In many countries now, adults are quite well protected in law against some common forms of psychological intimidation – for example, racist and homophobic taunting and bullying. That is a good thing. Of course, some adults will prefer to deal with such matters themselves, if at all possible, rather than call on the police to help them – and that is also a good thing.
Children are less well protected. I had this thought reading John Cornwell’s The Dark Box, which is a history of the Roman Catholic Church’s requirement for the faithful to make individual, private confessions to a priest. Cornwell highlights in his narrative the decision of Pius X – the first of several Nasty Popes in the 20th century – to lower the age at which First Confession is expected to six or seven from the previous threshold of puberty. That decision paved the way for decades in which young children were abused in the Confessional, either emotionally or sexually or both. John Cornwell (a practising Catholic) documents the case.
Of course, such abuse was not confined to the Confessional. Catholic orphanages, reformatories and schools found many other opportunities to abuse and often enough ruined lives or even drove children to eventual suicide as teenagers or adults. This has been extensively documented in the republic of Ireland.
It occurred to me that such is our fear of organised Religions – which seek to hide their crimes behind the screen of Freedom of Religion – that we don’t have on our statute books laws to curb their distinctive forms of psychological intimidation. I can make the point clear by suggesting some laws:
(1) It should be a criminal offence to tell a child that he or she is destined (or risks being destined) to Eternal Damnation.
(2) It should be a criminal offence to tell a child that he or she is fundamentally Evil
(3) It should be a criminal offence to tell a child that he or she is possessed by Demons or the Devil
All these crimes would carry heavier penalties the younger the child victim.
All these crimes should be regarded as more serious if they occur as part of institutionalised hatred, fear or loathing of children. The young child is vulnerable to psychological intimidation in one-to-one contexts; even more so are they vulnerable in an institution where everyone (or almost everyone) is determined to undermine their confidence or self-esteem. Seeking to put the Fear of God into a young child should be an offence, no doubt about it.
Think about it. If adults deserve protection, then so too – and perhaps more so – do children.