The UN convention on children’s rights (CRC) – now 25 years old – sets global standards for children’s education, health care, social services, penal laws, and protection from economic and sexual exploitation, violence and other forms of abuse and neglect and establishes the right of children to have a say in decisions that affect them.
Adopted by the UN General Assembly in 1989, CRC is one of the most widely adopted human-rights treaties. In January 2015, Somalia became the 195th nation to ratify it.
Now the only nations not to ratify CRC are the recently created nation of South Sudan and the super-power, the USA. There is every indication that South Sudan will ratify later this year (more).
So the US will march out of step with the rest of the world.
The US signed CRC in 1995, but has never ratified it. When a country signs CRC, it endorses its principles; when it ratifies CRC it commits to be legally bound by it.
In the US, ratification is supported by more than 100 organisations including
- American Bar Association
- American Academy of Pediatrics
- Child Welfare League of America
- National Education Association
- General Federation of Women’s Clubs
- A number of national church bodies.
So, why the opposition?
For a country with a long record of hectoring other nations about abuse of rights – and sometimes intervening militarily to ‘put things right’ – it is surprising to find the depth of opposition to CRC in the USA. Without a level of bi-partisan support – treaties require a two-thirds majority of the Senate – there is little likelihood of the US joining the rest of the world in ratifying it in the foreseeable future.
Ratification is opposed by the Republican Party and its right-wing support base including
- the Christian Coalition
- the Family Research Council
- Focus on the Family
- the John Birch Society.
Right-wing groups oppose CRC for ideological reasons similar to their opposition to gun control laws.
CRC, they assert, would undermine precious freedoms especially the rights of parents (despite those rights being confirmed by CRC). They smell a conspiracy rat: CRC is designed to undermine parents on sex education and religious education, not to mention encouraging abortion and greater permissiveness.
Republicans also argue against the imposition of higher taxes to pay for additional resources to implement aspects of CRC. In the land of the free, one in every six children are free to live in abject poverty. America ranks very low on the league table of industrialised nations in child poverty, and its associated infant mortality and poor health. Many families can’t afford to seek medical help for their children (or themselves) even in acute cases.
Some conservatives argue that the US doesn’t need CRC. Its own laws protect children. That may be so in many respects, but:
- If you are under 18 in the US, you can be jailed for life without parole. Until 2005, you could have been sentenced to death. The US ranks very high on the table of nations with children in gaol.
- Although America has laws against child abuse, a third of US states allow corporal punishment in schools.
- Not a single state bans corporal punishment in the home.
- Exemptions in US child labor laws allow children as young as 12 to be put to work in agriculture for long hours and under dangerous conditions
- A child in the US is killed by a gun every three hours.
If you are born into a poor family in the US, the one thing your family can’t do is gain succour from the world-wide convention on the rights of the child. The US is a foreign country: they do things differently over there.