Children's Rights


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    He that spareth his rod hateth his son: but he that loveth him chasteneth him betimes.
    Proverbs 13:24


    In the past the Christian Church condoned all manner of evil done to children. It tried and executed them for witchcraft and for other offences. It saw nothing wrong in beating them frequently and severely for minor wrongdoing — even for other people's wrongdoing. It terrified them with stories of Hell. It allowed them to contract arranged marriages. It failed to speak out against child labour because it saw nothing at all wrong in the practice. For many centuries the Church opposed the education of poor children, except in the few cases where boys could be drawn into its own service. Girls were denied education altogether. In punishing children for sins they had not committed, there seems to have been almost no concept of fairness or rights. Thus, the Church made much of the concept of bastardy:

    Bastardy, or illegitimacy, was a condition imposed upon a child by the canon law as a punishment for the sin of the parents who conceived it by illicit connection. By a legal fiction, a child born out of wedlock was no one's child, filius nullius1.

    The only entry requirement for Eton College, when it was founded in 1441 was that the boys should not be illegitimate. The reasoning was that illegitimacy was a bar to a career in the Church which is what was planned for the boys. The idea of punishing children for the acts of their parents could easily be justified on scriptural grounds:

    ...I the Lord thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me; Exodus 20:5

    Also, as theological authorities pointed out, God had punished the children of Sodom by death, for the sins of their fathers2, so the punishment of innocent children was easily justified3. Good Christians were, as they pointed out, only following God's own precedent.

    For many centuries, illegitimate children were likely to die in infancy through neglect or mistreatment, largely because of the stigma suffered by the mother in a Christian society. When Thomas Coram proposed a foundling hospital early in the eighteenth century, but his proposal was opposed by the Church which held that such an institution would encourage promiscuity and prostitution. On his frequent walks through the City on winter mornings, Coram was appalled at the sight of dead and dying babies abandoned on the streets - something that did not apparently concern the clergy.

    He was obliged to seek the help of society ladies who supported his proposal and ensured support from their husbands. The aristocracy was represented by dukes and earls; the city of London by magnates and merchant bankers, the medical community by Dr Richard Mead, as well as other public figures like writers and artists. In the teeth of opposition from churchmen, on 17 October 1739 he obtained a Royal Charter from King George II establishing a "hospital for the maintenance and education of exposed and deserted young children." Financial support came from many quarters, except the Church which still considered the hospital to be promoting immoral behaviour. Artists became patrons and governors of the Foundling Hospital and many donated some of their work to the foundation. The art collection contains works by William Hogarth, Thomas Gainsborough and Sir Joshua Reynolds, including a full-length portrait of Thomas Coram himself, along with musical scores by Handel including a fair copy of Messiah bequeathed in his will.

    The photograph shows boys marching out of the London Foundling Hospital for the last time in 1926. They went to new premises outside London, which closed in 1955.


    Although it had opposed the creation of a Foundling Hospital, the hospital ethos was still firmly Christian, with compulsory chapel. Foundlings were obliged to learn and sing the following hymn in public. It is based on Psalm LI in the Book of Common Prayer. The children are obliged to recognise their own supposed guilt, sin and shame.

    Wash off my foul offence.
    And cleanse me from my Sin
    For I confess my crime, and see
    How great my Guilt has been .

    Against thee, Lord, alone,
    And only in thy sight?
    Have I tranfgress'd; and tho condemned,
    Must own thy Judgement's right.

    In Guilt each part was form'd
    Of all this sinful frame;
    In Guilt I was conceiv'd, and born
    The Heir of Sin and Shame.

    Blot out my crying Sins,
    for me in Anger view;
    Create in me a Heart that's clean,
    An upright Mind renew.

    The Church also opposed Henry Fielding's revolutionary novel The History of Tom Jones, a Foundling, which it also considered immoral (partly for its exposure of clerical hypocrisy).

    Christian stigma was still strong in the 1960s. The following lyrics are from "Love Child" a 1968 song released by the Motown label for Diana Ross & the Supremes.

    I shared the guilt my mama knew
    So afraid that others knew I had no name

    Love child, never meant to be
    Love child, (scorned by) society
    Love child, always second best
    Love child, different from the rest

    The stigma of illegitimacy has now virtually disappeared in secular societies, and the civil law has been amended, but canon law continues to discriminate against the illegitimate. In the Church of England they cannot for example become bishops. Other Churches stick to the traditional line that illegitimacy is a bar to ordination. In the past the Church punished other children for the supposed sins of their fathers, and grandchildren for the sins of their grandfathers4.

    The Church has always been strong on punishment and has only recently adopted a cautious stand on corporal punishment for children. The worst excess could be justified on biblical grounds:

    The blueness of a wound cleanseth away evil ...
    Proverbs 20:30

    Foolishness is bound in the heart of a child; but the rod of correction shall drive it far from him.
    Proverbs 22:15

    Withhold not correction from the child: for if thou beatest him with the rod, he shall not die. Thou shalt beat him with the rod, and shalt deliver his soul from hell. Proverbs 23:13-14

    At the time of writing there is still a steady flow of children who die at the hands of Christian parents and guardians who interpret these passages in the traditional way. Several are reported in national newspapers each year. Under secular pressure corporal punishment of children in schools was made illegal in many countries in the late twentieth century. Church schools — and only church schools — were still mounting legal challenges to this into the third millennium5. Their arguments were based on the biblical passages cited above, which, as the complainants pointed out, not only permit but also require corporal punishment.

    Institutional abuse — physical, emotional and sexual — also continued well into the twentieth century. The abuse was widespread, and hardly a secret within the Churches, yet no one seems to have thought of informing the secular authorities, or doing anything to stop the abuse. Children without parents to look after their welfare were particularly vulnerable. The "orphans" who were taken from their parents and sent to British colonies were routinely abused, along with real orphans. To take just one example abuse continued for over 90 years at an orphanage run by the Sisters of Mercy until it was exposed in 1976. Nuns had used a red-hot poker on one child to "exorcise the Devil" and forced another to put her leg in boiling water (causing permanent damage) as a punishment for not washing in hot enough water. Another developed a dangerous infection after a nun used pliers to pull out her toenails. Injured children were hidden from visitors in an underground cell without bedding, ventilation or light. Sexual abuse by priests and other men was "routine". Professor Bruce Grundy, who investigated the Order's activities, referred to the "Madness, ruthless and sadistic madness, on the part of at least some of the nuns, and the depthless depravity on the part of some of the men who inhabited the place"6. These activities were far from unusual, and similar behaviour has been exposed in numerous Christian orphanages throughout the world.

    Commitment to family carried no weight at all for religious people. Nuns who had children were widely accused of infanticide for many centuries. According to the Church, there were other explanations for such missing children. They had been carried off by angels and given to someone else to bring them up. The illustration on the right is medieval and shows a baby boy, recently delivered of an abbess (who was suitably penitent about her crime). Angels have removed the baby and are shown here delivering it to a hermit living in a remote place - providing an ostensible reason why the baby would never be seen again. Even imagining some element of truth in the story, no contemporary Christian considered it at all odd that a new mother should be separated from her baby, and handed over to a celibate man who had abandoned all links to his own family.

    The Medieval Inquisition was permitted to torture witnesses, but not if they were girls below the age of 12 or boys below the age of 14. This did not stop its zealous officers, who believed themselves to be doing God's work, who needed to answer to no one when they ignored the rules, and who were empowered to forgive each other for their excesses of Christian zeal.

    In England children over the age of seven were liable to the death penalty, and few if any clergymen seem to have found this at all questionable, at least until the rise of secularism. A 13-year-old was hanged at Maidstone as late as 1831 and a 14-year-old in 18337.

    For years to come, younger children would be sentenced to death, but were invariably reprieved, until the death penalty for those aged under 16 was abolished in 1908.


    The Krampus

    Christianity offered both carrot and stick for adults - the delights of heaven in the company of God against the horrors of hell in the company of satan. For children the promise and the threat were both made more tangible and immediate. The carrot was that at Christmas, Saint Nicholas, Santa Clause, would bring presents and happpiness. The stick was the Krampus, a demonic character who would punish and terrorise children.

    Krampus aka Knecht Ruprecht, Certa, Perchten, Black Peter, Schmutzli, Pelznickel, Klaubauf
    Here is is stuffing a naughty boy in his basket before carrying him off

    In German-speaking countries Krampus is a horned figure. According to traditional narratives he punished children who had misbehaved. He appears in many variations, but most share some common physical characteristics. He is hairy, usually brown or black, and has the cloven hooves and horns of a goat. His long pointed tongue lolls out. Krampus carries chains which he thrashes around. He carries ruten, bundles of birch branches, or whips to swat children with. Sometimes Krampus appears with a sack or a washtub strapped to his back, to cart off evil children for drowning, eating, or to take to Hell. Older versions make specific mention of naughty children being put in the bag. On Krampus Night or Krampusnacht, the wicked hairy devil appears on the streets, just as Santa Clause would appear in person the following day on 6th December.

    Greetings from the Krampus
    Names for Santa's sinister dark companion include Krampus in Austria, Bavaria, Croatia, Slovenia, Friuli, Hungary (spelled Krampusz); Knecht Ruprecht in Germany; Klaubauf in Bavaria and Austria; Bartel in Styria; Pelzebock; Befana; Pelznickel; Belzeniggl; Belsnickel in the Palatinate (and also Pennsylvania, due to Pennsylvania Dutch influence); Schmutzli in Switzerland; Rumpelklas; Bellzebub; Hans Muff; Drapp; Buzebergt in Augsburg and Little Babushka in Russia. The corresponding figure in the Netherlands and Flanders is Zwarte Piet (Black Pete), and in Swiss folklore Schmutzli, (schmutz meaning dirt). In France, St. Nicholas' companion is called Rubbels except in German-speaking Lorraine and Hanstrapp (in Alsace) and in Wallonia, Northern and Eastern France where he is Le Père Fouettard.

    Santa Clause usually appears in the Eastern Rite vestments of a bishop. He concerns himself only with the good children, while Krampus is responsible for the bad. Nicholas dispenses gifts, while Krampus supplies coal and the ruten bundles, and carries bad children off to hell. Sometimes accompanying St Nicholas; sometimes on his own, Krampus visits homes. It is customary to offer a Krampus schnapps. Europeans have been exchanging greeting cards featuring Krampus since the 1800s. Sometimes introduced with Gruß vom Krampus (Greetings from the Krampus. Krampus is often featured looming menacingly over children. He is also shown as having one human foot and one cloven hoof. Over time, as secular ideas of morality have replaced Christian ones, the representation of Krampus in the cards has changed; more recent versions becoming ever less frightening and now resembling a cute, Cupid-like creature. Many modern children have never even heard of Krampus.


    Christian Child Marriage

    To listen to the Church's current views on the subject of sexual abuse of children, one could easily form the opinion that the Church has always been opposed to sexual activity below the age of 16, or even older. In fact when the Church had control of these matters the age of consent to sexual relations was 7 (though marriage contracts were voidable up to the age of 12 for a girl and 14 for a boy).

    A marriage between a grown man and a little girl was as good as any other in the eyes of the Church8. For dynastic reasons toddlers could be, and were, married to each other in church, though the civil courts would grant a divorce if one of the parties later objected.9.

    Here is the basic cannon law:

    Betrothals cannot be contracted before the seventh year. For they can be contracted only with consent, which requires each party to understand what they agree to. (Decretum gratiani, Case 30, q II)10.

    But the Church would sometimes uphold marriages below the age of seven, for example in one case a man had married a girl under the age of seven, and had then left her to marry her cousin. Pope Eugene provided the following decision:

    "A young man, who took a girl not yet seven years old in marriage, appears not to have consummated the marriage he entered, due to age or some other human disability.

    In doubtful matters, we are to follow the safer course. So, because she was called and possibly is his wife, we command you that he be divorced on the grounds of ecclesiastical propriety from the girl's cousin, whom he afterwards took".
    (Decretals of Pope Gregory IX , Book Four, Title I Betrothals and Marriages, C. 3.)

    Pope Hormisdas writing to Bishop Eusebius indicated that a father cannot insist on who an adult son should marry, he can decide who an infant son should marry:

    "But if the son is not yet an adult, and his will cannot be discerned, his father may give him to whomever he wishes in marriage, and when the son reaches maturity, he must fulfill this entirely".
    (cited in the Decretals of Gregory IX , Book Four, Title II C1..)

    There was also a special exemption for powerful nobles, who could marry off their children for dynastic reasons at any age - even new born babies. The euphemism for this was a marriage "for the sake of peace". Here is the relevant law:

    Two prepubescents, or a prepubescent and one older, are not to be married, except for the sake of peace. (Decretals of Gregory IX , Book Four, title II C. 2.)

    Other interesting cases include one where a man married a young girl, but then took her mother as a wife (the question being which to recognise as the legal wife) and another one where a man has had sexual intercourse with a wife aged under 12 (the question being whether the sexual intercourse has sealed the marriage bond)11

    In general the rule was that children could be betrothed at seven. When they reached puberty (ie the age of 12 for girls and fourteen for boys) they were allowed to accept or reject the arrangement, as long as they had not already had sexual intercourse.

    Prepubescents contracting betrothal may not be separated before puberty, but after puberty they may if they reject the betrothal, unless they have had carnal intercourse.
    (Decretals of Gregory IX , Book Four, Title II C. 8)

    Here is a specific cease:

    From Your Fraternity's letter we gather that a certain girl of twelve was sworn and betrothed to a certain boy of nine or ten. With the passing of time, by the will of her parents rather than her own, as she asserts, she was taken to the home of the boy's father, and there, protesting and resisting, as you say you have heard from her lips, and forced by the arguments and the threats of the parents, she stayed for a year or more. Then she left and returned home. Admonished by her mother, and later by you, as you assert, she completely refused to return to him, asserting that she did not, and still does not, want him as a husband. She now asks permission to marry another. The boy, as you letter says, had not yet reached the age of fourteen, nor did he ever have access carnally to the girl. Therefore, we reply to Your Discretion as follows: If the girl is warned zealously by you to wait until the boy completes his fourteenth year of age, and will not wait in accord with your warning, you may, by our authority, give her the liberty and permission to take another man as husband, in accord with what has been stipulated.
    (Decretals of Gregory IX , Book Four, Title II C. 11)

    Many Christian sources now claim that Christian child marriage was always very rare and restricted to great noble houses. We know that this is not true through several sources. Although child marriages were not always recorded, divorces were recorded by the courts - and since we know of countless thousands of child divorces, we can safely assume that there were more marriages than divorces by a significant factor. We also have have written evidence that contemporaries took child marriage for granted. In Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, Juliet was just 13. Her mother, who was 26 refers to her almost an old maid.

    The children of Henry II had been married in babyhood, and the Council of Westminster (1175) conceded that these could be valid marriages "pro bono pacis" (for the sake of peace), A few examples of Christian child marriages - taking just supposed saints the greatest nobles whose dates can be easily confirmed - are:

    • Saint Theophanes Confessor was married at the age of twelve around 770
    • Eleanor of Aquitaine was fifteen when she married Louis VII of France in 1137.
    • Theodora Comnena was thirteen when she was married King Baldwin III of Jerusalem in 1158.
    • Agnes of France was twelve when (already widowed) she was married to Andronicus Comnenus, Byzantine Emperor in 1182.
    • Sancha of Aragon, aged 8 was betrothed to Raymond VII of Toulouse in March 1211.
    • the Treaty of Meaux-Paris 1229, included a requirement for nine year old Joan of Toulouse to marry nine year old Alphonse of Poitiers (they were betrothed in the same year, and their marriage ceremony took place in 1239)
    • Eleanor of Castile was twelve when she married the fifteen-year-old future Edward I of England on 1 November 1254
    • Saint Elizabeth of Portugal was twelve when she married to King Denis of Portugal in 1281.
    • Margaret Countess of Tyro, was married at the age of twelve to eight-year-old John Henry of Luxembourg, a younger son of King John of Bohemia, in 1300
    • Saint Clara Gambacorta was married at the age of twelve in 1374 and widowed at the age of fifteen.
    • Saint Rita of Cascia was twelve when she was married to Paolo Mancini in 1393 against her will, and delivered her first child as the same age.
    • Isabel of France was eight when she married Richard II of England in 1396.
    • Blanche of England was eight years old when her marriage contract was signed on 7 March 1401. The formal marriage ceremony between Blanche and Louis III, Elector Palatine, took place just over a year later, shortly after her tenth birthday.
    • Philippa of England was married at the age of twelve to Eric of Pomerania on 26 October 1406
    • Bianca Maria Sforza was not quite two years old when she married her first cousin Philibert I, Duke of Savoy in January 1474. She was a widow at the age of ten.
    • Bianca of Savoy, Duchess of Milan, was thirteen when she was married to Galeazzo II Visconti in 1350) (and fourteen when she gave birth to a son)
    • Lady Margaret Beaufort Margaret was married to John de la Pole when she was no more than three years old. (A Papal dispensation was granted on 18 August 1450 because the spouses were too closely related.). Three years later, the marriage was dissolved. She was twelve when she married 24-year old Edmund Tudor on 1 November 1455. Edmund died soon afterwards leaving her a seven-month pregnant thirteen-year-old widow.
    • Caterina Sforza was betrothed aged nine to Girolamo Riariomarried in 1473. The marriage was consummated four years later.
    • On 26 February 1491, a matrimonial arrangement was drawn up between eleven year old Lucrezia Borgia and the Lord of Val D'Ayora. It was annulled less than two months later in favour of a new contract engaging Lucrezia to Don Gaspare Aversa, count of Procida. Pope Alexander VI called off Lucrezia's engagement and arranged for her to marry Giovanni Sforza, a member of the house of Sforza, who married thirteen year old Lucrezia on 12 June 1493 in Rome.
    • Claude of France was promised to the future Holy Roman Emperor Charles V at the age of four, but the arrangement fell through. She was later betrothed to her cousin Francis, Duke of Angoulême, and married him aged fourteen, in 1514.
    • Catherine de Vivonne, marquise de Rambouillet was married at the age of twelve to Charles d'Angennes in 1600

    King Richard II of England Receiving his Bride Isabella fromher Father King Charles VI of France.
    Jean Froissart, Chronicles, c 1470, BL MS Royal 14D VI f268v (detail)

    As Erasmus pointed out

    It is no uncommon case, especially in France, for a girl of scarce ten years to be married and a mother [the] next year. . . . It seems portentous, and yet we sometimes see it, especially in Britain and Italy, that a tender child is married to a septuagenarian ... Yet Church Laws do not rescind such nuptials, although they are satirised by public jests and epigrams"12

    In England the marriage age was raised to 16 in 192913, though many other states that have retained Christian custom and practice have opted for the ages of 12 and 14. The rock and roll star, Jerry Lee Lewis caused outrage in Britain, in May 1958 when it emerged that his third wife, Myra Gale Brown was only 13 years old at the time (and his first cousin once removed). Particularly Christian states in the US still had 12 as the age for marriage at this time. (The state of Delaware retained the traditional lower limit of 7 as the age of consent into the twentieth century).


    Children as Chattels

    Children were mere chattels of their Christian parents and so could be used as free labour, or sold or even given away. If a couple had ten or twenty children, they could even be offered to the Church as tithes, and the Church would accept them.

    At the age of eight, boys were given away to monasteries and girls to convents. The hagiographers of the migranous Hildegard of Bingen tells us that although she was a weak and sickly child she was given away as tithe offering at the age of eight, to become a nun at the age of 14.14. This was by no means unusual - and of course the children generally had no say in the matter.

    Don Perosi with the Choir of the Sistine Chapel (c. 1905).
    Seven of these boys had been castrated, to better serve the pope

    religious indoctrination is increasingly seen as form of child abuseIn practice children were committed to monasteries and nunneries even as infants, and could be obliged to follow a lifestyle for which they had no vocation at all. One well-known example is the "The Nun of Watton", born in the 1140s. (She is referred to as The Nun of Watton because no one thought to record her real name.) While she was still a toddler, Henry Murdac, the Archbishop of York, took her to a Gilbertine Priory in Watton, Yorkshire, which was apparently not as lax as many other priories. She proved to be wholly unsuited to the life of a nun. As a teenager she made the acquaintance of a lay brother in the same priory and became pregnant by him. On discovering this, the sisters stripped, whipped and imprisoned her. According to Saint Ailred, the monk who subsequently investigated the case, some of the younger nuns wanted her burnt, roasted, branded or skinned alive, but the older sisters devised a more subtle punishment. The pregnant girl was thrown into solitary confinement, chained hand and foot, and fed on bread and water. The monk was lured back to the priory and his lover was then forced to castrated him, his severed genitals then being forced into his mouth. The unborn child was aborted - supposedly miraculously when the Archbishop of York, Henry Murdac, appeared with two heavenly women who cleansed the girl's body of both her sin and of her pregnancy15. So in all, two children's lives were ruined, possibly three as we do not know the age of the monk. However old he was, it is likely that he would have died from his injuries.

    Children, like adults, might be committed to monasteries if their very existence was politically inconvenient to the Church. It was in practice a form of perpetual imprisonment. The painting below shows Childeric III (c. 717 – c. 754), King of Francia from 743 until he was deposed by Pope Zachary in March 751 and forceably tonsured as a monk.He was the last Frankish king of the Merovingian dynasty, replaced by Pepin the Short, the father of emperor Charlemagne.

    Evariste Vital Luminais (1822-1896), Le dernier des Mérovingiens,
    Musée des Beaux-Arts de Carcassonne.


    The Christian record on children's rights is no better than its record on other matters. The Churches opposed the education of poor boys and all girls. European Churches were responsible for the trial, torture, conviction, imprisonment and execution of children as young as five or six, often contravening the civil law. In the nineteenth century the Churches opposed the abolition of child labour, and continued to be party to a wide range of abuse, mental, physical and sexual into the twentt-first century.

    Mid 19th Century:
    young children working over 80 hours per week in a dark tunnel, about half their height

    In short, the Church has never supported the rights of children. Mainstream Churches made no more effort to end child labour than they did to end slavery. In England, Anglicans consistently opposed unbelievers like Jeremy Bentham, J. S. Mill and the philanthropist Robert Owen (1771-1858), who championed the improvement of social conditions for working children. Children's rights are an invention of secular philosophers.

    Children's champions included almost anyone except the Churches. For example, the first law in Germany to prohibit the employment of children (under the age of nine) in factories was passed in 1839 at the behest of the military authorities, who were concerned at the poor physical condition of their recruits. Nowhere did any mainstream Churches lead the move to protect children.

    Cartoon by Frederick T. Richards in Philadelphia North American, 1913:
    "Emaciated child laborers pulling chariot of rich, monstorous 'child labor exploiter.'"
    A US cartoon, lampooning the continued exploitation of child labour well into the twentieth century.


    There are still Churches teaching the traditional Christian line that children should be seen but not heard, and affirming the Christian injunction "spare the rod and spoil the child", based on Proverbs, 13:24.


    Factory workers - The reality of child labour in the USA
    In 1938 child labor was regulated by the Fair Labor Standards Act
    For the first time, minimum ages of employment and hours of work for children were regulated by federal law - for two millennia Church Law has never considered child exploitation either a sin or a crime.


    This photograph was taken c 1905 in the Congo Free State, established to spread Christian ideas
    One of the countless child victims of the Rubber Terror, where amputation was a common punishment for children who failed to meet rubber production quotas


    For more on child abuse in the Congo Free State, and the role of the Christian Churches, see Christian atrocities.




    Kidnapping and indoctrinating Children.

    Churches have been involved in kidnapping children for many centuries. The children concerned have been the children of non-Christian parents, or "mixed-race" children, or the children of insufficiently Christian parents who failed to meet Christian moral standards, for example unmarried mothers, and parents with left-wing views. Kidnapping was practiced on pagan children in the early Church, on Romanies and Jews throughout Europe, on aboriginal peoples in North America, Central America, South America, Africa, Australia and New Zealand. It was common in totalitarian Catholic countries such as Spain and Nazi Germany and in other particularly Catholic countries such as Ireland and Belgium. Often the purpose was explicitly to civilize and Christianize the Children.

    In some Spanish speaking totalitarian countries like Spain and Argentina, nuns would steal new-born babies. They told the left-wing parents that their babies had died immediately after birth, and sold the babies to politically acceptable childless Catholic couples.

    Church kidnapping continued until the second half of the twentieth century in Britain, the USA, Canada and Australia. Children were taken from their families, by force if necessary, sometimes in handcuffs. They were generally split up from any siblings, given new identities by Church authorities and provided with forged supporting documentation, and told that their parents were dead. They were usually indoctrinated in Christian dogma and trained for menial tasks, in some cases amounting to slave labour. In Africa, most notably in the Congo Free State, boy "orphans" were trained as soldiers to terrorise their fellow Africans.

    Many boys and girls were abused in Church-run orphanages - physically, sexually and mentally, by priests and nuns. Churches still refuse to help survivors to find their real families.

    In recent years investigations in many English speaking countries have revealed the scale of the abuse and the role of Church and State in it. Several governments, notably Ireland, Canada and Australia have made public apologies in parliament for the part played by the state. such acts of contrition have not been matched by the Churches, whose responsibility was far greater.

    Children's Handcuffs
    Haskell Indian Nations University's Cultural Center and Museum in Lawrence, Kansas, USA
    According to the donor, these tiny handcuffs were used to force reluctant Native American Children from their families.

    For more detail on the Christian practice of kidnapping, indoctrinating and abusing children, click on this link to Christian Kidnapping of Children


    As in every area of reform, the Churches have followed secular opinion and few in the west are now prepared to defend the opinions that they held with absolute certainty in the nineteenth century. As so often there are exceptions. It is still possible to find pockets of traditional belief from Church schools insisting on their rights to beat children to pastors advocating the killing, torture or abandonment of possessed and bewitched children. In 2005 it was estimated that 70% of the street children in Kinshassa had been abandoned by their parents because of accusations of witchcraft16. With Christianity expanding fast across Africa and Kinshasa as a bellwether, there may now be more children being tortured and starved by Christian leaders and by Christian parents than ever before.




    This pair of mahogany finger stocks was used as a punishment in a Victorian school


    .Child in Cuenca, Spain, photographed by Christer Strömholm in 1961


    Charles VII with his future mother-in-law, Yolande d'Aragon, Duchess of Anjou
    He married Marie of Anjou in 1422


    The reality of hell terrified countless generations of children.
    There are still adults alive who bear the mental scars


    The baby of a slave is auctioned, despite the pleas of its mother
    Illustration by Henry Bibb, a former slave



    Christian education has been described as a form of child abuse.
    Most religious indoctrination is more sibtle than this example.


    Child 'Powder Monkey' on the USS New Hampshire (1864)


    Infant nuns. Date unknown.


    Procession of Young Girls on Confirmation Day, L'hopital de Beaune, 1906
    by Henri-Jules-Jean Geoffroy. French (1853 - 1924)


    Would be Monk and Nun, Rome, 1929


    This Christian illustration is not Jesus still approving of a thousand years of Christian child marriage,
    but a Confirmation Prayer Card


    Handcuffs used by the U.S. government to restrain captured Native American children







    Child Labour - Christian Era USA

    Part of a photo series, taken by photographer Lewis Hine on behalf of the National Child Labor Committee in the USA, archived by the Library of Congress, showing what conditions were like for child laborers before child labor was largely eliminated in 1938. The Christian view after 1900 years of continuing divine Christian revelation permitted children, as young as 4, to work in factories, mines, plantations and textile mills. Dangers included lung damage as well as physical mutilation, since God had not revealed any need for elementary work-place protection. Working children were expected to attend church every Sunday, their one day off work each week.

    Boys working at Bibb Mill No. 1, Macon, Georgia, USA. 1909.
    These boys were so small they had to climb up on the spinning frame to mend the broken threads and put back the empty bobbins.


    3-year-old daughter of an overseer at Ivey Mill, Hickory, North Carolina, USA. Early twentieth century.


    Amos Neal, 6 years old, and Horace Neal, 4 years old, in Tobacco Fields, Warren County, Albaton, Kentucky, USA. Early twentieth century..
    Their father, John Neal, said (and the owner of the land confirmed it) that both these boys work day after day from “sun-up to sun-down” worming and suckering.


    Vance, a Trapper Boy, 15 years old, West Virginia, USA. Early twentieth century..
    He worked for $0.75 a day for 10 hours work
    Vance had been a trapper for several years in the coal mine. All a trapper does is to open and shut a mine door. Most of the time he sits here in the dark, waiting for the next car to come.


    Willie Bryden, 13, another trapper, holding the door open in a mine, Shaft #6 Pennsylvania Coal Co, Pittston, Pennsylvania,, USA. Early twentieth century..
    Willie's job was to open the door for a trip to come through. Normally he sat alone in the dark.
    (The scene would have been specially lit for the photograph).
    It was so damp that Willie needed constant medical attention for a cough. A short distance from here, gas was pouring into the mine so rapidly that it made a great torch when the foreman lit it. At the time of the photograph, Willie had been working here for four months. "January 16th, I found Willie at home sick, His mother admitted that he is only 13 yrs old; will be 14 next July. Said that 4 mos. ago the mine boss told the father to take Willie to work..."


    Child Cigarmakers employed at Englahardt & Co., Tampa, Florida, USA. Early twentieth century..
    Both boys and girls were employed.
    Apparently all of them smoked cigars, which they were allowed to do.


    11-year-old Nannie Coleson, looper at Crescent Hosiery Mill, Scotland Neck, North Carolina, USA
    Early twentieth century.
    Nannie said she was 11 years old, and had been working in the Crescent Hosiery Mill for some months.
    She made about $3 a week.
    She told an investigator that, “There are other little girls in the mill too"


    Breaker boys in #9 breaker, Pittston, Pennsylvania, USA. Early twentieth century.
    A breaker boy was a coal-mining workerwhose job was to separate impurities from coal by hand in a coal breaker.


    Breaker boys sort coal at an anthracite coal breaker near South Pittston, Pennsylvania, USA, in 1911.
    The dust penetrated the lungs - at times it was dense enough to obscure the view.

    Callie Campbell, 11 years old, Potawotamie County, Oklahoma, USA. Early twentieth century.
    Callie picked 75 to 125 pounds of cotton a day, and toted 50 pounds of it when sack was full..

    The Pass Christian Company (Dunbar, Lopez, Dukate Co) .Mississippi, USA
    All these children were shucking oysters and tending babies from before daybreak and until about 5 P.M. Photo was taken at noon in absence of Supt., who permits no photos on account of Child Labor agitation. .
    Digital ID: (color digital file from b&w original print) nclc 00861
    Reproduction Number: LC-DIG-nclc-00861 (color digital file from b&w original print)
    Repository: Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540 USA



    National Child Labor Committee No. 954. One-legged boy. Neil Gallagher, Wilkes Barre, Pa. Born January 14, 1891. Went to work at about 9 years. Worked about two years in breaker. Went inside at about 11 years. "Tripper," tending door. 83 cents [a] day. Injured May 2, 1904. Leg crushed between cars. Amputated at Mercy Hospital, Wilkes Barre. "Baltimore Tunnell" - "Black Diamond" D. & ...
    1909 November.
    1 negative | Hine, Lewis Wickes, 1874-1940
    LOT 7483, v. 1, no. 0954 [P&P] LC-H5- 954 | LC-DIG-nclc-04573


    Harry McShane - 134 Broadway, Cincinnati, Ohio. - 16 yrs. of age on June 29, 1908. Had his left arm pulled off near shoulder, and right leg broken through kneecap, by being caught on belt of a machine in Spring factory in May 1908. Had been working in factory more than 2 yrs. Was on his feet for first time after the accident, the day this photo was taken. No attention was paid by employers to the boy either at hospital or home according to statement of boy's father. No compensation.


    Accident to young cotton mill worker. Giles Edmund Newsom (Photo October 23rd, 1912) while working in Sanders Spinning Mill, Bessemer City, North Carolina.. August 21st, 1912, a piece of the machine fell on to his foot, smashing his toe. This caused him to fall on to a spinning machine and his hand went into the unprotected gearing, crushing and tearing off two fingers. (Hine no. 3073)


    Breaker of the Chauncy Colliery, Pennsylvania, USA, where a 15 year old breaker-boy was smothered to death and another badly burned on 7 Jan. 1911. The Coroner said that the McKee boy was but a few days past his 15th birthday when he was killed, and that the evidence seemed to show that he was at work in another breaker before his 14th birthday.


    Photographer Lewis Hine shot images of young boys smoking cigarettes
    emphasizing one of the harmful effects of child labor. ca. 1880














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    1. J. H. Baker, An Introduction to English Legal History, p 263.

    2. Kramer and Sprenger, Malleus Maleficarum, Pt II, q1, c4.

    3. Contrary quotations were excused. See for example Kramer and Sprenger, Malleus Maleficarum, Pt II, q1, c4. The legal fiction that there was no father seems to have been conveniently ignored for this purpose.

    4. The sons and grandsons of heretics, for example, were punished by disabilities and disinheritance. See Kramer and Sprenger, Malleus Maleficarum, Pt I, q14 {MM p 182}.

    5. In November 2001, 40 Christian schools challenged the British government in court on the issue of corporal punishment. See "Bible drawn into battle against sparing the rod" in The Daily Telegraph, 3 rd November, 2001.

    6. Bruce Grundy, a Professor at Queensland University, carried out the investigation at an Order of the Sisters of Mercy orphanage at Neerkol in northern Queensland in 1998. The quotations here are taken from The Times of 31 st March 1998.

    7. Harry Potter, Hanging in Judgement, p 7.

    8. To take a single example of how much child marriage was accepted: many nobles and clerics had reason to oppose the marriage between Constance, Princess of Antioch, and Raymond of Poitiers in 1136, but no one seems to have thought of questioning it on the grounds that Constance was barely nine years old. See Runciman, A History of The Crusades, vol. 2, pp 198-200.

    9. Marriages between toddlers and even babies were common among royal and noble families, andt not unknown among the gentry: John Somerforth and Jane Brerton were married to each other in the parish church at Brerton in England, in 1552, when John was three years old and Jane two-and-a-half years old. The civil courts granted them a divorce when one of the parties objected 14 years later. "It cannot be determined how common these child marriages were, but references to them are sufficiently numerous to make it clear that the practice was by no means out of the ordinary, especially among noblemen". [Chilton Latham Powell, English domestic relations, 1487-1653; a study of matrimony and family life in theory and practice as revealed by the literature, law and history of the period", Practice and Customs of Marriage. Doctoral thesis.1917, Columbia University Press, New York].

    10. Relevant texts from Decretum gratiani:

    Betrothals cannot be contracted before the seventh year. For they can be contracted only with consent, which requires each party to understand what they agree to. This proves that betrothals cannot be contracted between children, because the debility of age prevents consent. (Decretum gratiani, Case 30, q II)

    Marriage cannot be contracted before the age of consent.
    Where there is no mutual consent, there is no marriage. Therefore, to give boys to girls in their cradles, or vice versa, accomplishes nothing, even if the father and mother do it and desire it, unless both children consent after reaching the age of discretion. (Decretum gratiani, Case 30, q II. C1)

    11. A case where a man married a young girl, but then took her mother as a wife (the question being which to recognise as the legal wife). This is Pope Alexander III writing to the Bishop of Hereford:.

    "We have received Your Fraternity's letter from whose import we gather that a certain man, a parishioner of yours by the name of A., when he was of mature age, betrothed a certain girl in her cradle. With the passing of time, A. had relations with the girl's mother and took her as wife. You wondered whether this marriage should stand and so asked our counsel about it.
    To your question we reply as follows: If the man took the girl's mother as wife before the girl had completed her seventh year, you may dissolve that marriage and permit the man liberty to keep the woman as his wife. Such betrothals made in the cradle are null.
    But if the man took the girl's mother as wife after the girl had completed her seventh year, do not hesitate to promulgate a decree of divorce between them, since betrothals after this age are approved by custom, nor may you permit the man to take the mother's daughter as wife."
    (Decretals of Gregory IX , Book Four, Title II C. 4)

    and and a case where a man has had sexual intercourse with a wife aged under 12 (the question being whether the sexual intercourse has sealed the marriage contract)

    "The man sets out to the contrary that, although the girl may not have reached her twelfth year when she was given to him as wife, she was close to it, because he knew her by carnal intercourse. She says that she did not have intercourse with the man. Hence you have asked us whether she can marry another.
    We reply to your question as follows: The Decretum [C. 33 q. 1 c. 3] explicitly says that, if a husband claims to have known his wife, and the wife denies it, the man is presumed to be telling the truth. Therefore, the man, who says he knew this woman, is to be believed if he testifies to this under oath.
    If, being around eleven or twelve, she was almost of age, and was betrothed with her own assent at the will of her parents, was blessed, and was known by the man, she ought not to be separated, especially since her parents claimed that she was of lawful age".
    (Decretals of Gregory IX , Book Four, Title II C. 6)

    And a similar case where Pope Gregory IX writes to the Archbishop of Poitiers.

    Jordan's wife makes this petition: The layman J. contracted with her using language in the future tense when she had not yet completed her tenth year. Within the space of the year they had carnal relations, but he did not hesitate to unite in matrimony with her mother and seek her embrace for condemned intercourse. So J.'s wife petitions that, since she cannot resist the temptations of the flesh, we condescend to provide for her salvation so that she not be deprived of a right through no fault of her own.

    Therefore, we command: If things stand thus, attentively warn and convince both of them to vow perpetual continence. If they cannot be convinced to do that, first enjoin fitting penance on the said J. for the incest he committed, then compel him by ecclesiastical censure to cohabit with her and to render her the conjugal debt when she demands it.
    (Decretals of Gregory IX , Book Four, Title XIII C. 11)

    12. G G Coulton, Medieval Panorama (New York: Macmillan, 1944), p 639, citing Desiderii Erasmi Roterodami, Opera Omnia: (1704) v627, 641, 666, 670.

    13. Age of Marriage Act 1929, 19 and 20 George V, chapter 36.

    14. Vita Sancti Rupperti Confessoris and Vita Sancti Dysibodi Episcopi.

    15. The incident is recorded by St Ailred of Rievaulx in De Sanctimoniali de Wattun, and has been covered extensively in modern works, notably

    John Boswell: The Kindness of Strangers: The Abandonment of Children in Western Europe from Late Antiquity to the Renaissance: London: Penguin: 1989: ISBN 0-7139-9019-8

    Brian Golding: Gilbert of Sempringham and the Gilbertine Order: Oxford: Oxford University Press: 1995: ISBN 0-19-820060-9

    Sarah Salih: Versions of Virginity in Late Medieval Europe: Woodbridge: DS Brewer: 2001: ISBN 0-85991-622-7

    Giles Constable, "Aelred of Rievaulx and the Nun of Watton: An Episode in the Early History of the Gilbertine Order," in Medieval Women, ed. Derek Baker. Oxford: Blackwell, 1981: ISBN 0-631-12539-6

    16. The Daily Telegraph , 24 September 2005, World News p14 “Starved and beaten with nails: Kinshasa's young "witches" cast out by slum preachers”


















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