The decision by a Texas court to remove in one grand sweep 400 children from a polygamist sect was the right thing to do, even if it sent a chill down the spine of every parent in America. It's unnerving because all of us who have kids, myself included, know that some of the decisions we have made as parents haven't turned out well. If we were held up to public scrutiny there would inevitably be some explaining to do. The difference is, we meant well and stayed within the law.
Our choices were based on the highest possible list of what we thought was best for our children at the time. Unfortunately, we brought our fears, misplaced aspirations and friends or family's advice along with us. That can lead to some bone-headed decisions about putting little Jane into too many extra-curricular activities or fighting for our small Bobby to be on the track team even though he can't run.
But we were still operating from a set of boundaries of what we would allow our children to do that were within distinct broad-based parameters. Giving permission to a teenager to get married and to a man who already has a wife and kids is never one of them. In fact, having sex as an adult with a minor is against the law in this country and is viewed as harmful to the child's well-being. Marrying the teenager might make the sexual act legal in a very few states but doesn't make it any less harmful. It only gives a wink-wink nature to the crime and says we're supposed to look the other way. Tough luck, kid, it says, while the rest of us are expected to mind our own business.
That thought has led to an appellate court ruling that the children weren't in immediate danger of physical harm and therefore it is necessary to hold separate hearings for each child. But, the law they're citing was designed for communities that are made up of individual families who were brought together by mutually agreed upon circumstances. However, this is a sect, a group functioning as one, which has flaunted those laws, pulled out of the neighborhood-at-large and formed its own community with a conflicting set of rules.
This is a group of people who are working in concert to inflict harm on 400 children either by explicit act or implicit willingness to do nothing. Standing by and watching a crime take place is also punishable under the law. Watching it take place over and over again by the leaders in the community doesn't lessen the effect but raises the damage to an entirely new level.
It is not right to form a community in which the elders make all the rules, which include requiring the children to marry them and have sexual relations while still a child. It is against the law and should be prosecuted. Allowing your child to do so means you failed in a spectacular way as a parent. The fact that you may not know any better or be caught in the same trap yourself may garner sympathy but doesn't mean that you get to take another shot at parenting without a lot of therapy and classes.
Right now, there are four hundred children who are slowly coming to the realization that they have choices in life and one of them is to wait until they're an adult before they choose just one mate. Four hundred children who will grow to be part of the community we all live in and will contribute in very meaningful ways, both good and bad, and go on to have children of their own. They deserve a chance to grow and learn in healthy surroundings where they are not only loved but protected from the predators amongst us.
Martha Randolph Carr's latest book, "A Place to Call Home," about the re-emergence of U.S. orphanages, is available wherever books are sold. For comments to Carr email Martha@martharandolphcarr.com.