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ABSTRACT We argue that in societies like our own the prevailing view that parents have both special responsibilities for and special rights over their children fails to give a proper understanding of the autonomy both of parents and of children. It is our claim that there is a logical priority of the separable interests of a child over the autonomy of its parents in the fulfilment of their special responsibilities for and the exercise of their special rights over their children. However, we believe that in acknowledging the child as a distinct locus of interests appropriate weight can still be given to parental autonomy. In particular, since raising a child is a long-term commitment which plays a central role in the life-plans of many adults it will be a legitimate exercise of an adult's autonomy strongly to influence the future of any children involved in such a plan. Such influence will be quite separate from paternalistic concern for those children. But the logical priority of the child's interests will at the same time show why parents are not entitled to behave proprietorially toward their children, even when paternalistic concern is called for.