Animals living in a state of nature reproduce according to their nature and the limits of their habitat. People, in contrast, mostly live not in states of nature but in political states and societies. Our reproductive freedom to have unplanned (and sometimes unwanted) children imposes a financial burden on the state (and thus taxpayers), which becomes responsible for financially supporting custodial parents in the absence of support from the other biological parent, or in providing for children when both parents are unable to.
A recent article ‘Single mothers and the sexual contract’ argues that the economics of parenting in our capitalist society creates two categories of parents: partnered parents who are economically privileged because they can support each other, and unpartnered parents who are economically vulnerable because they often cannot rely on the economic support of the other parent of their child.
Unpartnered parents consequently must rely on the support of the state, which in Australia has recently been reduced with the intent of forcing single parents to return to work regardless of whether suitable work (such as with flexible hours) exists. The article argues that the state, in reducing its support for single parents, has become a ‘deadbeat dad’ that is avoiding its responsibilities.
In Australia we don’t talk much, or nearly enough, about the relationship between citizens and the state. The topic itself sounds American, and it is in the United States that a very different approach is being evaluated in relation to the financial responsibility that parents owe to their children and to the state.
An American father who owes approximately $100,000 in child support to the mothers of his 4 children has been ordered by a judge to not have more children until he has paid what he owes to support his existing children.
In this case, the judge’s actions suggests that the state does not want more responsibility in financially providing for children, and it expects parents to take more responsibility. Imagine that happening in Australia. There would be outrage. The view that the state should always provide for us is entrenched, as is the assumed freedom to be irresponsible without suffering the consequences.
Advocates of single parents make a valid point that many non-custodial parents avoid their financial responsibilities by lowering their taxable incomes through complex accounting strategies. This should be fixed, and it is in the interests of the state and individual taxpayers for this to occur.
However, this is not relevant where neither parents has an income or assets, and has nothing to contribute towards the welfare of their children. The state is then forced to provide support.
The supposed ‘right’ to reproduce is rarely discussed and is, to the best of my knowledge, not defined in law. It does not exist. As former federal politician Peter Reith states in relation to people seeking fertility treatments in order to have children, ‘our political class don’t support their right to have children‘.
It may be extrapolated from this that Australian political parties do not view having children as a right that should be formalised in legislation. This is perhaps why it has not been clarified in Australian law. But it is defined elsewhere.
Article 16 of the United Nations’ Universal declaration of human rights states that ‘Men and women of full age, without any limitation due to race, nationality or religion, have the right to marry and to found a family’. ‘Found a family’ means ‘have children’.
I don’t see how this ‘right’ can be sustained irrespective of economic conditions, as it entails allowing citizens to demand that their fellow citizens pay for their choice to have children through welfare payments when they do not have the financial capacity to support a child. I don’t think anyone has a right to choose to make a greater burden of themselves on the state and taxpayers.
Coincidently, Fatima Measham today published an article about a hypothetical future parenting licence.