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Recently USA Today reported on the Nigerian militant organization Boko Haram’s increasing use of children as human bombs. Already this year, 83 children – including a baby strapped to a girl – have been used as terrorist tools since the beginning of 2017. Bloomberg reports that many of the victims come from families who donated the children, knowing how they would be used.

The stories raise a compelling question: Are there any limits on who should be allowed to have kids?

Do parents who would donate their young children to be blown up by Boko Haram still have a moral or legal right to have more? Should we as a society say nothing about members of ISIS having more kids, given what will happen to them?

These are questions no one is asking. Anot because there are no ways to answer them – bioethicists deal with similar questions all the time – but because there appears to be no way to actually implement such limits. Why ask the question if there is nothing we can do about it? How would the United Nations and the international community begin to limit the right, legally and in practice? How should we actually intervene in these situations to stop parents? The notion is almost silly.

But that’s thinking inside the box. It’s almost equally silly to think laws and policies that are not enforced have no impact on our behavior. Such laws and policies do, and are studied under an area of legal theory and research usually referred to as expressive law. Prominent organizations and governments merely taking a position on a controversial subject – that some people are not fit to have children – can have a tremendous impact.

And what does not taking a position mean? That we think it’s ok for parents who would use their children as human bombs to have kids? Is that what we think? Is that the universal norm we all want to be living with?  

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