More Teaching on the Rights of Children

Excerpts from the The Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Catholic Church on the rights of the Child.

Additional Teaching on Human Rights and the Rights of the Child

See excerpts on Human Rights from Chapter 3, THE HUMAN PERSON AND HUMAN RIGHTS. 

Full Chapter 5 The Family, the Vital Cell of Society



b. The family is the sanctuary of life

 235. The desire to be a mother or a father does not justify any “right to children”, whereas the rights of the unborn child are evident. The unborn child must be guaranteed the best possible conditions of existence through the stability of a family founded on marriage, through the complementarities of the two persons, father and mother[530]. The rapid development of research and its technological application in the area of reproduction poses new and delicate questions that involve society and the norms that regulate human social life.

It must be repeated that the ethical unacceptability of all reproductive techniques — such as the donation of sperm or ova, surrogate motherhood, heterologous artificial fertilization — that make use of the uterus of another woman or of gametes of persons other than the married couple, injuring the right of the child to be born of one father and one mother who are father and mother both from a biological and from a legal point of view. Equally unacceptable are methods that separate the unitive act from the procreative act by making use of laboratory techniques, such as homologous artificial insemination or fertilization, such that the child comes about more as the result of an act of technology than as the natural fruit of a human act in which there is a full and total giving of the couple[531]. Avoiding recourse to different forms of so-called “assisted procreation” that replace the marriage act means respecting — both in the parents and in the children that they intend to generate — the integral dignity of the human person[532]. On the other hand, those methods that are meant to lend assistance to the conjugal act or to the attainment of its effects are legitimate[533].

d. The dignity and rights of children

244. The Church's social doctrine constantly points out the need to respect the dignity of children. “In the family, which is a community of persons, special attention must be devoted to the children by developing a profound esteem for their personal dignity, and a great respect and generous concern for their rights. This is true for every child, but it becomes all the more urgent the smaller the child is and the more it is in need of everything, when it is sick, suffering or handicapped”[554].

The rights of children must be legally protected within juridical systems. In the first place, it is necessary that the social value of childhood be publicly recognized in all countries: “No country on earth, no political system can think of its own future otherwise than through the image of these new generations that will receive from their parents the manifold heritage of values, duties and aspirations of the nation to which they belong and of the whole human family”[555]. The first right of the child is to “be born in a real family”[556], a right that has not always been respected and that today is subject to new violations because of developments in genetic technology.

247. Far from being only objects of political action, families can and must become active subjects, working “to see that the laws and institutions of the State not only do not offend but support and positively defend the rights and duties of the family. Along these lines, families should grow in awareness of being ‘protagonists' of what is known as ‘family politics' and assume responsibility for transforming society”[559]. To this end, family associations must be promoted and strengthened. “Families have the right to form associations with other families and institutions, in order to fulfil the family's role suitably and effectively, as well as to protect the rights, foster the good and represent the interests of the family. On the economic, social, juridical and cultural levels, the rightful role of families and family associations must be recognized in the planning and development of programmes which touch on family life”[560].


252. The starting point for a correct and constructive relationship between the family and society is the recognition of the subjectivity and the social priority of the family. Their intimate relationship requires that “society should never fail in its fundamental task of respecting and fostering the family”.[570] Society, and in particular State institutions, respecting the priority and “antecedence” of the family, is called to guarantee and foster the genuine identity of family life and to avoid and fight all that alters or wounds it. This requires political and legislative action to safeguard family values, from the promotion of intimacy and harmony within families to the respect for unborn life and to the effective freedom of choice in educating children. Therefore, neither society nor the State may absorb, substitute or reduce the social dimension of the family; rather, they must honour it, recognize it, respect it and promote it according to the principle of subsidiarity[571].

253. Society's service of the family becomes concrete in recognizing, respecting and promoting the rights of the family[572]. This means that authentic and effective family policies must be brought about with specific interventions that are able to meet the needs arising from the rights of the family as such. In this sense, there is a necessary prerequisite, one that is essential and indispensable: the recognition — which entails protecting, appreciating and promoting — the identity of the family, the natural society founded on marriage. This recognition represents a clear line of demarcation between the family, understood correctly, and all other forms of cohabitation which, by their very nature, deserve neither the name nor the status of family.

254. The recognition on the part of civil society and the State of the priority of the family over every other community, and even over the reality of the State, means overcoming merely individualistic conceptions and accepting the family dimension as the indispensable cultural and political perspective in the consideration of persons. This is not offered as an alternative, but rather as a support and defence of the very rights that people have as individuals. This perspective makes it possible to draw up normative criteria for a correct solution to different social problems, because people must not be considered only as individuals but also in relation to the family nucleus to which they belong, the specific values and needs of which must be taken into due account.

[530] Cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2378.

[531] Cf. Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Instruction Donum Vitae (22 February 1987), II, 2, 3, 5: AAS 80 (1988), 88-89, 92-94; Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2376-2377.

[532] Cf. Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Instruction Donum Vitae (22 February 1987), II, 7: AAS 80 (1988), 95-96.

[533] Cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2375.


[554] John Paul II, Apostolic Exhortation Familiaris Consortio, 26: AAS 74 (1982), 111-112.

[555] John Paul II, Address to the General Assembly of the United Nations (2 October 1979), 21: AAS 71 (1979), 1159; cf. John Paul II, Message to the Secretary-General of the United Nations on the occasion of the World Summit for Children (22 September 1990): AAS 83 (1991), 358-361.

[556] John Paul II, Address to the Committee of European Journalists for the Rights of the Child (13 January 1979): L'Osservatore Romano, English edition, 22 January 1979, p. 5.

[557] Cf. Convention on the Rights of the Child, which came into force in 1990 and which the Holy See has ratified.

[558] Cf. John Paul II, Message for the 1996 World Day of Peace, 2-6: AAS 88 (1996), 104-107.

[559] John Paul II, Apostolic Exhortation Familiaris Consortio, 44: AAS 74 (1982), 136; cf. Holy See, Charter of the Rights of the Family, art. 9, Vatican Polyglot Press, Vatican City 1983, p. 13.

[560] Holy See, Charter of the Rights of the Family, art. 8 a-b, Vatican Polyglot Press, Vatican City 1983, p. 12.


[570] John Paul II, Apostolic Exhortation Familiaris Consortio, 45: AAS 74 (1982), 136.

[571] Cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2211.

[572] Cf. John Paul II, Apostolic Exhortation Familiaris Consortio, 46: AAS 74 (1982), 137-139.

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