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January 01, 2005

The Convention on the Rights of the Child: A Call for US Participation

by Howard Davidson

As I write this introduction, child rights advocates throughout the world are marking the fifteenth anniversary of the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), approved overwhelmingly by the international community since 1989. This “coalition of the world” in support of young people and their parents includes every nation except Somalia and the United States. Since Somalia is still establishing a central government after years of strife, the United States stands alone among the world’s nations as the only country choosing not to support the CRC.

For the past decade and a half, the U.S. Senate and three presidents have been unwilling to join this global alliance and ratify the CRC, which—ironically—was drafted with the active involvement of representatives of the Reagan administration. CRC supporters include, in addition to the American Bar Association, a large number of America’s faith-based groups, professional associations concerned with child health and safety, and such respected organizations as the American Red Cross, the Association of the Junior Leagues, Camp Fire, CARE, Childreach, the Christian Children’s Fund, the General Federation of Women’s Clubs, the Girl Scouts, March of Dimes, Save the Children, and the YMCA.

It is U.S. policy to thoroughly evaluate the constitutional ramifications and potential legal impact of any treaty before the White House transmits it to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee for the Senate’s consent. During a lengthy review process—started, restarted, and never completed by each of the last three presidents—the CRC has become highly politicized, like previous conventions. It took more than thirty years to ratify the “Genocide Convention,” and although the United States ceremoniously “signed” the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women more than twenty years ago, we still have not ratified it. To further delay things, the United States typically considers action on only one human rights convention at a time.

There are widespread misconceptions—spread to the public by a very small number of organizations—about the CRC’s likely impact. These have been used to fuel political opposition that influenced decisions by both Bush administrations and the Clinton administration to not pursue its ratification. Critics have mislabeled the CRC a “threat to the American family” and made unsubstantiated claims about it undermining our national sovereignty and interfering with our parent-child relationships. No other nation appears to have had these concerns, and despite assertions of some opponents, the CRC does not give children a right to sue their parents or give the UN authority over American families.

The articles that follow in this issue of Human Rights explore the unmet needs of children both in the United States and abroad. The developing international jurisprudence of children’s rights, greatly advanced by the CRC, has guided many nations in confronting these and other issues—but so much more must be done. If the United States were to ratify the CRC and act as a role model for the nations of the world concerning the safe care of children, the U.S. State Department could—as part of formal foreign policy—work closely with other countries on improving children’s rights law, constitutional protections, and judicial processes. All of that would help save children’s lives and strengthen families across the globe.

The ABA Center on Children and the Law

Since 1978, the American Bar Association’s Washington, D.C., office has housed the ABA Center on Children and the Law, a program of the ABA Young Lawyers Division focused on improving child protection laws, judicial practices, and legal advocacy for the country’s most vulnerable children. The center’s staff works with lawyers, judges, child protection personnel, and others to enhance safety, legal permanency, and well-being for abused, neglected, and abandoned children in foster care. They also address legal barriers to health and education services needed for these children and work to enhance legal representation for children, parents, and child welfare agencies. Activities occur at the national level and with individual states seeking technical assistance and training to improve their legal responses.

Howard Davidson

Howard Davidson is the director of the American Bar Association’s Center on Children and the Law, located in Washington, D.C.