The twentieth anniversary of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child has passed, accompanied by much comment on the fact that the United States and Somalia are the only two countries that have not signed it. UNICEF marked the occasion with a 100-page special edition of its annual report, The State of the World’s Children.
If the US has not signed up to something so universally accepted it is worth asking why. What it boils down to is a distrust of the language of “child rights” that can be used to drive a wedge between children and parents.
Conservative groups in the United States, however, point to concerns regarding the 'rights-based approach' and highlight problems with the CRC monitoring mechanism. They assert that children should not be totally autonomous rights bearers completely separate from their parents. Opponents are concerned that US ratification of the CRC will erode parental rights and sovereignty.
UNICEF is pleased that the convention has resulted in “the increased usage of ‘child rights’ language in the vernacular of national and international legal documents, policies, programs and advocacy”, but let’s remember that UN agencies have used such language to push everything from the outlawing of smacking to the teaching of masturbation.
Children do have rights, the same fundamental rights as adults, but the natural and best way for these rights to be protected is through their parents. Higher authorities may need to intervene in some cases, but it is often difficult to have confidence in those authorities. Many of the countries that tout their wonderful record on children’s rights have appalling rates of family breakdown and allow parents to kill their children before birth.
It is likely that the Obama administration will go ahead and join the throng who have ratified the treaty, but it is doubtful that children will be safer as a result.