Human rights in defence of the family

A group of parents in Wales is asking the High Court to overrule a decision by the government in Cardiff to make attendance at sex education classes mandatory in local primary schools. When the Welsh government introduced a “new code” for the teaching of “sex and relationships education” (RSE) earlier this year, it removed the right of parents to withdraw their children from the lessons.1 According to media reports, the new curriculum “introduces children to different kinds of relationships, body development, sex and sexuality, and how to feel safe in a relationship.”2

The programme, details of which were only made public after a consultation exercise had closed,3 starts at the age of three. Seven-year-olds then move to phase two, when they are taught about reproductive organs, fertility and reproduction. In phase three, beginning at 11 years of age, children are instructed on the “importance of inclusivity, including for LGBTQ+ people” and “how contraception can assist with reproductive choices, including awareness of abortion”. They are also to be told that “sexual material and media” — a term that can only be a euphemism for pornography — often presents sexual activity in “unrealistic and harmful ways”. They will also learn about the “ethical and legal issues relating to the consensual and non-consensual sharing of self-generated imagery…”. It is difficult to believe that officials could be unaware of the risk posed by inviting children to discuss pornography and the sharing of “self-generated imagery”. To parents, the dangers are only too obvious. 

The government has accused opponents of the programme of spreading misinformation while councillors overseeing the implementation of the scheme in their local schools complain that they have been labelled as “paedophiles” by angry parents.

Sadly, parents in the rest of the UK, the Irish Republic and across most of the Western world have already been confronted with the situation unfolding in Wales. And although the legal action against the Welsh government is unlikely to succeed, there is a strong body of international law aimed at protecting the family and the rights of parents. The fact that governments no longer respect these rights is the result of a strategy worked out decades ago by organisations, such as International Planned Parenthood Federation. These organisations, which have managed to seize control of the agencies established by the United Nations, are now sufficiently powerful to have their agenda enforced across the globe. 

The natural and fundamental group unit of society”

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR),4 the seminal document of human rights law, makes three explicit and two implicit references to the family. The first and most important of these is Article 16, which states:

“1. 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. They are entitled to equal rights as to marriage, during marriage and at its dissolution.

“2. Marriage shall be entered into only with the free and full consent of the intending spouses.

“3. The family is the natural and fundamental group unit of society and is entitled to protection by society and the state.”

The term “everyone” appears 30 times in the UDHR while the phrase “men and women” appears only twice — in the preamble, where it refers to the equality of the sexes, and in Article 16 (1), where it links the family to marriage. While advocates of “LGBTQ+ rights” insist that families come in a variety of forms, it is the family founded on marriage between one man and one woman that is in the words of Article 16 (3): “the natural and fundamental group unit of society and is entitled to protection by society and the State.”

Recognition of the status of the natural family within the UDHR is largely due to the tenacity of Charles Malik, the delegate from Lebanon and a Christian. His original text also included the sentence: “It is endowed by the Creator with inalienable rights antecedent to all positive law and as such shall be protected by the State and Society.”5 In defending the proposal Malik argued that: 

“The family was the cradle of all human rights and liberties. It was in the family circle that everyone learned to know his rights and duties and it would be inexplicable if everything were mentioned except the family’s right to existence.”6

Recognition of the right to marry therefore extended human rights protection to the family unit but the wording of Malik’s amendment still had to overcome objections, not only from the USSR but the USA and UK as well. The references to the “Creator” and “inalienable rights” were rejected. Fortunately, a proposal by the Uruguayan delegate to delete the word “natural”, on the grounds that the way in which the family was constituted was of secondary importance, was also rejected. 

The second reference to the family unit appears in Article 23 which recognises the “right of [everyone who works] to just and favourable remuneration ensuring for himself and his family an existence worthy of human dignity…” 

Similarly, Article 25 (1) declares:

“Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services…”

The second paragraph of Article 25, is, however, of greater importance. It states:

“Motherhood and childhood are entitled to special care and assistance. All children, whether born in or out of wedlock, shall enjoy the same social protection.” This wording, based on a Norwegian proposal was supported by the Indian delegate in what he described as: “the firm conviction that the sins of the parents should not be visited upon the children.”7

While the final wording ensures the equal protection of unmarried mothers and their children, it does not attempt to equate the partnership of unmarried couples with the family based on marriage. It is marriage between a man and a woman and the children they raise that is acknowledged as the foundation of society. 

Finally, the third paragraph of Article 26 carries crucial implications for the protection of family life. This single line states: “Parents have a prior right to choose the kind of education that shall be given to their children.” 

Once again, Charles Malik was instrumental in having this clause adopted. After an early draft tabled by the UK simply asserted that “Everyone has the right to an education”, Malik observed that such a statement would do nothing to prevent dictatorships from indoctrinating children. Instead, he argued that “Control of education could not be left entirely to the State; parents should be allowed the freedom to determine the spirit in which they wished their children to be brought up…”8

Catherine Schafer, from the International Union of Catholic Women’s Leagues, urged delegates to support an additional clause presented by Malik and the recognition of “the fundamental right and responsibility incumbent upon parents to educate their children as they saw fit. If that right were not stated in the Declaration, there might well be a recurrence of the situations such as that which prevailed in Germany under Hitler”.9

Citing the recent experience of his own country, the delegate from the Netherlands voiced his strong opposition to the idea that: “the State could compel children to be deformed morally and intellectually by the doctrine of the party in power”.10

“The rights of children,” he argued, “were sacred because the child itself could not demand their implementation; parents were the most natural persons to do so… Parents would be unable to bear the primary responsibility unless they were able to choose the kind of education their children should have.”

Predictably, the proposal was just as strongly opposed by delegates from Communist countries. More surprisingly, perhaps, was its rejection by the UK and France. After much equivocation, the US was one of seven nations that abstained when the clause was eventually adopted by 17 votes to 13. 

Hard law versus soft law

While the UDHR was never intended to be legally binding on the members of the United Nations, the rights it articulates have been codified in the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights11 and the International Convention on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.12 These Conventions are legally binding treaties, so-called “hard law”.13 It is extremely disturbing that the rights of the family are not only ignored by the UN but actively undermined by the agencies tasked with overseeing their implementation. 

The enemies of the family could attempt to achieve their aims by means of hard law, either by proposing a new human rights agreement or by winning the support of the international community to have the existing Conventions amended. However, both these options carry a high risk of failure. Instead, the global abortion lobby has chosen to advance its goals through customary norms and the recommendations of UN committees — so-called “soft law”. 

In 2003, a confidential memo outlining the international strategy of the New York-based Center for Reproductive Rights became public when Rep Chris Smith of New Jersey had the document read into the US Congressional Record.14 The “overarching goal” of the CRR “is to ensure that governments worldwide guarantee reproductive rights out of an understanding that they are legally bound to do so.” 

Smith believed the memo “expos[ed] the wolf donning sheep’s clothing in an attempt to sanitise violence against children.” It revealed what he called a “Trojan Horse of deceit”. Of course, the exposure of a detailed plan to subvert internationally recognised human rights was not enough to prevent it. The CRR and its allies in the academic world and the abortion industry pursued their strategy relentlessly — bringing legal actions to undermine legal protections for unborn children in domestic courts, at the regional level and through the pronouncements of UN agencies. 

The CRR was instrumental in Ireland’s pro-life laws being denounced by the European Court of Human Rights in 2010.15 This provided the pretext for the introduction of legislation in 2012 that legalised abortion for the first time.16

In 2019, condemnation of Northern Ireland’s prohibition on abortion by the UN Committee on the Convention on the Elimination of All forms of Discrimination Against Women led the London Government to decriminalise abortion in the Province under the pretence that it was required by the UK’s international human rights obligations.17

The strategy outlined by the CRR to guarantee the reproductive rights of children through the concept of “best interests” and the ‘‘evolving capacity of the child’’ which, the memo states:

“…limits parental control to the extent that children take on more autonomy as their capacities grow. (e.g. An adolescent who is sexually active and is taking the initiative to seek out means to protect herself from STIs and unwanted pregnancy is demonstrating a level of maturity to justify access.)”18

In the 74 years since the adoption of the UDHR, the roles of parents and the state have effectively been reversed. There may be no better illustration of the success of the CRR’s strategy than the words of the local councillor responsible for imposing compulsory RSE on the primary school children in her remote corner of north Wales. Interviewed by the media, she said:

“I feel it’s completely appropriate that parents are not allowed to remove their children from the class … More importantly, every child has the right to access education that will keep them safe, that supports them in making wise, healthy decisions.”19

Parents are no longer seen as the “most natural persons” to defend the rights of their children. Instead it has become the task of the state to protect children from their parents. 

From Saturday 19 November, Dr Alan Fimister will teach a five-week course at the Family and Life Academy on the rights and duties of parents as primary educators of their children, based on natural law, holy scripture and authentic Catholic tradition. Click here to learn more and to enrol today.


  1. Welsh Government, “Curriculum for Wales: Relationships and Sexuality Education (RSE) Code”, 2021 https://gov.wales/sites/default/files/publications/2022-01/curriculum-for-wales-relationships-sexuality-education-code.pdf
  2. BBC News, “Sex education: Gwynedd councillor harassed over scheme support” 10 November 2022, https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-wales-63556776
  3. Recognition, “Summary of findings from the Faith/BAME engagement events Consultation on proposals to ensure access to the full curriculum for all learners”, January 2020, p 10,
  4. UN General Assembly, Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 10 December 1948, 217 A (III).
  5. Johannes Morsink, The Universal Declaration of Human Rights: Origins Drafting and Intent, (Uni of Penn 1999), p 254.
  6. Ibid, 255.
  7. Ibid, 258.
  8. Morsink, 264-5.
  9. Ibid.
  10. 10.Ibid, 276.
  11. 11.UN General Assembly, International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, 2200A (XXI) 16 December 1966.
  12. 12. UN General Assembly, International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, 2200A (XXI), 16 December 1966.
  13. 13. Although the UK has ratified these Conventions they are not justiciable, an individual cannot ask a court to enforce the rights in an international treaty. According to Lord Oliver in the Tin Council case (1990), quoted in Miller v Sec of State for Exiting the EU [2017] UKSC 5 para 56: “Quite simply, a treaty is not part of English law unless and until it has been incorporated into the law by legislation. So far as individuals are concerned, it is res inter alios acta [i.e. something done between others], from which they cannot derive rights and by which they cannot be deprived of rights or subjected to obligations; and it is outside the purview of the court not only because it is made in the conduct of foreign relations, which are a prerogative of the Crown, but also because, as a source of rights and obligations, it is irrelevant.”
  14. 14.Congressional Record, Vol 149, No 176 (Tuesday, December 9, 2003) pp E2534-E2547,
  15. 15. Ibid p E2536 A, B and C v IRELAND (App 25579/05), 16 December 2010.
  16. 16. Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act 2013.
  17. 17. Paragraphs 85 and 86 of the Report of the Inquiry concerning the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland under article 8 of the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW/C/OP.8/GBR/1) published on 6 March 2018 was incorporated into the Northern Ireland (Executive Formation, etc) Act 2019.
  18. 18. Congressional Record, p E2536.
  19. 19. BBC News, 10 November 2022.