In England, Big Brother will be watching moms and dads

A national database will keep track of whether your kids eat five fruits and veggies a day. Seriously.

Published June 26, 2006 7:35PM (EDT)

Here's some creepy news from across the pond. In an effort to keep track of children who might fall through the cracks of the social welfare system, England plans to launch a national database that will follow 12 million children in England and Wales from birth. The move comes in response to the 2000 death of 8-year-old Victoria Climbie, who was murdered by her aunt, even though officials had investigated the home for abuse.

Not surprisingly, the database is being condemned by experts concerned with privacy and confidentiality issues. When it is launched in two years, doctors, schools and law enforcement officials will be required to report "concerns" to the government. Two warnings on a child's record could prompt an investigation.

Eileen Munro, of the London School of Economics, says that if a child isn't making progress toward certain state-decreed targets and performance indicators, detailed information about him or her will be gathered. This information might include "subjective judgments" such as, "Is the parent a positive role model?" or, no joke, whether a child is consuming the recommended five portions of fruits and veggies a day.

"The country is moving from 'parents are free to bring children up as they think best as long as they are not abusive or neglectful,'" Munro told the Telegraph, "to a more coercive 'parents must bring children up to conform to the state's views of what is best.'"

Can you imagine the possible infractions if this kind of Orwellian program went into effect in the U.S., the capital of extreme parenting? Moms and dads might receive citations for allowing an Oreo with trans fats to pass their child's lips, or for not exclusively breast-feeding for the first six months of their child's life.

Seriously, isn't there a better way to ensure the safety of at-risk children, like, say, hiring more well-qualified people to investigate abuse claims? Should the government really be deciding what is acceptable behavior within families, especially when there is no uniform definition of family anymore, nor any one set of traditions and customs that applies to everyone? Isn't there always the serious risk that the information in an electronic database might wind up in the wrong hands? And, as the Telegraph points out, isn't creating a larger bureaucracy just going to make it more difficult for professionals to find true instances of abuse? Let us know what you think.

By Lori Leibovich

Lori Leibovich is a contributing editor at Salon and the former editor of the Life section.

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