America Left Behind: The Rights of a Child
Just Another Political Game
In my last article, "Religious Privilege: Child Marriage," I briefly mentioned the existence of the UN Convention on the Rights of a Child (CRC), and how the US is the only country in the UN that has not yet ratified it. In this article, I would like to elaborate further on what the CRC is; what it does; what it does not do; and of course, why the US has not yet ratified it. Let’s start with what it is exactly.
In November of 1989, the CRC was opened for ratification among the countries of the UN. The purpose of it was to establish the basic rights of children around the world (hence the name), which the CRC regards as anyone under eighteen, and hold member countries accountable for protecting those rights. Among others, some of these rights include: the right to life; a name and identity; to be raised by parents within a family or cultural grouping; to have a relationship with both parents, even if they are separated; to express their opinions and have them acted upon when appropriate; to be protected from abuse and exploitation; to have their privacy protected; to have legal representation in any judicial dispute involving their care, and for their opinions to be heard in such matters; the right to education; and the right to the best healthcare available.
A few other things that the CRC does is obliges states to allow parents to exercise their parental responsibilities; forbids physical and mental abuse of children; forbids capital punishment of a minor; forbids a life sentence without the possibility of parole for minors; forbids children to be allowed to work in dangerous environments; and forbids child slavery and prostitution.
As with any treaty, the US required both the signature of the President and a 2/3 majority approval in the Senate for the CRC to be ratified. Although the US played an important role in the drafting of the CRC, it was met with staunch opposition, mainly from conservatives and religious groups, and was not signed by then President George H.W. Bush; nor was it even voted on in the Senate. The treaty would not be signed until then-President Bill Clinton signed it in 1995, but this was mostly a symbolic gesture, as it still to this day has never even seen a vote in the Senate due to the opposition. This leaves us, now, in 2017, as the only country of the UN that has not ratified it, as opposed to the 196 who have!
As I mentioned before, and as you probably could have guessed without my assistance, the opposition has been mostly from conservative and religious groups, who always take great issue over anything that would make us as accountable to other countries as we try to make them to us. This is especially true for the UN, an establishment that most conservatives feel is useless at best and evil at worst, with a significant number of them firmly believing that the Antichrist will emerge from it!
Anyway, let’s take a look at a few of these criticisms that the opposition has to the CRC, and see how they stack up against the facts. Conservatives, such as former Senator Jesse Helms of North Carolina (a fine lad who once filibustered the US Senate in opposition of Martin Luther King Jr’s birthday becoming a national holiday; opposed the Civil Rights Act of 1964, calling it the “single most dangerous piece of legislation ever introduced to Congress; and once said that “To rob the Negro of his reputation of thinking through a problem in his own fashion is about the same as trying to pretend that he doesn’t have a natural instinct for rhythm and for singing and dancing"), claimed that the CRC was an effort to undermine to “chip away” at the US Constitution. Well, first of all, it simply doesn’t. I would go into specifics, but no one elaborated on exactly how it would undermine the Constitution, so I don’t really have much of a rebuttal, other than that. Secondly, it should be noted that the US drafted seven of the articles found in the CRC, and of those seven, three of them were taken directly from the US Constitution and submitted by the Reagan Administration.
Another common argument against the CRC is the claim that it would prevent parents from being able to homeschool their children. Ok, it’s not like we don’t have 196 other countries to choose from to see if these claims are actually valid; and when we look at the rest of the world, who has ratified the CRC, we find that some countries do prohibit homeschooling, but most do not. To be fair, some of the countries that have made the case for prohibiting homeschooling based on their interpretation of the CRC, but others have not because it does not explicitly prohibit, nor condemn the practice of homeschooling. So, basically, as long as we are ok with homeschooling, so is the CRC. In fact, here is a list of just a few of the countries who have ratified the CRC, and have kept homeschooling perfectly legal: Australia, Canada, New Zealand, The UK, South Africa, Mexico, India, Israel, Austria, Denmark, Finland, France, Ireland, Italy, and Norway.
This fraudulent claim was perpetuated by Michael P. Farris, founder of the Homeschool Legal Defense Association (HSLDA), in an article on Parentalrights.org, an organization in which he is the president of. In this article, he also made several more points against the ratification of the CRC, many of which are common arguments against it. Let’s take a look at a few of them, starting with the very first grievance listed in his article: that parents would no longer be able to administer “reasonable spankings” to their children. This, like the claim that homeschooling would be illegal, is an example where we can simply look at the rest of the world, and see if that would actually be the case. What we find is that some countries do prohibit the use of domestic corporal punishment, but many do not. Prime examples of those who do not would be countries such as Canada, the UK, and Australia, among others. It should also be noted that, while the CRC does prohibit physical and mental abuse of children, it does not mention spanking. In fact, Article 19 actually says that most countries have already defined what would be considered abusive. So basically, all the CRC does, in this case, is hold countries accountable for following their own standards. Many countries that are parties to the CRC view spanking as abusive, but many do not, and the CRC does not prohibit it explicitly.
Another argument made by Mr. Farris and others is that the CRC will allow children to choose their own religion and all parents can do is advise them. Ok, well what else are they supposed to do, exactly? Beat them with a rod until they see things their way? Oh yeah, the Bible does say that huh?
12 Apply thine heart unto instruction, and thine ears to the words of knowledge.13 Withhold not correction from the child: for if thou beatest him with the rod, he shall not die.14 Thou shalt beat him with the rod, and shalt deliver his soul from hell.15 My son, if thine heart be wise, my heart shall rejoice, even mine.16 Yea, my reins shall rejoice, when thy lips speak right things.17 Let not thine heart envy sinners: but be thou in the fear of the LORD all the day long.
But now I’m just getting off topic. Anyway, I would contend that, outside of being controlling or abusive, all a parent can ever really do in this matter is advise their children. Everyone has an inherent right to believe what they want to, with or without the letter of the law, and all the CRC does here, in my view, is acknowledge that; but as we all know, there are some who pressure their children into their religion of choice, and in many cases, even abuse them, not understanding that compliance is not necessarily belief nor does stifling a child’s curiosity or skepticism lead to true faith. Now would an international law protecting children from such situations be a bad thing? I, of course, would say that it wouldn’t be at all. To me, this is just another case of someone using the old fear-mongering, conservative battle cry that they use every time something could potentially become powerful enough to hold them accountable: “They’re coming for your religion next!” It’s a wonder they weren’t able to link the CRC to gun control somehow.
Another complaint that Mr. Farris has about the CRC is that it would grant children “A right to leisure.” Well, yeah…it does in Article 31, but what exactly is the problem? That particular article acknowledges a child’s right to a reasonable amount of leisure and time to play and actually be a kid! It does not, however, forbid parents from giving their children chores, responsibilities, or teaching them a good work-ethic, so I’m not really sure what Mr. Farris’ vision is for what childhood should be. I guess they should just be forced to work all day, every day, from sun-up to sun-down? The negative psychological effects of being deprived of leisure time are well documented. Hell, even adults begin to crack after going too long without being able to unwind and enjoy recreational activities, so how much more cruel is it to not ensure that for a child?
Another very frequent claim against the CRC was stated in Mr. Farris’ article: the claim that it enables the child to override their parents on any decision that they don’t like. Well, once again, do we see this in other countries that have ratified the CRC? Nope! Also, it turns out that Articles 5 and 18 of the CRC specifically address this by stating that it does not take responsibility for children away from the parents and give it to their governments. What the CRC does do, as mentioned earlier, is state that a child has a right to be heard and express their opinions, and to have them acted upon when appropriate, not whenever the child simply doesn’t like it. Article 12 also includes a stipulation that the weight given to these opinions in serious matters depends on the child’s level of maturity, and that the decision-making ultimately rests with the parents, who should take their child’s opinion into account. The wording is quite specific, here.
Finally, I have saved the best for last. Opponents of the CRC often claim that our laws in the US already do everything that the CRC entails on their own, so there is no need to ratify it and subject ourselves to the UN. Really? Then why are we having a serious discussion in this country, right now, about taking many children’s healthcare away from them? Did you catch that, toward the beginning of the article, that the CRC gives them the right to the best healthcare available? So, if we had ratified the CRC, there is a chance that those children would be in no danger of losing their healthcare, as it would be a violation of international law!
What about the Trump Administration aiming to cut back on the school lunch programs, replacing their more healthy meals with the same processed slop they were getting before? How do you think the UN would feel about this particular crusade if we had ratified the CRC? And to think we lecture other countries on how to treat their children…
What about paid maternity leave? Did you know that we are the only high-income country within the UN that does not guarantee paid leave for new mothers? It turns out that many of them also provide it for fathers as well, citing the CRC’s standard that a child has a right to spend time with both parents. Now, do I really need to spell out the benefits of being able to spend the first year of your child’s life actually with the child without having to face financial ruin to do it? I would hope not.
It is my opinion that we are now getting to the real reasons that the conservative politicians oppose the ratification of this treaty. The reasons they give are usually easily debunked by actually reading what the CRC says, and looking at how it has been implemented in the 196 countries that have ratified it, so what is it really? Well, taking into account that we do not guarantee affordable healthcare for children; we do not guarantee paid leave for new parents to spend that crucial first year with their child; that we allow, as I mentioned in my previous article, fourteen-year-old girls to marry adult men (oh, but only if they get them pregnant first…); and that we would even think of making it harder for them to be able to eat healthy at school, and all of this is perpetuated by the same people who oppose the CRC, I can only conclude that their real reasons for doing so, is that following this set of standards and being held accountable for doing so by our allies simply does not suit their agenda. They know that our standards do not hold up to the CRC and they have no intention of correcting that, so just use the ol’ conservative propaganda machine to make people afraid of it!
In addition to that, let’s look at one more example of where America would have been in violation of international law, until not too long ago. In 2005, in the landmark case, Roper v Simmons, The Supreme Court decided in a 5-4 vote that it would now be prohibited to give a juvenile offender the death penalty. Yeah, it took us until 2005 to do that, and by the time we did, we were among only eight countries who still gave minors such a penalty: The United States, Iran, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Nigeria, The Democratic Republic of the Congo, and China.
So, what if we had ratified the CRC in 1989? Well, what I can tell you is that from 1989-2005, there were nineteen people executed who had committed crimes as a juvenile; and Roper vs Simmons affected the cases of seventy-two inmates who were on death row at the time. Now you may be asking, “Well, what about those other seven countries you just listed? Didn’t they ratify the CRC?” Well, yeah, but we helped write the damn thing! I would hope that we would be more inclined to follow those standards and, with our allies, pressure those countries into stopping that practice, since that would play to our strengths! We try to call out other countries on their violations of ethical, civil rights, but what exactly would we do in this case? Criticize them for not following a treaty that we didn’t ratify?
The majority of the Supreme Court’s opinion was summarized by Justice Anthony Kennedy, who cited scientific research that showed that juveniles generally lacked maturity and sense of responsibility compared to adults, were over-represented in virtually every category of reckless behavior, more vulnerable to negative influences, including peer pressure, have less control than an adult over their environment, and lack the freedom to escape a negative environment. Well, that’s kind of what I was saying in my last article, as to why sixteen-year-olds shouldn’t be given the option to marry, whether consensual or not. Sorry, I just can’t get over that topic…
Now, fast forward to 2012, when the Supreme Court decided that life sentences without the possibility of parole should be prohibited for juvenile offenders in the landmark case Miller v Alabama. The same reasons were cited in favor of this verdict as we heard in the Roper v Simmons case. Even Newt Gingrich and Pat Nolan wrote an article in the San Diego Union-Tribune, arguing against giving life sentences without the possibility of parole to juveniles for the same reasons that were stated in the Roper v Simmons case regarding capital punishment. Now, if you are supporting a law that Newt Gingrich feels is cruel and unfair, you may have a problem.
How many juveniles were issued a life sentence without possibility of parole between 1989-2012? It’s hard to say, but what we do know is that in 2016, The Supreme Court decided in Montgomery v Louisiana that the verdict of Miller v Alabama must apply retroactively; and that decision may affect the cases of up to 2300 offenders who are in prison! So, hats off to the Supreme Court for doing the right thing in these cases, but I can’t help but wonder what could have been if we had ratified the CRC in 1989, and made the statement, with our allies, that we were serious about pursuing justice for our children. These are the kinds of things that we cannot be late to the party on. These are lives we are talking about here, irreplaceable lives that have been ruined or even ended because of one bad decision they made when they were a kid. Those years they spent in prison can never be given back to them. Most of this could have been prevented if we had stood with the rest of the world and said, “We are going to do what is right by our children, and we are going to improve life for them and others around the world by holding each other accountable for how we treat them.” There is nothing wrong with that. What is wrong with being accountable to our friends? Our allies? We can, in turn, hold them accountable as well, and with much more credibility if we would simply humble ourselves and work with them; but no, lives have been irrevocably damaged because we just had to play the political game once again.
Now, the next question we should ask is “Who benefited?” Who benefited from kids being allowed to go to prison without any possibility of release? It wasn’t society, it wasn’t the government, and it sure as hell wasn’t the offender nor even their victim! Well, it turns out that justice, just like everything else in America is a business, and a very profitable one at that. In America, you have the freedom to own a bank and a prison! More on that next week…