Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Emancipate Rifqa Bary!

Does Rifqa Bary fear -- honestly and with good reason -- that her father will kill her for converting from Islam to Christianity?

That's been treated as the central question, both by "child welfare authorities" in Ohio (where she's from) and Florida (where she fled), and by those debating the issue from both religious and secular standpoints.

I don't think it's the central question, at all, though. The central question is whether or not "child welfare authorities" should be involved at all.

Granted, if her fear was real and reasonable, that would be a slam dunk argument against forcibly returning her "home."

And granted, if her fear was unreal or unreasonable and she was, say, four years old, the argument that she should be returned to her innocent parents because she's just too young to be able to be out on her own and making her own decisions would ring true to most people.

She is, however, 17 years old -- mere months away from becoming legally free to go where she listeth, for any reason she damn well pleases, without consulting her parents or anyone else on the matter.

The 18-year line between "minor" and "adult" is an arbitrary legal construct based on no compelling evidence whatsoever. It's just a number drawn, for all intents and purposes, out of a hat. Equally arbitrary are the designation of 16 years to be trusted to careen down the road at high speed in control of a couple of tons of metal, and 21 years to drink a Fat Tire without being arrested. In "the old days," the arbitrary line separating "childhood" from "adulthood" was often set at 13 years. And until very recently, some states set it, for purposes of marriage, as low as 14. Finally, unfortunately, some states now engage in the barbaric practice of designating children far younger than Bary "adults" when a prosecutor wants to punish them for crimes.

Bary is 17. She's already demonstrated that she can make her way from Ohio to Florida without her parents' assistance, and that she can either live on her own or find voluntary sponsors to assist her. The obvious thing to do -- even absent evidence of a murder plot against her, and unless she can be proven incompetent, which seems unlikely -- is to emancipate her and free her to live as an adult a few months early, without reference to any "religious questions" whatsoever.

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