monks who were ordained as children support it ). as long as some of them are trapped in a life without any choice when they become adults.
human rights violation here is that the children's ability to decide how they live as adults is lost before they are able to make an informed decision .

i do consider buddhism to be a religion for all practical purposes. since this post is not about it i will not go in to it here. besides i already had several discussions on that topic already. here for instance
a true atheist will have to live in a world without universally accepted absolute moral values. ( good and bad , right and wrong cannot be separated through objective scientific methods ). i agree that some so called atheists do not recognize this fact.

voice in colombo:
thanks for the comment
i do understand you point about the origin or definition of human rights: who decides what is a human right and what isn't ?
that is valid question. if we continue on that path we have to ask other such questions- who decides what is good and what is bad? we will eventually end up with free for all moral relativism. i personally have no problem with it. but while logical it is not a place most ppl prefer to go to.
on the other hand in the real would we deal with rights defined in constitution, universal declaration, convention on the rights of the child etc. i think this practice do violate them. some of the other examples ( those dealing with humans esp) you bring forward probably do as well.
your point about culture and tradition is also valid. laws after all should take account of the traditions. on the other hand we have discarded some traditions. we have to decide whether this is a tradition we have to keep or discard.(imo discard) that is why i said i would welcome a properly argued justification from someone who completely support this.

dinidu de alwis
thanks for the clarification

i do think ppl should shout 'their arses off' when it comes child recruitment by terrorists. i don't think we should get into same kind of passion for this. but this too should be discussed ( and imo stopped)

Anonymous said...

Hi, interesting writing, but could you please Capitalise the beginnings of sentences and other instances like nouns etc? It'd be very helpful and make for an easier read.

Pradeep said...

in many ways, the same impetus is at play.
romantic, utopian, 'revolutionary' movements and established, institutional religions all love children -- because they believe easily. And commit whole heartedly.

thats the the thing, and it's sad.

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