Review of Them before Us: Why We Need a Global Children's Rights Movement

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Them before Us: Why We Need a Global Children’s Rights Movement
Katy Faust & Stacy Manning, Post Hill Press, 2021.
ISBN 978-1-6429-3596-7, 304 pages.

“I have no husband and no prospects for a husband. My biological clock is ticking, and I desperately want to have a child of my own. Is it possible that God’s will for me is to use a sperm donor to conceive children?” This was the question posed to a pastor nearly ready for retirement and standing in disbelief that these were the questions he was now being asked. 

Indeed, one hundred years ago, this question would have crossed the minds of few people, and if it did occur to them, even fewer would have had the courage to come out and ask their pastor. But we do not live one hundred years ago. We live in the 21st century, and seemingly limitless scientific and technological advancements allow us to think about topics like these.

The woman in the story is not alone in her inquiries into the morality of donor conception, and hers is not the only situation in which the impact adult decisions have on children is often overlooked. Them before Us: Why We Need a Global Children’s Rights Movement, by Katy Faust and Stacy Manning, was written to persuade the reader that “adults need to do hard things so kids don’t have to” (xxix). The rights of the child are often neglected when discussions of marriage, divorce (specifically no-fault divorce), gamete donation, surrogacy, and adoption occur.

This volume puts all the ammunition one might need to dismantle arguments for these things (except adoption, of course) in one convenient location. The authors wish to bring awareness to the ideas that heterosexual marriage is what is best for both children and society, that the government’s interest is not about the feelings of adults, and that children have a right to grow up with their biological parents who are married to each other. As the writers observe, “Treating adult desires as rights requires kids to sacrifice their human rights” (2).

Faust and Manning recognize the cultural confusion as to what constitutes a human right and point out that the term has been abused for so long that its definition has become muddied. Therefore, the authors take the time to define what they believe a right is and note that there are necessarily added intricacies involved when discussing the rights of children in particular.

Faust and Manning acknowledge that a right is not a right merely because someone uses the term for political advancement. Rather, they provide three criteria by which something can be determined to be a natural right. First, the right in question must have existed prior to the organization of government. Second, it is not provided by someone else. Lastly, “it must be distributed equally” (7).

Because the relationship between parents and children existed before the government, no one provides mothers and fathers to children, and because everyone is born with two parents, the authors conclude that children have the natural right to their biological parents. For society to function properly, the right of a child to his mother and father must be protected.

Faust and Manning undergird their argument by stating that “90 percent of homeless and runaway youths are fatherless” and “70 to 85 percent of prison inmates grew up without a father” (13). Throughout the book, the authors assert that any time the married mother and father family structure is intentionally disrupted, children’s rights are violated.

It is helpful to note that the goal of the authors is not to disparage any group of parents (whether divorced, single, same sex, etc.); rather, their goal is to advocate for the rights of children to be raised in their own homes by their mothers and fathers. While the book spends no small amount of time diving into the research regarding these groups and child outcomes, Faust and Manning boil the topic down into three types of parental loss: “children of divorce or abandonment, children who were conceived through sperm donation, egg donation and surrogacy,” and “children with LGBT parents” (130).

The authors dismantle the argument that the only thing that kids need to be happy and healthy is to be safe and loved. From divorce to donor conception the book points out that biology matters in family structures, and it matters most to children who are at greater risk of being abused and neglected when a non-biologically related adult enters a romantic relationship with their parent.

Furthermore, not only does biology matter immensely to children, but gender matters as well. An entire chapter is spent presenting the differences between what fathers and mothers each provide to the home and the child’s emotional nourishment as well as making clear that gender is not merely a social construct. The book acknowledges that many governments see women’s benefit to organizations and have implemented laws to require female representation in their parliamentary systems (58). These governments see that men and women are different and each brings value to an organization.

The home is an organization that is no less important; both male and female must have input in that setting too. Because mothers and fathers are so different, each one is crucial to the child’s development. Therefore, though the culture has reduced the terms “mothering” and “fathering” down to simply “parenting”—whether for the sake of inclusivity or because it is merely seemingly more efficient—this genderless term, they claim, “is a misnomer” (60). The bottom line is that kids suffer when they miss out on either one of their biological parents, and as a result, society suffers as well.

The book claims that there are three necessary “ingredients” for a child to have the best chance for a happy, healthy future. Those three ingredients include the love of their father, the love of their mother, and stability. The best way for children to have access to both their mother and their father is for their parents to be married to each other and stay married to each other. Marriage adds the last important “ingredient” for children to grow up with the best chances for good outcomes in adulthood, Faust and Manning contend. A chapter on the imperative nature of traditional marriage for children and then a second chapter dedicated to the destructive nature of divorce emphasizes how critical marriage is to the development of children into adults. Faust and Manning point out that it is only within traditional marriage that children are afforded their right to both their biological fathers and mothers. Without it they are deprived of the daily interaction and love of one or both of their parents and often the stability that comes with that marriage relationship.

So often, children are the victims of adult whims and sexual desires, and same-sex marriage and divorce are two chief causes of children growing up without their mothers or fathers. The child part of the equation cannot be ignored when adults are deciding how to organize their lives. They must decide if their lives will be adult-centric or child-centric. If the answer is the latter, then adults must make the sacrifice of their own perceived happiness for the well-being of their children.

Though Katy Faust is the wife of a pastor, there are few (if any) explicitly religious arguments used in Them before Us. While that may be initially off-putting for those seeking to use this book in a church setting, it turns out to be a wonderful advantage because it allows the book to be used by those in the church to provide arguments to both religious and non-religious individuals. The authors appeal to natural law, data, and personal narrative to communicate what Christians know to be Scriptural truths. 

Them before Us is full of both research and excellent logical argumentation while remaining accessible to the layperson. Because this book demonstrates the damaging consequences for children who have lost a parent through divorce, donor conception, or surrogacy, this would be an excellent title to recommend to anyone considering those options for their own families. Moreover, when discussing parental loss, there is another topic that must be addressed: adoption.

For those who are seeking adoption, Faust and Manning make two ideas clear. First, while adoption is sometimes in the best interest of the child, it is never the ideal situation. If a child is being adopted, it means that she has lost her parents, and this is a tragedy. Second, adoption is meant to serve the interests of the child and not the interests of the adults involved. Adults do not have the right to adopt children, but children who have lost their parents have the right to be adopted (193).

One beneficial tool provided in this book is the “DIY Them before Us” section at the end of each chapter. The facts, data, and stories can be overwhelming and leave one feeling helpless to know what to do next. Dedicated to practicality, though, the authors provide ways in which everyone can be a children’s rights advocate at the end of nearly every chapter. 

In whatever ways this information is disseminated, Faust’s and Manning’s vision for a global children’s rights movement must be spread far and wide. As we wait and work for pro-family legislation to be enacted, readers can take what they have learned in this book and use it to make a difference in the lives of the children around them. While the book may not provide religious arguments, it does provide perspective as to how the Christian life lived in a manner honoring to God has tangible benefits for everyone. Maybe, if this book helps struggling families outside the church, they will want to know more about the God who established marriage and family life in the first place.