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Why the US should ratify the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child

Posted by Karen Traeger on May 04 2015
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By:  Jack Hipkins

Although some conservative senators might not agree, US ratification of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) is in the best interest of the United States.

The Convention on the Rights of the Child is a treaty that was adopted by the UN General Assembly in 1989. The treaty came into effect in 1990 once 20 countries had ratified it. Since that time, 193 member nations have signed the treaty, and only two members of the UN have not ratified it: South Sudan, and the United States.

Until this year Somalia was the third country that had yet to ratify the treaty. Somalia is a state in chaos. Having endured a civil war that dates back to the early 1990s, the country has an ineffectual and practically non-existent central government, and a ravished economy. And yet, such a chaotic country still mustered the political will and cohesion to ratify the treaty in January of this year. As For South Sudan, the country is just four years old, and yet even it has passed a bill that could very well lead to its ratification of the CRC.

So now it appears that the US could be the only member of the UN to not ratify the CRC.  Despite being signed by the US during the Clinton administration in 1995, the US has yet to ratify the treaty due to the resistance of a number of Republican senators. These senators cite concerns about the treaty impinging on US sovereignty, and the fact that the treaty will interfere with the rights of parents such as their right to use corporal punishment with their children, and opt out of sex education. 

Yet refusal to ratify the convention has its consequences. The US puts around 70,000 children and teenagers in juvenile detention in any given day due to our zero-tolerance policy that detains minors for petty misconduct, more than any other country in the world. We also have laws that allow children as young as 12 to work in agriculture for long hours and under dangerous conditions.

And all the while the US is falling behind on some indicators of children’s rights. 22% of children in the US live in poverty. Of the high-income countries in the world, the US is the only one to not give mothers paid maternity leave.  The US is the only country in the word that can sentence children under the age of 18 to life in prison without parole.

Finally our refusal to ratify the CRC undermines our claim to be a champion of human rights. How can we possibly call ourselves a leader in human rights when we deprive our children of the fair and equitable treatment that the vast majority of the world agrees they deserve? Future administrations must make it their priority to push for the CRC to be ratified. Conservative senators have to be pressured to renounce their stubborn and outdated opposition to the treaty. In order to truly be a leader in the global stage, we must adhere to the international norms of an organization we ourselves claim to champion. 

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