The Campaign for US Ratification of the Convention on the Rights of the Child

Sharon L. Fawcett – Campaign contributor

The world’s most important resources are its children and youth. They are also its most vulnerable group. For these reasons, the United Nations’ 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights proclaimed childhood is “entitled to special care and assistance.” Four decades later, a historic step was taken to ensure children would receive that special attention and protection.  On November 20, 1989, United Nations member states adopted the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC)—an international treaty that promotes the rights of all children everywhere.

pretty african little girl
I have the right to a good enough standard of living. This means I should have nutritious food, clothes, and a safe place to live. (UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, Article 27.)

The rights guaranteed by the CRC are grouped into four categories: children’s right to survival; to develop to their fullest potential; to protection from abuse, cruelty, neglect, and exploitation; and to participate fully in family, cultural, religious, and social life. The CRC also recognizes the crucial part families play in child well-being and that the family is “the fundamental group of society.” It places a responsibility on governments to assist parents in carrying out their essential role in nurturing children.

The CRC has become the most universally-accepted human rights treaty, having been ratified by every country in the world except one. Although the United States officially signed the treaty in 1995, it never took the steps necessary to ratify it and, therefore, is not a party to the CRC. The US has not agreed to pursue the basic standards established in the treaty on behalf of children.

sad kid
I have the right to protection from work that is bad for my health or education. (UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, Article 32.)

The Campaign for US Ratification of the Convention on the Rights of the Child (“Child Rights Campaign”) exists to create national support for the treaty by building awareness of its importance to children, and to bring about the ratification and implementation of the CRC in the United States. Ratification has many benefits for children and families, as well as a few manageable responsibilities. Currently, standards relating to the health, safety, and well-being of children are applied unevenly across US jurisdictions, and Congress and state governments do not prioritize children’s needs in their decision-making processes. Ratification of the CRC will provide the nation with a comprehensive framework that governs the rights of the child. It will help the United States focus energies and resources where children most need them. Ratification will also allow the US a voice in United Nations discussions about international policies on children’s rights.

For the ratification of the CRC to move forward, President Obama’s administration must conduct a review of the treaty and then submit it to the Senate. The State Department must also submit documents that highlight the treaty’s benefits and potential risks to the United States, any significant regulatory or environmental impact, and examination of the issues relating to the CRC’s implementation. The State Department may also propose reservations, understandings, and/or declarations that would serve to amend the treaty before full ratification by the United States.

Portrait of lonely teenage girl on moody winter day.
I have the right to be protected from being hurt or badly treated. (UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, Article 19.)

Although the United States has some of the best programs in the world to protect children, many children still face considerable hardships. In 2013, for example, 865,643 children in the US were victims of maltreatment, neglect, and abuse and 1,217 children died due to abuse and neglect, according to a report by the US Department of Health and Human Services. Twenty-two percent of all children in the US lived in poverty in 2013, compared to 18% in 2008, as reported in the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s 2015 Data Book. An Economic Research Report indicates that in 2014, 19.2% of households with children in the US—nearly one in five—were food insecure. Children in the United States would benefit from the kind of prioritization and articulation of their rights that states party to the CRC commit to.

UNICEF indicates that some of the areas in which the CRC has been most effective include inspiring national governments to incorporate human rights principles into legislation, develop national agendas for children, target child survival and development, develop justice systems specifically for children, establish independent offices (ombudspersons or commissions, for example) to promote and protect children’s rights, and restructure budgetary provisions to ensure resources spent on children are effectively used.

I have the right to special protection and help.

Serbia, Sweden, and Sudan are three of many nations in which the CRC has had a positive impact on children’s lives. In a 2009 report, UNICEF reveals how Serbia has developed national action plans to protect the rights of children, and care for and protect vulnerable children, since ratifying the CRC. UNICEF also notes Sweden’s national parliament adopted a national strategy to implement the CRC, and ensures that government policy and public affairs affecting children and youth uphold children’s rights. Sudan’s National Council on Child Welfare and its National Strategic Planning Center created a nationwide campaign to change community attitudes around the harmful practice of female genital cutting (FGC) and by 2012 more than 600 communities had embraced its message, renouncing FGC.

Ratification of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child would allow the United States to join the rest of humanity in helping children live better lives. Please visit the Child Rights Campaign website to find out how you can take action to help move the CRC toward ratification and implementation. Consider adding your voice to this cause; ask President Obama to do what’s necessary to send to the Senate his recommendation to ratify the CRC.

Photos: iStock by Getty Images

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