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A Struggle for Common Ground: US Debates Rights of the Child

2009 November 12

By Adrienne DiCerbo

Nearly everyone agrees that children should be protected and nurtured and it is this common belief which spurred the United Nations to create the Convention of the Rights of the Child (CRC) back in 1989.

But, to date, the United States is one of only two UN member nations (the other being Somalia) that have not ratified the CRC. This raises the question: What common ground must be reached in order for U.S. debate on the Convention to be put to rest?

The convention protects children’s (persons under 18) rights such as the right to a name, education and to express his/her own values. In addition, it calls for nations to ensure a child’s protection against abduction, slavery and sexual exploitation.

Nations that ratify the CRC must comply with its standards; they are required to report to the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child and are periodically evaluated on their progress of implementing the CRC in their country.

The U.S. helped draft the CRC, signing it in 1995 and even ratified two separate protocols addressing children in armed conflict and sexually exploited children but its own ratification is still under debate. The debate is nearly two decades old—with those for and against ratification struggling to reach an agreement.

Media frenzy surrounding the debate had long eased until recently when Susan Rice, US Ambassador to the United Nations, during a visit to the Harlem Children’s Zone mentioned current White House talks over the CRC. According to Rice, Obama administration officials are discussing “when and how it may be possible to join [the Convention].”

Such attention, coupled with the upcoming 20th anniversary of the adoption of the CRC by the UN General Assembly, makes it likely that the issue of U.S. ratification will be of heightened interest in the coming months. Groups opposed to the ratification point to concerns about national sovereignty. Opponents such as the Home School Legal Defense Association argue the CRC would usurp parents’ rights, namely the right to educate their children as they see fit.

Though signatories have not reported issues regarding parents’ rights as a result of ratifying the CRC, U.S. opponents argue that America should only ratify the convention once a parental rights amendment is added.

On the other hand, supporters of ratification believe that the move would ensure the necessary protection of children and signify U.S. solidarity in a global movement of concern for the wellbeing of children.

President Obama persistently stresses the value of collaboration and it remains to be seen how his administration will help opponents and supporters of the CRC to reconcile the 20 year old debate and find common ground.

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