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    Suing your parents – Ask the Rabbi

    Q. May a child sue his/her parents for bringing them up wrongly?

    A. Just as children have duties to their parents, so parents have duties to their children. “Do not sin against the child” (Gen. 42:22) is a pillar of Jewish teaching. Some sins against children are obvious, such as paedophilia. We also know cases of violent parents causing physical and/or mental injury to their children, an unjustified application of the parental right to exercise discipline in the home: Proverbs 13:24 says, “He who loves his son seeks to discipline him”, but Maimonides warns against harshness and abuse (Hil’chot Talmud Torah 2:2; cf. Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh De’ah 334:43).

    Your question is presumably concerned with another aspect of the problem. Firstly let me ask whether children can complain that no-one asked them whether they wanted to be born, and the answer is No. Parents are fulfilling a Divine command to “be fruitful and multiply and replenish the earth” (Gen. 1:28). They are expressing their love for each other. They are also conferring a benefit on the child, since every child brings a blessing to the world.

    With rare exceptions, parents do their very best to nurture their children according to the standards of their time and place. Jewish teaching has its ethic of child-rearing – an important criterion against which to measure what they do. This ethic speaks about material things such as food, clothing and security, and about qualitative aspects such as helping a child to grow in faith, knowledge and wisdom. There is an old supplication, “You who give nourishment to all that live, forget not my children in the scattering of Your bounty… Inspire me that I may know how to guide them wisely, to cultivate in them goodness and piety, and to dispose their hearts toward noble and honest pursuits.” There are different kinds of children, and the Book of Proverbs says, “Train a child in its own way” (Prov. 22:6).

    I doubt whether a child has a right to sue a parent for not doing their job properly, but I would like to see every nation endorse the world declaration on the survival, protection and development of children, formulated in 1990.

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