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UN: Convention on the Rights of the Child
NewsNotes, July-August 2009

The following article was written by Amalia Kane, an intern with the Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns.

Change is in the air, or, at least, the need for change is in the air. Healthcare reform, clean energy projects, working for justice – these key initiatives are grounded in one thing: they seek to make the world a better place for children. In that light, it is important that the rights of children remain in the forefront of our minds and are embodied in our public statements and legislation. For the sake of children in the U.S. and the rest of the world, the U.S. should ratify the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC).

In 1989, after a decade of worldwide collaboration, the UN General Assembly adopted the CRC. To date, 193 of the 195 UN member countries have ratified the CRC and have used it as a basis for child rights legislation; that is to say, every nation in the world except the U.S. and Somalia, which currently doesn’t have a recognized government. The U.S played a substantial role in the drafting of the document; in 1995, U.S. delegate to the UN Madeleine Albright signed it, suggesting that official U.S. ratification would soon follow. In 2002 the U.S. ratified the two optional protocols of the CRC (one on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography, and the other on involvement of children in armed conflict). However, as of today, a few months short of the 20th anniversary of the CRC, there has been very little movement on the U.S.’s ratification of the Convention.

The U.S. has yet to ratify the Convention because of strong opposition from political and religious conservatives. These opponents claim that implementation of the CRC would be an intrusion on national sovereignty and U.S. federalism, would threaten and diminish parental rights, and allow international scrutiny of U.S. social policy. In essence, they are more concerned with strict verbatim interpretations of the constitution and the protection of “our” way of life than they are with the safety and security of the world’s children. What the opposition fails to take into account, however, is that the civil and political rights of the CRC are designed to protect children from governmental actions and intrusions, not parental supervision. In fact, the role of parental guardianship and duty is emphasized several times throughout the document, including in the preamble and more than 10 separate articles.

Written out of the recognition of the particular need to protect youth (defined as persons under 18 year old) due to their heightened vulnerability as dependents, the CRC clearly states that the human rights of all children must be respected, honored, and protected. Many organizations work tirelessly to do just that, here in the U.S. and around the world. However, millions of children are deprived of a safe home environment and lack basic necessities such as food, clothing, shelter, education, and proper health care. They make up over half of the world’s refugees. In the U.S., it is estimated that 36.5 million people live in poverty; one in six of these is a child; 300,000 U.S. children are in danger of being prostituted (according to a University of Pennsylvania study). The U.S. ranks poorly among industrialized nations in relative child poverty, the gap between rich and poor, teen birth rates, and child gun violence. It ranks first in the number of incarcerated youth.

Obviously, much work must be done to secure the basic human rights of children, both in the countries that have ratified this Convention as well as in the U.S. By ratifying the CRC the U.S. can take a leadership role on this vital issue. The public commitment from the U.S. would shift the world-wide perception of the Convention: respect for the rights of children could move from being merely a nice idea to being something about which there is universal agreement. If the U.S. adds its weight – uniting with the world behind the rights of children everywhere – it would be a significant step towards a peaceful and more just future.

Faith in action:
Contact the Campaign for the U.S. Ratification of the CRC for suggestions on how to get involved.

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