This year on the International Day of the Child — appropriately celebrated on Nov. 20 — we will mark the 25th anniversary of the Conventions on the Rights of the Child and the triumphs made for the position of children around the world. In these 25 years there has globally been a declining infant mortality rate, rising school registration, and better opportunities and protections for girls. For the whole list of successes one need only read the report released by UNICEF.
While this is a joyous occasion, this anniversary also brings a disappointment into sharp focus: Three nations have yet to ratify such a widely exalted convention protecting all rights of children, be they civil, political, economic, social or cultural. Those countries are Somalia, South Sudan and the United States.
It is thoroughly unsurprising that two of these nations have yet to ratify the CRC. Somalia has been considered a failed state with severe internal government concerns, and South Sudan, the world’s newest country, lapsed into a civil war last December. Conversely, it is with great shame that the United States has yet to ratify the treaty.
The United States finally signed the treaty in 1995, but ratification would invoke a legally binding agreement that the U.S. is hesitant to enter into. It is important to note that the U.S. did ratify two of the Optional Protocols of the treaty in 2002: one on children in armed conflict, the other on child trafficking and pornography.
The opposition to U.S. ratification of the CRC comes from the parental rights movement, which is deeply entrenched in conservative views of familial roles. One parental rights group, Parentalrights.org, firmly argues that the CRC works to diminish the power of the parent over the child and allows for too much government regulation in the home.
In an explanation of their opposition, Parentalrights.org describes various farfetched and ludicrous situations that parents would face if the CRC was ratified. These scenarios include a mandatory sex education course for a four-year-old child; imprisonment if a parent refuses to vaccinate a child; and parental supervision by the state (as if in the world of “1984”). Additionally, they argue that a child would basically be able to use the government against its parents, spanking would be forbidden as a form of punishment, and the treaty would override the U.S. Constitution as international law.
Ultimately, this is a matter of interpretation gone far wrong and the group seemingly refuses to read any explanations published by the U.N. to explain clauses in further detail. First of all, the document explicitly states its desire to foster a happy, loving and understanding familial environment, desiring not only to protect the child but also the family unit.
Article 17 gives a child access to information and the media. But this certainly doesn’t mean that four year olds will be forced to learn how to use a condom. We must take into account the many nations with higher rates of child rape, sex trafficking and abuse. This information and access to reproductive health is of vital nature to their safety and education.
Article 12 is another area of high dispute of interpretation as it calls on a child’s opinions to be heard by its parents and the state. UNICEF argues that this clause in no way forces parents to do what the child says, but rather “encourages parents to listen to their children. Participation of a child in decision making should be equal to maturity level.”
Finally, the CRC cannot invalidate anything in the U.S. Constitution whatsoever. The 1957 U.S. Supreme Court ruling Reid v. Covert made sure of this. The Convention wasn’t created to force governments to strictly alter the precedents created by their laws and legal instruments. Rather it is a way for the international community to observe the efforts of nations to protect their children. Each nation must submit a report to the Committee on the Rights of the Child outlining its progress. The CRC is merely a blueprint for both child and family protection.
Let’s be honest, it wasn’t created to police the U.S. but rather for the West to police other nations with large abuses and impunity.
According to The Economist, the U.S. is unlikely to ratify the CRC any time soon due to two big issues. First, contrary to the protections of the CRC, the U.S. holds the right in some states to jail under 18s for life without parole. As far as punishment goes, the U.S. questions how far the treaty will take into account smacking and spanking as forms of abuse as well. Second, the 2014 midterm elections last week created a Republican majority in the Senate. To ratify an international treaty the President submits it to the Senate where it must obtain a 2/3 majority vote. This didn’t happen with a Democrat majority and definitely isn’t happening now.
The United States has a gloomy relationship with international treaties. Many notable human rights treaties have gone unratified by the U.S. despite presidential backing. But not all hope should be lost. The U.S. originally voted against the passages of the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (2007) due to our dishonorable and horrid history of Native American abuses and the recompense the document calls for. However, in 2010 President Obama addressed our history and looked to a brighter future by signing the declaration.
Although the U.S. is still far from adopting the Convention on the Rights of the Child, it would not be fair to abandon hope. It is vital to our role as enforcers of world peace and justice. As Jo Becker of Human Rights Watch said: “It is awkward when the U.S. tries to promote child rights in other countries – they all remind us that they’ve joined the treaty and we have not.”