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U.S. Should Ratify Convention on Children’s Rights

The Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) is an internationally recognized agreement among nations which establishes a comprehensive set of goals for individual nations to improve the lives of their children. Although it has worldwide recognition and support, the U.S. is the only country in the world that hasn’t ratified it.

Ratification of the CRC requires the States to submit reports outlining its implementation on the domestic level to the U.N. Committee on the Rights of the Child, a panel of child rights experts from around the world. Parties must report initially two years after ratification of the Convention and then every five years. The sole enforcing mechanism within the Convention is the issuing of this report.

Both the Ronald Reagan and the George H.W. Bush administrations played an important role in drafting the treaty, which was signed by the U.S. government in 1995, indicating the nation’s intent to consider its ratification. The CRC is considered the most widely ratified human rights treaty in history. Even North Korea, widely considered a “rogue State”, has ratified the CRC in 1990.

The Convention calls for all children, including those with disabilities, to be free from violence and abuse, and compels governments to provide them with adequate nutrition and health care. At the same time, the Convention demands that children have equal treatment regardless of gender, race or cultural background and have the right to express their opinions and have freedom of thought in matters affecting them.

In addition, the CRC emphasizes the primacy and importance of the role, authority and responsibility of parents and family, and is consistent with the principles contained in the U.S. Bill of Rights. The ratification of the convention has been endorsed by about a hundred organizations in the U.S., among them the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Baptist Churches, the American Bar Association, the National Education Association and the Child Welfare League of America.

Given this level of endorsements, why hasn’t the CRC been ratified by the U.S.? The CRC has found a notable degree of opposition within the Senate and in the public at large. Opposition to this Convention by some religious groups –some of which claim it conflicts with the U.S. Constitution- have played an important role in the non-ratification of the treaty so far.

Several among these groups have portrayed the Convention as a threat to national sovereignty, states’ rights, the child-parent relationship and parental rights. However, as Lawrence S. Wittner, a Professor of History emeritus at the State University of New York (SUNY) at Albany has said, “Although some current U.S. laws clash with the Convention’s child protection features, most U.S. laws are in line with the Convention.”

The Supremacy Law of the U.S. Constitution establishes that no treaty can override the Constitution, lying to rest this argument. In addition, the Convention does not grant any international body enforcement authority over the U.S. or its citizens, but only obligates the parties to the Convention to submit periodic reports regarding how the provisions of the treaty are progressing.

Some parents have expressed concern that the Convention will eliminate parents’ rights to discipline their children. Rather than doing that, however, the Convention states that children should be protected from all forms of mental or physical violence and maltreatment.

The U.S. refusal to ratify the CRC must be related to one of the provisions of the Convention that establishes that “States must provide special protection to children in vulnerable conditions, such as those seeking asylum” (Article 22). The U.S. government often brutal detention of migrant children may conflict with this provision.

Because of widespread conservative opposition to the Convention it is likely that the U.S. will continue to be at odds with the rest of the world regarding children’s basic rights. The continuous U.S. refusal to ratify the CRC only taints the image of the country, its stand on children’s rights, and its duty to protect the most vulnerable.

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Dr. Cesar Chelala is a co-winner of the 1979 Overseas Press Club of America award for the article “Missing or Disappeared in Argentina: The Desperate Search for Thousands of Abducted Victims.”

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